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Oracle of Delphi

GM: Dealers rig customer satisfaction surveys

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Donna Harris

Automotive News

September 10, 2007 - 12:01 am EST

General Motors says it is tossing the results of some recent customer satisfaction surveys because dealers tampered with the responses. That decision could cost offending dealerships big factory bonuses.

GM surveys customers who buy new vehicles or submit factory warranty claims about their satisfaction with the dealership's performance. Dealerships that get high scores on those surveys and meet sales targets are eligible for quarterly cash incentives that can reach six figures.

The satisfaction surveys are sent to customers' homes to discourage dealer influence. Customers respond by mail or online.

But an unsigned bulletin that GM sent dealers Aug. 14 says "certain online responses are being received from some dealerships." GM says it is making "appropriate adjustments" to third-quarter survey scores "to reflect interference."

GM spokeswoman Susan Garontakos told Automotive News the interference "was not widespread." She would not say how many dealerships or surveys are involved.

Some GM dealers say survey tampering occurs because of the high stakes. Under GM's Standards for Excellence program, they note, a dealership can lose its entire quarterly bonus if it falls a fraction of a percentage point below its prescribed score.

Bonus round

GM dealerships that meet factory targets for sales and customer satisfaction qualify for quarterly bonuses. Here are potential bonuses for several sizes of Chevrolet dealerships.

Annual new-vehicle retail sales Maximum bonus

5,200 or more - $420,000

2,900-3,299 - $231,000

1,200-1,399 - $100,500

700-799 - $60,000

1-99 - $13,000

Source: 2007 GM Standards for Excellence

National Automobile Dealers Association Chairman Dale Willey says he agrees that "it's best to let customers respond on their own" to satisfaction surveys.

"But we all know what can happen when monetary incentives are involved," says Willey, who owns a Buick-Pontiac-GMC-Cadillac dealership in Lawrence, Kan.

Standards for Excellence dealership bonuses range from $13,000 to $420,000 every three months, according to GM's program manual for Chevrolet dealers.

If a dealer remodels his or her store this year to meet GM's "facility image" standards, GM doubles the bonus. If the dealer builds a store, the bonus can triple.

A large-volume Chevrolet dealer who asked not to be named says he earns $201,000 each quarter in bonuses.

"If the dealer down the street doesn't make the targets, I have a $700-a-car advantage over him," the dealer says. "You think that's not important? It's all or nothing."

A Florida GM dealer who asked not to be named complains that a large competitor is making six-figure quarterly bonuses he can't achieve because of his lower sales volume. The dealer says he recently hired several of the competitor's employees, who told him the rival bribed customers to boost satisfaction survey scores.

"They told customers, 'If you bring in the survey, we will fill it in, and we will give you a free tank of gas,'" the dealer says. "Customers go for it."

Some dealers concede they have refused to sell vehicles to customers they thought might give the dealership a poor score and jeopardize their bonuses.

Hands off

GM's bulletin warns dealers against trying to influence satisfaction survey responses by helping customers fill out the survey, discouraging responses, sending surveys from the dealership or bribing customers.

GM's Garontakos says that in "isolated cases" of survey tampering, GM immediately "takes action and goes to the dealership." That action could include a dealership audit, she says.

Garontakos would not say how many dealerships GM has audited, or whether the automaker took back any quarterly bonuses.

Some dealers say GM does not do enough to prevent tampering. One dealer says GM trainers advise dealership employees to tell customers their performance is judged by survey scores.

Dealers also complain that the factory surveys are too long and confusing. The Chevrolet sales survey asks customers to rate dealerships in 27 areas. Responses range from "completely satisfied" to "not at all satisfied."

Few customers are ever fully satisfied, dealers say, making it tough to achieve a "top-box" score. Some dealers predict tampering will continue as long as GM ties cash rewards to high survey scores.

But NADA's Willey says customer satisfaction is not only a matter of earning a factory bonus.

"If I can't satisfy customers, I can't stay in business," he says. "GM doesn't have to incentivize me to do that."

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I purchased both of my vehicles from the same guy at the same dealer. Both times, at the end of the transaction he said "In a few weeks you'll receive a customer satisfaction survey in the mail. If you feel that you need to mark any item less than "completely satisfied" you give me a call and I'll do what it takes to get you to mark it "completely satisfied".

Now, I'm not one to take advantage in a situation like that and I think that this particular dealer has always shown me extremely good customer service, however, I could see someone taking advantage of that to get themselves a free tank of gas or whatever. I don't think that is the dealer cheating... I think it's the consumers taking advantage of GM's noose around the dealer's neck.

The one time they did screw up, a mistake on the work order caused 3 trips to the service department in what could have been handled in two, I did answer the survey honestly. My salesman called me to ask what had happened and after I had explained, he apologized, sent me a box of candy, and a coupon for a free oil change.

I'd feel bad if I took his bonus away over what was a simple mistake, so from now on I'd just call him if I had an issue with the service department. He's shown on more than one occasion that he can make things happen the way I want them to.

edit: and he's being super attentive now that my CTS lease is up in under 6 months. He just doesn't know that I'm not getting another new car.

Edited by Oldsmoboi

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I have always told the bosses that high CSI scores have nothing to do with the sales process or the delivery, but everything to do with how well the customer is 'managed' after the sale.

The 'top box score' is all or nothing: just like binary code. Our bonuses are based on that. Personally, if a customer was 'very satisfied,' I would be thrilled; however, no bonus.

I've never resorted to bribery, but I have warned customers, "I know where you live!" :lol:

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DO NOT GET ME STARTED.............

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