Customer-survey feedback can tell dealers what they are doing right and wrong and even whether a salesperson during a demo drive took a woman car shopper to an empty parking lot behind a building.

That seemingly inappropriate behavior was revealed in the contents of a returned online survey sent to a dealership through its customer-relationship-management system, says Chad Perry, national director-account management at information-technology provider DealerSocket.

“It was kind of sketchy,” he says of the salesperson’s dubious idea for a test-drive route. “The dealership hadn’t known about it.”

Customer surveys elicit a variety of information and come in assorted formats. Some ask a lot of questions, some a few. Inquiries can range from specific to general issues.

Some are better than others, Perry says. “Some you try and some you shut down, but you have this to figure out what’s happening with customers.”

He and colleague Aaron Schinke, DealerSocket’s director-product management, discuss differences not only in the surveys themselves, but also in the customers submitting them. Humans, if nothing else, are varied.

“You can have people who spend a lot of money and rarely complain vs. someone spending very little and complaining all the time,” Perry says.

Constant complainers can be more than just picky people. They can be dishonest freebie freaks, too.

“One guy was scamming a dealership,” Perry says. “He would overfill his car’s oil and then say (in surveys) the dealership did it.”

To make amends for the alleged mistakes, the dealership gave him free oil changes – until he complained once too often over time. CRM survey tracking helped bust him.

Many car consumers feel they are over-surveyed, perhaps with good reason.

Certain automakers send new-car buyers customer-satisfaction surveys with nearly 90 questions, Perry says. “If I got one like that, and then a dealer sent me a 2-question survey, I might think that’s a lot of surveys.”

Other automakers have shortened their queries to focus on two key areas: 1.) Would you buy a car from this dealership again? 2.) Would you refer this store to others?  

Perry recommends asking no more than four to-the-point questions. “Any more than that is too many. Sometimes less is more.”

Open-ended surveys can provide richer responses than stock-question formats, Schinke says. “Some of the best information you can get is from, ‘Tell me what it was like.’ You can get answers to questions you never thought to ask.”

In the age of social media, people review all sorts of goods and services, from dealerships to bike stores, from restaurants to dog food.

Back to human nature: “People are much more likely to review something when they are unhappy,” Schinke says. “That’s just how people are, and social media is an outlet for that.”

He advises dealers to stay calm, respond carefully and offer to talk directly to someone slamming them in a review on Facebook, Twitter, DealerRater and the like.

“Don’t flip out,” he says. “And don’t respond to just negative reviews. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.”

In limited cases, he recommends not responding, period. “People submitting over-the-top reviews are trying to bait you.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com