Corruption in dealer satisfaction surveys

Don’t Coach Me on how to Answer your Stupid Survey,” Mrad writes over at Volksbloggin, a VW-focused blog. The object of his ire: dealers that ask you to give them perfect marks on sales and service satisfaction surveys conducted by the manufacturer. I’ve come across this myself, and read about it often on various forums. Why is this survey process so corrupt, and what could manufacturers possibly learn from it as a result?

First off, I should note that Mrad’s dealer seems to have been about as pleasant as they come. I’ve heard of dealers that were much more insistent on receiving perfect marks, and even of dealers that were rude or that threatened to deny service when they learned that a customer had not given them perfect marks on a survey. The dealer where I bought my Mazda even gave out $25 Outback Steak House gift certificates to customers who were willing to bring the survey in and fill it out in the sales manager’s office.

Why the intense pressure, which is breeding an increasing amount of resentment among car buyers? Because these schemes usually require perfect scores for the dealer and its employees to receive sizable bonuses. This is totally unrealistic, and so is bound to lead to cheating. Even harder to understand: the blind eye manufacturers appear to turn to such cheating.

Ultimately, such surveys are simply no substitute for maintaining frequent, open communication with dealers and customers. If manufacturers really want to know how satisfied customers are with the sales and service experience, they need to find the time and desire to engage in true dialogue with these groups. Customers are much less likely to lie for the dealer when speaking to a manufacturer on the phone or, better yet, face to face. And when I say “speaking to the manufacturer,” I mean speaking to an actual employee of the manufacturer, not some telemarketer paid solely for this purpose and with no personal interest in improving sales and service satisfaction.

In addition, manufacturers’ expectations need to be more realistic, and the reward system much more graduated. Otherwise there’s too much incentive to cheat.

More complicated and expensive? Sure. But the current systems are clearly broken.

  • mrad

    Thanks for the link back. I guess my dealer was pretty mild compared to some of the tactics others have resorted to.

    At any rate – this system is broken. It’s sad that SO much weight is put on these stupid things.

  • 8189720

    I agree, it’s corruption. The first time I bought a new car I was green on the process and the dealer offered me a couple of travel mugs if I brought the survey back to the dealerships. Of course they could review the feedback and decide if they want to send it to the manufacturer (if it’s good), or file it in the “G” bin otherwise. The travel mugs broke after a few weeks of use and the dealership was the middleman in my satisfaction survey, which, by the way, probably never made it to the manufacturer as it wasn’t very favourable to begin with.

    Now I know better, if I want a mug, or any other piece of crap that they are willing to part with in exchange for the survey then I give them the survey, but not before I send a photocopy to the manufacturer in their postage paid envelope.

  • otaku

    My salesman tried this with me. Told me that he would be in trouble if he didn’t get a perfect score from me, tried to make me feel for him. I still haven’t sent the thing in and I’ll probably dock him just for asking. Its definetly flawed.

  • uh2l

    I too hate this practice. I understand the intent, but it just doesn’t work. I’ve resorted to no fill out surveys because if I’m truly honest, the workers get punished, (even if they didn’t do anything horrible), and if I rate everything perfect when it’s not, then they don’t learn what’s going on anyway. That’s the same net result as not sending it in.


  • 2 anecdotes:

    1 – I decided to fill my first survey out online rather than the paper copy. The online survey was 15-20 pages long, compared to 1 8.5″ x 11″ sheet in the mail Wow.

    2 – I actually got a call from Mazda following on one of my survey visits. As you’re aware, I’ve had a real ‘experience’ (to put it mildly) with this dealer and I gave the guy a brief earful on it. His response? Something like “Thanks for the information.” That was it. He didn’t even bother to fake sympathy.

  • AutoSalesPro

    I have a great idea. Go to the manufacturer’s website and click on contact us. Send them an e-mail that accurately describes your buying experience. Reference the date of purchase and the V.I.N.. The survey that manufacturers mail to it’s recent customers is meant to provide the manufacturer with a dealer/finace manager/saleperson report card. I feel certain that an e-mail from a recent customer would be a much more effective report card than a scripted survey. Plus, the salesperson that treated you like royalty won’t be monetarily penilized. The reason the dealer wants a perfect survey is because we are all unrealistic……the cutomer expects perfection, the dealer expects the salesperson to be perfect, the maufacturer expects the dealer, salesperson, finance person, aftermarket person, receptionist, lot porter and janitor to be perfect. It’s pretty unrealistic. The system doesn’t improve the process. A e-mail or letter to the manufacturer may improve things.

  • AutoSalesPro

    I started as a sales/leasing consultant recently at an Asian import dealership in a middle sized town in the Southest. The dealership has a great reputation. Customer satisfaction as well as customer retention is very high. We aren’t perfect, we never will be, but we try very hard to be better than the rest. I sold a new car to a gentlemen and his daughter. This was the first car ownership experience for this nice young lady. To the best of my ability, I made sure that the young lady understood every step of the process. This customer was a state employee and was therefore entilted to invoice pricing. The dealership netted about $800.00 on a twenty-three thousand dollar sale. Nothing about this sale or purchase could be construed as unreasonable. A few days after the purchase the customer brought to my attention that the vehicle pulled to the right. I met with the customer the day I was made aware of the issue at his residence. I rode with him and had him demonstrate his concern. I drove the vehicle on the interstate and a secondary road and found there was a minor drift. The customer agreed that the car actually slightly drifted and did not pull. I knew from experience that the cause was more than likely related to tire air pressure. I took the vehicle immediately to the dealership and checked the air pressure. I corrected the air pressure, retested the vehicle and determined that the drift issue was properly addressed. I returned the vehicle to the customer’s home within an hour. I explained what the problem was and how I corrected it. These people have never received this kind of service from any product provider. They recently purchased their second vehicle from me. They have referred several people to me. They wrote the dealer principal a letter telling them what incredible service they received. They will probably always try to buy all their vehicles from me. But guess what…….they filled out their customer satisfaction survey honestly. They expressed a concern regarding vehicle quality at delivery. The survey is pass or failed. I failed. It didn’t matter that I gave them the best customer service they had ever received. It didn’t matter that they wrote a letter to the owner of the dealership. It wouldn’t have mattered if they wrote a letter to the manufacturer. What mattered is they were honest. They had a concern at delivery. They had just spent $23,000 plus dollars and the car wasn’t right. They thought that this would help improve quality control. Folks, this is what happened. My owner thanked them by letter. I got a ZERO on my survey and the manufacturer never so much as sent them an e-mail, letter or picked up the phone and inquired about their concern. This very happy and incredibly satisfied customer caused me, without knowledge or intent, to be ineligible for about $1,200.00 in dealership and manufacturer’s bonuses. These are honest people that will always think of me as their best salesperson, and the dealership that employs me, as their preferred place to do business. I will never let them know that their honesty caused me to lose money. The next time a salesperson asks for a perfect survey assure them that you will give them an opportunity to correct a concern before you mail the survey. Just be fair. Don’t use the survey to get something you don’t deserve.

  • Michael

    Thanks for leaving such an illuminating comment. This example demonstrates how dysfunctional the current systems are. Hopefully the attention now being focused on them will influence manufacturers to make some needed reforms.

  • RICK

    its not a scheme against the customer. its a scheme against the salesperson. its not really a survey to find out how you feel its a way for the mfg not to give the dealer money and in turn a way to not pay the sales person. anything less than a perfect score on all questions directly affects the salespersons pay and thats why they have them. so they can pay us less. no other reason. if you like your sales person give them all tens. if you dont give like them , give them a nine on any of the questions. if your like most people and dont like the way the surveys are ,throw them away