Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Would You Want to Happen Next?

If you are reading this, your business model is likely centered on driving owners of your brand’s vehicles/equipment to conduct their service business with your franchised dealerships. Over the past several months we have been using this blog to start a discussion of how those service customers are changing; evolving to what we have termed the Digital Service Customer or DSC. Much of this discussion has been around where and how these folks use the internet to research their service providers and how both OEs and dealers need to respond to these customers, who may be relatively small in number today, but will rapidly represent the majority of service customers.

This week we want to provide two vivid examples of how these Digital Service Customers, and in particular the way they use social media, can either devastate or enhance your brand reputation – depending largely on what you and your dealers “do next”.

With that in mind, consider the first of two real life situations regarding how to respond to customer complaints via social media. This actual example occurred, as this is written, yesterday. But it could be any day, any brand, anywhere.

Situation 1: The Customer Gets a Coordinated, Positive Response …

Chedderbob33 owns a certified Lexus. After a short ownership period, he discovers an issue with the driver’s side external mirror. He takes it to the dealership (his first visit) and the dealership service folks tell Chedderbob33 that he will have to pay for the repair. So, while he is waiting in the dealership’s service lounge, Chedderbob33 tweets to his circle of influence that “Lexus service is a rip off.”

This really is not about who is “right.” It really does not matter that:
  • The mirror issue is covered under the CPO warranty.
  • The dealership is wrong.
  • This is not really a “factory” problem.
What does matter is what will happen if this is not addressed appropriately. And what’s likely to happen?
  • Chedderbob33 is unlikely to return to this (or any other) Lexus dealership for Customer Pay service work.
  • People in Chedderbob33’s circle of influence are less likely to do so, as well.
  • Both Chedderbob33 and his circle of influence are less likely to purchase a Lexus in the future.
The fuse is lit ... the clock is ticking ... your pants are on fire ... barbarians are at the gates. What happens next?
  1. Ignorance is bliss – neither the dealership nor Lexus realize Chedderbob33 tweeted (very likely)
  2. Corporate bully - the dealership demands Chedderbob33 retract the disparaging comment (it happens – an Apple support firm just did this… “Apple support company sues customer for complaining”, CNET, January 2, 2011)
  3. Corporate hero - Lexus finds Chedderbob33’s tweet and tries to mitigate the situation (a few, but growing number of, firms do this … “Delta Monitors Twitter to Remedy Customer Complaints”, Business Week, August 16, 2010)
  4. Dealership hero – the dealership finds Chedderbob33’s tweet and tries to mitigate the situation (Longo Toyota, for example, uses social media to communicate with customers)

Cutting to the chase, what actually happened – in real time on January 11, 2011 – is that Chedderbob33 got the following response from Lexus.

How? Someone at Lexus is monitoring tweets (according to that tweet they’re using TweetDeck), by monitoring key words like Lexus, service, and dealership. Apologies to Barney Fife, they “nipped it in the bud.” Even better, they did it publicly so that Chedderbob33’s circle of influence was included in the conversation.

Did you notice the customer switched to Facebook? This means that an even larger circle of influence saw that conversation. Cool.

Bonus points? The Lexus dealership could link Chedderbob33’s and other customer positive comments directly to the dealership’s web or Facebook page. Why?
  1. Anyone visiting the dealership website receives a “real” positive impression – from actual customers. Who would you trust more? A dealership that says they’re “Number 1 in Satisfaction” or one that backs it up with actual reviews.
  2. Linking reviews raises the dealership’s position when customers search for it, through Search Engine Optimization. If Chedderbob33’s dealership did this, when customers search for “service” and “Lexus” they would find, high on Google page one, the dealership linked to Chedderbob33’s positive comments.
Bottom line: What saved Lexus in this case? The fact that they proactively monitor their online reputation in real time and have a planned process to respond appropriately.

Now let’s look at Situation 2 – note that this occurred several years ago, and Ford’s response would likely be different today, but it could still occur as outlined.

Situation 2: The Customer Gets a Response, But …

This situation starts the same way - a customer complains via a social media forum that the Ford dealership service advisor told him that he would have to pay for a repair that the customer thought was free.

Before either the dealership or Ford can provide a response, a Ford employee comes to the “rescue.”

Even giving that Ford employee the benefit of that doubt that he/she is trying to support the customer, is this really the reply you want representing the company? Rather than help mitigate the customer’s problem, the reply ignited a series of “Dealerships are terrible” rants and “We are not” counter-rants. The Ford employee’s “rescue” attempt was corrosive.

So the main problem here was that Ford let a “rogue” response fill the vacuum – rather than having a planned, strategic response. Think this couldn’t happen at your company? An effective social media policy guards against rescue attempts by employee volunteers and other corrosive behavior. Do you have one?

Bottom line: To master online reputation management, monitor your online reputation, create a response process, craft a corporate social media policy, and influence your dealers to do the same.

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