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When Disaster Strikes – Crisis Management for Automotive Dealers

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 who 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.

John Paul Strong

John Paul Strong combines his two decades of automotive marketing experience with a team of more than 150 professionals as owner and CEO of Strong Automotive.

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