Social overload

Dealers are feeling the pressure on social media, but common sense has to prevail

When I was younger — much younger — I played many different sports while growing up. One thing I remember clearly is how important it was to be aware of your teammates’ locations on the ice or on the field.

It was also important to keep your head up and eyes open at all times. Good athletes perform like they have eyes on the backs of their heads and seem to have full visibility of their surroundings. Sure, luck plays a role — being at the right place at the right time — but it’s the good athletes that always seem to be able to be at the right place at the right time.

Having just returned from the NADA convention and expo with all its visual noise and the man-made eye candy that only Las Vegas can produce, I can’t help but wonder how dealers are expected to keep up with all the changes. How can dealers gain visibility on their fields of play?

Keep your eyes open

Peripheral vision is a term that I associate to sports and eye tests. I believe, however, that the concept of peripheral vision also applies to automobile dealers in many ways. Let me explain.

We all know and believe that performing the basics day in and day out is a recipe for success. But in today’s digital world, how does a dealer take it all in, make sense of it and activate all that is useful to their full advantage?

I always come away feeling sorry for dealers at NADA. Walking the floor is nothing short of being barraged by sales people if you happen to have that brown “dealer” stripe on your convention badge.

One consistent feeling I always come away with is “know what you know and don’t pretend to know what you don’t know.” Many vendors embarrass themselves by trying to tell an experienced dealer what he needs to run his business better.

Beware the shiny new toy

Unfortunately some dealers also embarrass themselves by signing up for things big on promise without the faintest idea whether dealership staff have the capability and capacity to absorb it. Dealers sometimes are their own worst enemies when it comes to new gadgets and gizmos.

Nonetheless, dealers by and large must have peripheral vision. They must have their heads up and their ears open, be looking in all directions at the same time and listening for unusual sounds or conversations, and be taking in all the movement around them. Well this NADA introduced a new movement to watch: your present and future customers using social networks to assess you, measure you, recommend you and, yes, tell everyone who will listen about the bad experience they had at your store.

It seems to me that there’s still nothing wrong with basic blocking and tackling. But yes, there is more. The “more” comes from being aware of what customers can do to you, your employees and your dealership. Peripheral vision now requires us to see the unexpected and make sure no one leaves our stores without truly being satisfied. This means much more touchy-feely communication with customers while they are in your store, be it in person or online.

Its funny how we are now seeing signs in weird places that say, “If you cannot give us a perfect rating today, we want to hear about it before you leave.” Not only hanging in car dealership, you’ll see this in banks, restaurants and coffee shops, too. I suspect this will become common before we know it, but once it does, will it still be effective? Only time will tell.

How do we genuinely let the customers know we care about their experiences and really do want them to come back (and bring a friend)? If everyone is now focused on instant customer satisfaction, how the heck do we remain genuine?
This is a very real problem. No one at NADA could give me an answer. They were too busy selling the latest BDC system, reputation management system and the like, and, to my mind, were completely missing the point. In many ways, this is not a process that can be outsourced. I believe it is a culture enhancement made urgent by the fear that our customers will go viral on You Tube amplifying their supposed negative experience at our stores.

Are you getting the sense that more is entering our peripheral vision? Where do we get the eyes on all sides of our head to see everything that is going on around our dealerships? Is the answer to hire a young person to monitor the chat about the store? Is it to outsource our one-on-one customer relationships to someone in another country or city that has never visited our store or even understands what we stand for? Are we at risk of all being the same and losing out individual store personality?

With all new technologies comes a period of confusion before the calm sets in. I believe this is a period of confusion, and we are all learning the new skills required to adapt to better benefit our dealers.

Early adopters try to set the pace at the front of the race and sucker everyone behind them into thinking they have the magic formula. In my experience, early adopters assume the risks and sometimes do get a short-term advantage but they normally return to the pack or the pack catches up to them. If you are not an early adopter of social networking, don’t lose sleep over it. It’s not for everyone. Keep going with the blocking and tackling.

You owe it to yourself, however, to try to understand it. Talk to your fellow dealers, bring it up at your 20 group meetings, talk to your dealer council reps and, yes, talk to your brand representatives. Most importantly, however, is listening to your customers.

Regardless of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the like, give every customer the royal treatment. Make that your culture. Use your peripheral vision to see all your customers. Empower your employees to do the right things for your customers.
A dealer recently told me that the best thing that ever happened was the factory giving the dealer the freedom to deal with warranty decisions right on the spot, in front of the customer without the need to check back with the factory reps. This seems risky, but I am told it is working out great. CSI is truly being impacted.

Let’s take this one step further. Are you prepared to take the same risks by allowing your employees to do what is right for your customer?

Somehow this whole social networking phenomenon is backwards. It’s based on fear rather than being proactive. If we are proactive and use all the available tools, the most important of which is peripheral vision, we will find success and we will breed happy and loyal customers. Let’s make peripheral vision our key tool. Let’s find the open ice, make that pass knowing that our teammates will deliver the right experience to our customers. Superb and consistent customer service performed by empowered employees is the dealership culture of the future. Technology will come and go, however technology will never outlive or outperform genuine customer service, only support it and that’s if we choose to use it wisely.

About Chuck Seguin

Charles (Chuck) Seguin is a chartered accountant and president of Seguin Advisory Services ( He can be contacted at

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