Special Report

Ward’s
e-Dealer 100

If you're not paying attention, the Internet can reach up and bite you without warning.

The Husker Automotive Group learned this lesson recently when an auction it held on eBay Motors for a new BMW E90 M3 sedan turned ugly. There was no reserve set, but the vehicle had a “Buy It Now” price of $67,800.

Ken Tanisaka, who lives in California, placed an initial bid of $60,000. It ultimately was the winning, and only, bid. But then, according to Tanisaka's account, someone from BMW of Lincoln called him and said the dealership made a mistake and was pulling the offer.

When the dealership reportedly refused to budge, Tanisaka posted on a BMW blog asking if anyone else had encountered a similar situation.

Husker BMW got blasted on the blog for reneging on the auction. Tanisaka's account, though, varies from a statement that Husker issued. As of press time, a resolution was still forthcoming.

Big deal, you say? Consider, Tanisaka's original posting generated 110 pages of comments — mostly directed against the dealer. The blog received more than 900,000 views in less than two weeks.

The story made the papers, CNBC, MSNBC along with other outlets. Enough said.

Another situation occurred nine months ago to Benson Mitsubishii, a dealership in New Jersey. A woman came into the dealership with a digital video camera accusing the store of mistreating her mother. Apparently, Benson sold her a car, and then had to call her because the financing fell through.

The daughter rudely and verbally assault the general manager without giving him a chance to respond. She then posts the video to YouTube. Nine months later, the video has been viewed more than 122,000 times and generated 180 comments.

Brad Benson, the owner, tried to mount a defense by posting his own video refuting the daughter's allegations. But he did so by explaining the mother's terrible credit situation. Benson ultimately pulled his video because of the backlash he received.

These two stories show the Internet can be a frightening tool today airing all of your dirty laundry — and even creating dirt where there is none. You're going to make mistakes when dealing with customers, but, more than ever, you need a process to quickly jump on these sorts of situations and turn them to your advantage. Control who speaks to the press, and get your story out there. You might have to eat some costs, but if you show a willingness to take the hit and work with your customers, you'll likely avoid an obscene amount of bad publicity.