David Gesualdo

David Gesualdo

Remember when third-party consumer review sites first came on the scene? In 2007, at that year’s Industry Summit, we convened a panel to talk about online reputation management. You might recall that many dealers found the idea of a Web platform designed to allow customers to air their grievances for all the world to see was rather unsettling, to say the least. There was talk of class-action lawsuits.

But the digital marketing experts on our panel didn’t see it that way. To a man, they agreed that dealers should harness the power of those sites by encouraging as many customers as possible to post positive reviews. They also suggested dealers be proactive about responding to negative reviews with offers to remedy the situation.

How prescient. Today, dealers like Allen Turner, who owns Hyundai and Chevrolet franchises in the Florida Panhandle, have turned review sites into powerful marketing tools. He and his managers chose to focus on DealerRater. Allen Turner Hyundai has collected more than 1,100 reviews (only 10 of which are negative) and earned Dealer of the Year honors for Florida Hyundai dealers for the past three years. This year, they earned the national award for their brand as well.

You could accuse Turner of chasing trophies, but you would be missing the point entirely. He didn’t write those reviews. He is using Dealer­Rater as a free marketing platform, and an effective one at that. Good for him.

Our Sales Pro of the Month for May is Scott Kemp, who has spent the last 15 years of a 30-year sales career at Krippen Auto Mall in Lansing, Mich., where he sells new and used GMCs, Buicks, Mazdas and Volvos to a loyal customer base and, according to his general sales manager, maintains “near-perfect” CSI scores.

This month’s issue also features yet another memorable entry from Jim Ziegler, who escaped a Louisiana hospital in time to file a report on the unintended effects of leasing, the ongoing Takata airbag disaster, nine- and 10-year financing terms and more. Is anyone else following the Takata story as closely as Jim? I don’t think so, but if another 70 million units are added to the recall list, as he predicts, they soon will be.

There is so much more in these pages. Ron Reahard kicks off the spring selling season by answering the “Why” of F&I, Harlene Doane has a cure for the stomachaches caused by a rotten dealership culture, Ryan Williams demonstrates how prepaid maintenance drives loyalty and Tom Hudson makes a convincing plea for dealers to review their old arbitration agreements.

Finally, on our back page, G.P. Anderson returns to tackle a difficult subject: What do you do when a customer asks to see your boss? How do you handle a finance customer who complains about their salesperson? In his usual direct (but humorous) style, he suggests you tackle such situations head-on.

That is good advice, and it’s universal. We work in an industry that barely resembles its younger self. Technology and connectivity are flooding our market, and those two forces alone have generated a new level of awareness between dealers and customers. Each side has a pretty good idea of what the other is doing. We can fight it to the bitter end or embrace it fully. I know you will make the right choice for your business.