Texas Chevrolet dealer Greg May says he could do without the latest mandate from General Motors to hire a firm to handle his online reputation management.
Like all GM dealerships, Greg May Chevrolet of West, Texas, near Waco, had to select by last week one of three vendors approved by GM.
GM issued the mandate to ensure that all its dealerships solicit customer reviews, post them on the right consumer sites and respond promptly to negative reviews that can hurt both the vehicle brand and the dealership.
Failure to comply puts at risk 20 percent of what GM's four brands pay quarterly in dealer Standards for Excellence bonuses pegged to vehicle sales, consumer satisfaction and other measures.
"Chevrolet is the only one of my franchises that tells me who I have to do business with," said May, who also is dealer principal of Honda and Nissan stores in Texas.
May said GM's intentions are good but the execution is ham-handed.
He said he already has a reputation management firm that he likes and he isn't going to change. So he will keep his current firm and pay an extra $300 a month to bring on the GM-mandated vendor.
If he didn't comply, his store would have lost about $4,000 of the $20,000 it receives quarterly as part of Chevrolet's Standards for Excellence incentive program, May said.
GM started the program because of the importance of consumer reviews in vehicle shopping, GM said in a written statement.
About 91 percent of auto shoppers read online reviews to decide which dealerships to shop, GM said. Yet the auto industry lags other industries in reputation management. Only 20 percent of online reviews about the auto industry are positive, vs. 80 percent for other businesses.
"Our review of automotive retailers as a whole showed that very few dealers had a solid reputation management process in place," the statement said.
So late last year GM informed dealers that they must select one of three vendors, Cobalt, Naked Lime or Digital Air Strike, to be eligible for the last 20 percent of dealer incentives. May said he chose Naked Lime, a unit of Reynolds and Reynolds, which is the vendor for his stores' dealer management systems.
May said he has signed with Naked Lime to continue getting all of his Standards for Excellence money. He said his current reputation management vendor, Local Search Group, is doing a good job of generating positive reviews and getting them placed on the most advantageous sites, such as Google+ Local, DealerRater, Yelp and others.
He said he plans to let Local Search Group continue as well as handle his budget for advertising on search engines such as Google and other sites.
May said he tried to get an exemption, but GM would not relent. He said he applauds Chevrolet for addressing reputation management, "but there needs to be some flexibility."
GM said that the option of three vendors demonstrated the program's flexibility.
This is only the latest GM mandate that has irked some dealers.
GM's facilities standards -- which require compliance to receive another type of bonus -- have caused howls from GM dealerships.
Dealers also have had to deal with another GM program that feels like a mandate to them.
Without a Cobalt Web site, dealers risked losing those prospective customers, May said.
But May and dozens of GM dealers nationally like the look and user-friendliness of other Web site vendors, so they pay for a second Web site to be the primary one for attracting customers.
Today May is using RND Interactive as his main Web site vendor.
As such, customers seeing Greg May Chevrolet advertising on Google or other sites are directed by links to May's RND Interactive Web site, known as gregmaychevrolet.com, rather than the Cobalt site, gregmaychevy.com.
May said he buys the most basic "stripper" Web site from Cobalt for $300 a month to stay in compliance with GM while spending $899 a month for the RND site.
GM said in its statement that the "vast majority" of its dealers use Cobalt Web sites as their primary Web site and have a "high level of satisfaction" with the product.