Phony Car Dealership Marketing Meets the 21st Century

Last Thursday we received two pieces of mail at our home.


The first was from the Volvo dealership in Minneapolis where I have my car serviced.  The week before last I had taken the car in to have the brake pads and rotors replaced for $1,000.  I was also quoted another $1,700 to have the rackety drive train replaced, which I declined.  The car’s getting old and I’ll probably trade it in this summer.

Then on Thursday I received a card from Volvo.  If you’ve purchased a new car or brought one in for service you may have gotten a note just like this.  It’s a scam “customer survey” that car dealerships run.  Supposedly it asked me to rate the quality of the service at Borton on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “outstanding.”

But this “survey” was addressed to me personally from Adam, the service manager who handled my repairs.  It instructed me on how Volvo supposedly scores these quality surveys:


Adam told me that the survey represented his personal “report card” by the dealership.  See? The idea is to guilt the customers into giving a 5 on the survey.  Then Volvo can say that customers consistently score “outstanding” when asked to rate the service at the dealership.

The Volvo US site claims Volvo dealerships provide a level of service, “that’s never less than outstanding.”  Well, that’s what the surveys said, anyway.

But a quick visit to Yelp shows four of five real local customer reviews of Volvo in my area are unfavorable.

This sham survey is one more example of the phony 20th century marketing that gives car dealerships in general a bad name.  (And now specifically gives Volvo in Minneapolis a black eye.)  And apparently it’s common among car dealerships to rig surveys and online reviews.

In this new world of social communication this kind of rigged satisfaction survey doesn’t pass the smell test even if you hadn’t seen the personal pleading message from Adam that I received.

I bought a Volkswagen a few years ago in San Francisco and the same kind of survey was handed to me by the young salesman who confided he was “on probation” and would lose his job if I gave him a score less than outstanding. Talk about a guilt trip!

The second piece of mail we received last Thursday was from a lodge in Oregon called Tu Tu’ Tun where we stayed last summer on a family vacation.  We had a truly wonderful time there. I recommend it without reservation.  (Though you’ll need reservations to get in, trust me.)  The lodge has only 18 rooms, all of which face the pastoral Rogue River.  Breakfast and dinner are served communally so the guests get to know each other, and the food is absolutely fantastic.

Kyle Ringer, the General Manager at Tu Tu’ Tun, is a master of low-key, genuinely caring customer service.  The lodge is a joy to visit in large part because Kyle and the staff really want you to have the kind of relaxing, interesting vacation you want for yourself.

If you don’t believe me, just check out what Travel and Leisure said about Tu Tu’ Tun in December they named it one of the 50 best hotels in the world.

Last Thursday was Valentine’s Day, and in honor of the day Kyle sent us a card:


Oh, man.  When I saw that guy sitting in the chair I wanted to run to the airport and jump on the first flight to Oregon!

Perhaps my car dealership can’t live up to the personal service you get at one of the 50 best hotels in the world.

But the people who run dealerships can start by being as honest.

If they’re going to reach out to me, please do so to actually find out what my experience with them was really like.

After all, this is the new Social Internet we’re living with.  And no amount of gaming reviews or customer surveys is going to fool people for long. Posts on social networks like Yelp and Angie’s List and thousands of other customer mentions are going to pile up.  And that’s what we’re going to believe—not some phony awards for customer service.

Because sooner or later customers like me are going to get upset about being asked to join in a charade like that survey from Volvo.

And then I’m going to write a post like this and spread the word through my social networks.

Anyone doing research about buying a Volvo could come across this in the months to come and I expect they’ll believe it more than phony reviews and dishonest “surveys.”



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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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