Social sabotage

Posted by



WE’VE ALL HEARD the expression, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets their eye poked out.”

I think that also applies to social media and the auto industry. Most dealers are getting their feet wet with social media engagement but it’s mostly been on the lighter side.

But what happens when a comment on social media blows up? It’s important to be prepared when an upset customer takes to your dealership Facebook or Twitter page to express dissatisfaction. Prevention isn’t always enough. 

I think a lot of us have been tempted at times to tweet or post something when we are emotional about a situation, and have to practice control to ensure we don’t have an emotional outburst backfire on us. 

That’s not to say that I haven’t regretted saying something at the wrong time or the wrong way with a post. I’m not that disciplined. Our dealership guests don’t have to live by these same rules.

We used to say at our family’s dealership that guests who don’t buy cars don’t receive surveys. Today, that’s not the case. This was bad advice then — and it’s bad advice now. 

All day long your showroom and service department visitors are posting “live updates” about their experience on dealership social media.

In one extreme case with one of our clients, an upset customer’s mother took the dealership to task about the way they treated her daughter and son-in-law. She did it real time on the dealership’s Facebook page. 

Social Media Reputation Checklist

In just one day, this long-term dealership with a pristine reputation, both on and offline, went from hero to zero.

There are several lessons to be learned from this experience that I would like to share.

Before the Internet came around, we used to hear that a happy guest may tell two or three people about their positive experience at a dealership, but an upset guest would usually tell seven or more people. Progressive dealers were always fearful of this statistic so they developed a culture where they took great care of their customers, whether they bought a vehicle or not. 

Most dealerships today have a strategy in place to recruit online reviews from happy guests, and it works well to build a four or five star reputation on review sites such as Google,, Yelp or DealerRater.

But search engine reviews are pretty static and have a limited impact on casual observers, whereas emotions can run high and fast in a social media setting.

In my client’s case, the customer and friends never posted a comment on Google. This story played out on Facebook.

The issue in this case happened when an aftermarket vendor did an upgrade on the customer’s new vehicle, but did some minor damage to it during the procedure.

The dealership employee tried to handle the repair through the vendor instead of its own body shop to save costs and hold the vendor accountable. 

This approach resulted in a costly delay because the repair did not meet the customer’s expectations. The General Manager was playing catchup to try to satisfy the customer three weeks later.

While the GM was trying to address the concern, the customer’s mother posted a one star review online — because a score of zero wasn’t available. She said the dealership had wronged her daughter and son-in-law when it did not repair the recently purchased vehicle to their satisfaction.  She commented that the dealership did not understand the power of social media and then she recruited hundreds of online friends to take aim at the dealership.

I bet you can guess how this played out. 

Family, friends and then casual observers sided with the customer quickly. Post after post slammed the dealership. Soon enough several one star reviews appeared on the dealership’s Facebook page. 

Within 48 hours the mother who made the original post had created a hashtag and a community site to collect reviews on this dealership, as well as any other local businesses that were failing to resolve customer issues.

This truly is crowdsourcing at its most organic level. 

The dealer was blindsided, and gathered the leadership team quickly to find a solution. He wrote a post on the Facebook page explaining how sorry he was and that he understood why the customer would be upset. He added he would work diligently to resolve the issue to the benefit of the customer. 

This acknowledgement and immediate use of the word “sorry” instead of the typical “I apologize if this offended…” worked favourably.

Ironically, the dealership discovered on Facebook that its body shop manager’s daughter knew the customer, and used this connection to settle things down. The mother-in-law ended up posting that the dealership provided a satisfactory solution, and the social storm ended. 

The dealership now recognizes that they could have avoided the issue erupting on social media if they would have used their typical rapid escalation process when the customer raised the concern. 

Mitch Gallant, Assistant GM for the Capital Auto Group in Regina, Sask., and a social media expert, recommends quick engagement before a social explosion occurs. He teaches his team to alert management immediately if a customer expresses a concern. 

If management misses the post and it does blow up on social media, Gallant recommends the best approach to diffuse the situation is to apologize. Express empathy and ask the customer to call or come in to the dealership to resolve the issue.

Gallant says this works well because customers become human and usually want to resolve things quickly. He also recommends that once you’ve addressed the issue, ask the customer politely if he or she can amend the post. 

It’s also imperative that we foster a culture of vigilant customer awareness at all times and make it the norm to talk professionally and courteously in every interaction.

Comments are closed.

Canadian auto dealer