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Phone Surveys

ivr survey software solution Technology from Database Systems Corp. lets you develop IVR survey applications using our interactive voice response IVR solutions. Surveys can be initiated by outbound phone calls or can be a response to callers. Using our PACER and WIZARD phone systems with the Smart Message Dialer and survey software, we can call your survey prospects and play a highly focused and custom greeting. We then can give your survey audience the option to take your survey or even talk with a representative, leave a voice message, hear additional information, or simply decline to participate in the survey. The survey can accept touchphone response or can record each question response for later analysis. To view more information regarding our automated phone applications, please visit our Automatic Phone Survey solution web page.

The following is an article relating to call survey techniques and products and services in our business.

Those Irrepressible Satisfaction Surveys

Ward's Dealer Business

Byline: Steve Finlay

The automotive industry didn't invent the customer satisfaction survey.

But when it comes to asking buyers what they think of the product, the place of purchase, the "customer experience" and more, arguably no one pumps consumers for feedback like today's auto industry.

Those surveys are important, well intended and overall useful in helping manufacturers evaluate dealers and themselves. But are they overdone? Is it necessary for vehicle buyers to get surveyed three or four times by different organizations, more often now by evening phone calls?

What exactly do manufacturers do with all that data? And what do dealers - often put under the microscope of such questionnaires - think of them?

Tackling those issues were participants of the California New Vehicle Board's 2nd Annual Roundtable last month in Palm Springs.

"Dealers pay significant attention to those surveys. They're very concerned and take it very seriously," says board member Tom Flesh. "Dealers often do their own surveys."

"I've always found it interesting that satisfaction surveys are such an issue in the auto industry, because they aren't unique to it," says Frank Dunne, General Motors Corp.'s executive director, vehicle sales, service and marketing-retail relations. "Actually, the auto industry was relatively late in embracing them."

Since then, auto makers have found the surveys as "extremely useful diagnostic tools," says Dunne.

They're ultimately used as a carrot and stick for dealers; a carrot for retailers who score high, a stick for dealers who don't.

The carrot takes the form of rewards, trips, incentives and early delivery of hot products. The stick is mainly "constructive criticism," says Dunne.

"We'll sit down and discuss it with dealers," says GM's R. F. (Ron) Sobrero, general manager of dealer relations, vehicle sales, service and marketing. "We try to look at the process and provide the dealer with a lot of tools. We're also looking at dealer enthusiasm and profitability."

In hopeless cases, a franchise can be terminated. That's rare. "It's a worst-case scenario that we try to avoid," says Charles Polce, DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s dealer network development manager.

But a dealer with chronically poor customer satisfaction scores can forget about getting another franchise from a manufacturer, according to Sobrero.

"We'll say, 'We're not going to let you buy another franchise until you straighten out,'" he says.

Tom Novi, executive director of the California vehicle board, tells of a dealer who asked GM for an additional franchise. "He told me the first question GM asked was, 'How are your CSI scores?' Those decide whether a dealer will expand."

In some unsatisfactory situations, auto makers will try to get a successful dealer to buy out a comrade with chronically low customer satisfaction scores, says Sobrero.

It's important to get survey results to dealers quickly so they know what they're doing right and wrong, says Dunne. "If we can't get the information to them in a timely fashion, what's the point?"

Accordingly, many auto makers are switching to phone survey instead of written questionnaires that depend on customers filling them out and sending them in.

The response rate is higher by phone (70%) than by mail (40%), says Frank Beniche, senior manager, market representation, for American Honda Motor Co. Inc. Honda has switched to phone surveys.

Beniche says Honda dealers only get credited for top box scores because "we are trying to achieve lifetime loyalty, and we achieve that if the customer is totally satisfied."

Adds Polce: "Customer satisfaction is nice, but customer loyalty is priceless. The surveys help get us there."

A statistical disadvantage to written surveys is that satisfied customers often discard them. Conversely, unhappy customers are more likely to send them in. It can skew overall results.

"A lot of times with the forms they'll only send them in if they're upset," says David Wilson, owner of the Wilson Group, a 12-franchise dealership network based in Southern California. "You get a much more accurate picture on the phone."

Still, he worries that his customers are being flooded with forms and bothered by survey callers at dinnertime.

"Customers are surveyed to death after we kiss them goodbye and send them off in their new cars," says Wilson. "It started out with J.D. Power & Associates doing satisfaction surveys 15 years ago. Now there are 18 marketing groups doing them. Customers are inundated. That's my concern as a dealer."

Poor vehicle quality can distort how a consumer rates the dealership, laments Frederick (Fritz) Hitchcock, CEO of Hitchcock Automotive Resources, a 5-dealership group based in City of Industry, CA.

"If the manufacturer has very poor quality, the customer is probably going to torch the dealer," he says.

Novi says, "Intuitively, if you have lousy CSI scores, you probably have capitalization problems, profit problems and lousy sales. You're probably a problem dealer."

Not necessarily, says Dunne.

"A lot of dealers have high vehicle sales and lousy CSI results, and vice versa," he says. "One is as important as the other."

Although the surveys are considered invaluable in today's world of customer expectation and satisfaction, they aren't infallible.

Industry observers note that the results, at least potentially, can be manipulated by dealers who try to soften up customers with flowers, candy and other gifts as a prelude to filling out the forms.

"The argument is that you can't rely on CSI scores because dealers manipulate the results," says Novi.

The other argument is that those efforts hardly affect what customers end up saying on the surveys.

"A lot of people say, 'We understand the cookies and the flowers. And you know what? We're still going to call 'em as we see 'em,'" says Sorero. "People can see through the manipulation."

He contends that auto makers' data analyzing can screen most of that stuff out.

"The manipulation can only go so far," says Bob Dutton, franchise affairs strategy manager for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Wilson says savvy customers can up the stakes when it comes to dealer gift-giving in exchange for generous grades:

"Some dealers would tell customers, 'Bring the survey in, we'll fill it out together and I'll give you a free car wash.' Eventually the customer got smart and said, 'I'll bring it in, but I want a free car wash, free fill-up and free floor mats.'"

Jay Gorman, executive vice president of the California Motor Car Dealers Assn. says, "If a dealer knows a manufacturer is going to use CSI scores against him, he'll plead with customers for good scores. It can be misused."

Meanwhile, it's hard to get minorities to fill out the surveys, another factor that could distort results, says Robert Branzela, a member of the California vehicle board and a Mitsubishi dealer in San Mateo.

"Thirty percent of the people in my area are Asian," he says. "It's a challenge to get them to buy a car. It's a huge challenge to get them to fill out a customer survey questionnaire. My experience is that they just don't."

Despite their flaws, the surveys help auto makers and dealers alike better understand the customer, says Sobrero.

"That's so important," he adds. "If they're treated right, they'll come back."