When Disaster Strikes – Crisis Management for Automotive Dealers

July 6, 2018 / Dealership / 0 Comments /
Crisis management falling dominos

When it comes to crisis and your dealership, it’s not a matter of if a crisis will strike, but when one will strike.

Nearly all businesses face a degree of bad press at some point or another. For some, the impact will be minimal, but for others, the fallout can be calamitous (see: Volkswagen).

Crisis at the Dealership

Let’s imagine the following situation. While responding to a vehicle inquiry, one of your salesmen steps out of line in his communication with a female customer. Instead of a professional reply, he shoots back with a joke about women and poor driving skills. Worse yet, the conversation takes place over text.

The customer, rightfully incensed, has left a scathing review on your dealership’s Facebook page. She threatens to take her story and text messages to the local television station and frame your dealership as a sexist and discriminatory group of schmucks.

If this gets out, you won’t just lose one angry customer, your entire reputation within the community could suffer. And when people lose trust in a dealership, the sales charts show it.

So, how can you fix it?

Responding to Difficult Situations

When you feel your reputation is in danger, the most important step is to tell the news first. Instead of waiting for someone else – whether that be a customer or a news outlet – to tell your story, beat them to the punch. By being the first to communicate the situation, you have control over how the facts are told. This ensures that the most accurate account of events is what the public hears first.

Once you have your story out, it’s important to be accessible. Depending on the scale of the scandal, you may have reporters and journalists wanting to get in touch with you. By being easily accessible yourself, or designating someone to handle inquiries, you will maintain a higher level of control over the situation and the quality of information that is provided.

The last step is one that is oftentimes crucial to recovering your reputation. After every crisis, it’s important to communicate how you will fix it. If your problem is false advertising, tell the public how you have new measures in place to ensure the accuracy of your messaging going forward. If an employee’s actions are at fault, outline the steps you are taking to educate staff and prevent this type of problem from occurring again. In every situation, underscore how the problem at hand is not consistent with your dealership’s values. This will remind customers of the positive traits they have come to expect from you.

Avoiding Crisis in the First Place

Not every situation is preventable, but there are some steps you can take to ensure your dealership’s reputation stays as clean as possible.

First, regularly review your policies and ethics with employees. This will help keep procedures top-of-mind and prevent employee mishaps that could damage the reputation of your business.

Next, train staff members on how to respond to a crisis situation. You may choose to do this with the entire workforce, or just with management. Either way, it’s important that employees know whom to contact in a potential crisis. The earlier the issue can be addressed, the less chance it has of developing into a large-scale problem.

Finally, actively monitor your online reviews and mentions. This includes social media sites, car review forums, and Google search alerts. Without keeping an eye on these sites, you risk missing news – both negative and positive – that could affect you, your staff and your sales.

Reputation management is essential to avoiding crises and keeping a positive presence in your community. That’s why Strong Automotive Merchandising offers reputation building and management as an important part of our digital marketing plan.

About the author

John Paul Strong: For someone who spends an average of 135 days outside of the office meeting with clients, John Paul Strong remains the driving force behind his Birmingham-based advertising agency, Strong Automotive Merchandising. Strong began his career as a fresh-faced account executive at Martin Advertising. Learning much, but never satisfied, he convinced his father to partner with him in reopening their own advertising agency in 2004, catering exclusively to the automotive industry. The company started strong but humble. The original roster of 10 employees and eight clients has exploded today, growing to 100 full-time employees and more than 220 automotive dealers. And it hasn’t gone without notice. Along the way, Strong Automotive Merchandising has been recognized as a perennial winner in Birmingham’s Best Places to Work contest and as a Top 20 Agency among Google’s National Ad Partners. Yet, Strong still finds time to share what he’s learned along the way. As an avid writer, he has published two books in the Next Day Traffic series, along with more than 1,000 automotive-focused blog posts. He is also a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, and his success has been recognized in the Birmingham Business Journal’s 2013 “Top 40 Under 40” feature and the 2017 CEO Awards. The foundation for Strong’s career began at the University of Montevallo where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and advanced public speaking. Always staying ahead of the competition, Strong later went on to study in Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program. Amid all of his endeavors, Strong always makes time for what matters most – his family. He is a proud husband to Amy, and father to Lilly Grace, Anne Charlotte, Hudson, and Ford.


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