By Chris Haak
Michael Karesh, an occasional contributor to this site and owner of TrueDelta, an automotive research firm, conducted a survey of his reliability survey participants last spring to gauge whether dealers were pressuring their customers to rate their salesperson and dealership with top scores in all areas on the customer satisfaction surveys that come from the manufacturer. I hadn’t seen the survey results until reading the August 27, 2007 issue of industry publication Automotive News last night (I’m a little behind!) and saw an article about Mr. Karesh’s research.
I think Mr. Karesh was onto something by conducting a survey about this. Not only did a major auto industry publication pick up on his work, but also today’s Autoextremist article was about what a failed system CSI scores have become.
In the past four years, I’ve bought two new vehicles, and while my buying experience was a positive one in both cases (I bought a Honda and a Nissan), it helps that I didn’t have to negotiate price, as a family member had a close business relationship with both dealerships and was able to get a great price for me. But toward the end of the delivery process, both salesmen mentioned the CSI surveys and that they need perfect scores, and that they’d be happy to address any concerns I might have before completing the survey. Needless to say, I gave them top scores.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has been pressured to do this. Dealerships’ allocations of popular models, their employees’ compensation, and even factory to dealer incentives are tied to CSI rankings. Even worse, manufacturers have set such ridiculously high standards (anything short of “excellent” is a black mark, when in fact, outside of Lake Wobegon, not everyone is above average, and certainly not excellent.) “Exceeds expectations” might be a difficult rating to achieve if the customer’s expectations are too high. And even if that customer’s expectations are exceeded once, would they not expect the same treatment when they buy their next car from that dealer, so the same level of service that exceeded expectations earlier might only meet the higher expectations the second time.
If every car buying experience was excellent or very good, then why are there so many horror stories out there? Hmmm…
TrueDelta’s research (with admittedly small sample sizes) found that at least 75% of all dealerships at least mentioned the survey would be coming, and many others took further steps such as allowing to preliminarily address problems before the survey (36%), asking for perfect scores without begging (28%), saying they wouldn’t get a bonus without perfect scores (9%), begging for perfect scores (9%), offering to watch the customer complete it (2%) or allow the dealer to complete it (2%), or offering a gift in exchange for a positive survey (2%). Note that these do not add to 100% because multiple responses were allowed. It also found that among respondents, Nissan, Hyundai, and BMW dealers pressured customers the most to complete their surveys with only the highest scores.
Further adding to the furor is that GM announced in the past week or two that some dealers had submitted “fraudulent” CSI surveys and those results would be ignored, and the dealer would likely be penalized in some way.
So let’s see: customers don’t like being pressured, dealers and salespeople don’t like having their livelihood tied to the whim of someone completing a survey who marks “very good” instead of “excellent” (or “meets expectations” rather than “exceeds expectations), and the manufacturers are suspicious of the process.
Part of my “real job” is working with employee compensation, and designing incentive plans to motivate employees to perform a desired behavior. I’d say that the current CSI system should be thrown out, because clearly begging, lying, and fudging should not be the behaviors that are encouraged.
Are there any other stories of dealer or salesperson pressure to give perfect scores out there?
Link to TrueDelta’s research on this subject: http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/survey_survey.php
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