Dealers could stuff the online ballot box

Donna Harris covers automotive retailing for Automotive News
When I wrote recently about Google’s new policy of posting customer reviews beside online dealer listings, a reader suggested this could induce dealers to cheat on the ratings.

He thinks some dealers will plant bad reviews about their competition and write favorable views about their own stores. As a result, the number of reviews and the ratings dealers receive will be inaccurate.

As a consumer, I think reviews of various businesses -- including dealerships -- can be helpful. But this reader makes a valid point.

Dealers have been known to cheat on the paper customer surveys the factories use to try to gauge customer satisfaction. For example, some misreport an address if they think the customer will give them a bad rating. Instead of submitting the customer’s contact information when reporting a sale, some salespeople insert their own contact information or that of a friend or relative to ensure a favorable response on a customer satisfaction survey.

In recent years, General Motors has had to toss a bunch of surveys because dealers were cheating and it was paying out hefty bonuses for high customer satisfaction scores.

There’s even slang for this: Dealers call it “CSI engineering.”

Now I’m not saying the majority of dealers game the system. But the point is that some dealers do cheat on the paper customer satisfaction ratings. So there’s reason to believe some of the same shenanigans could continue in an online setting.