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Bad customer data = Bad PR

Recently, I've received a string of unbelievable emails from my car dealership. After the last one, I seriously got up from my desk and looked around to make sure I was not on Candid Camera. Elantra

The first ones started last year and they weren't bad. "Hey, Claire!" the personalized message started out. "It's Matt from XYZ Clive Dealership. Just wondering how your Elantra is doing. We're a little low on used cars right now, so I thought I'd inquire to see if you are ready to trade in your vehicle anytime soon?" I recognized the guy as the one who'd sold me the car. Since my car was about three years old, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. I politely declined, but before hanging up the phone, I told Matt that when I was ready to trade this one in, I would probably get an SUV.

The next series of emails were a little sketchy. First, I got an email asking me if I'd like to sell my red Honda Accord. That would be my daughter's car. I didn't even co-sign for it. My name was not on the title. I politely told them that they had the wrong person.

Let me just stop right here and tell you that I've purchased two vehicles from this place, the first in 2002 and the most recent in 2011, long after the invention of computers. 

Fast forward to this week. I got a curious email from another person who I've never met. "I noticed that you got your car serviced here last month," (true) he said, "I just wondered where you purchased it?" 

I responded with total incredulity. "Ha ha ha! You're kidding, right?" I replied. "I bought my last TWO cars there." The reply? (I'm not kidding) "Can you tell me who your salesperson was?" 

Can you see where I'm going here? Their total lack of control over their own customer information is causing them to lose a future sale from a very loyal customer. The solution is two-fold.

First, they must capture all customer data from the first inquiry all the way through to the sale. Then the process doesn't stop, it just gets a bit more segmented. For an organization like car dealership, there are even systems that are customized just for them. There is simply no excuse to ask customers the silly questions that I was being asked.

Second, you must TRAIN your people how to use the system. Customers should not suffer the consequences of employees plundering a pile of unorganized data. 

After you have all the data in a CRM (customer relationship management) system, the real magic can happen. By sorting and segmenting data, your salesforce can mine it to reach out to customers with helpful and timely sales offerings. For example, last year when I told Matt that I wanted an SUV, he should have entered that into their database. Then, they could've sent me an email with an offer to upgrade to an SUV and trade in my current vehicle. This is called "personalization" and it's a very effective sales tool.

The lack of data integrity at this dealership looks like a fixable problem - and they have good salespeople who are obviously willing to reach out to customers, albeit a little clumsily. As their PR person, I would advise them to fix this problem immediately before some pushy blogger writes a blog post about it.

Claire Celsi is a PR practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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Good post, one of the biggest challenges for so many businesses is collecting and managing data effectively. Car dealerships especially have a knack for this type of thing.


it is amazing in todays world how some companies are still not with the digital program. My bank is the same. Seems like there is no database of names. Each guy you meet from the same bank wants a business card. I tell them "aren't I already in your data base?". Or sales people that want to give each person in my office a business card. I tell them they will be put in our database so keep all cards but one thank you. Oh my I think I just uncovered a sustainability blog!!!

Sage advice. No data is better for sales than "bad" data. It lacks professional finesse and makes would-be prospects lose confidence in the dealership.

And no personalization is always better than addressing the wiring person!

I've had similar experiences. Thanks for the post.

Claire, thank you for getting to the heart of this burgeoning problem in the sales world. Positive customer relationship management is so important!

I had a similarly frustrating experience with a car dealership which specializes in luxury cars. I expected a high level of relationship management to go along with my luxury car, but was continually disappointed.

A very smart and savvy sales person from a competing dealership in a different part of the state phoned me to inquire about my future car needs. Within two days he followed up with a video in an email of a car that met all of my criteria. Within a week I purchased the car that I saw in the video. Since then we have gotten three other vehicles from the smart and savvy sales person at the competing dealership.

The sad part is that I have shared my disappointment several times with the first dealership. I even offered to complete an on-line survey in the spirit of continuous improvement. Unfortunately, I have not received that email!

Nicely done, Claire. Customer service isn't hard. In fact, it's the easiest thing most businesses can do, and it's the one with the greatest financial return (in the form of repeat customers). And yet so many folks mess it up...

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