DETROIT – A visit to Hyundai’s U.S. Twitter page on any given day is liable to find people looking for help or just tweeting about a bad experience purchasing their vehicle.

“We’re encouraging that,” Dave Zuchowski, executive vice president-sales for Hyundai Motor America, tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of the Automotive News World Congress here.

Hyundai has appointed a member of its Customer Connect team “to troll the ‘Twitterverse’ every hour or so” each day to seek out complainers, Hyundai spokesman Chris Hosford says.

He admits early on Hyundai “took a little bit of time” to deal with the tweeted gripes, but now the social-media site is just another medium with negative feedback about its vehicles, no different than a phone call or email.

“The function is the same: People have problems, and we take care of the problems. It’s really just the communications method that has changed,” he says.

Zuchowski says Hyundai’s Twitter-response plan didn’t exist a year ago and a year from now will have evolved further due to the ever-changing nature of the technology.

Customer feedback on Twitter or other online sites may be the future in terms of dealer-satisfaction surveys, he says.

“I think there has to be a consolidated space, because everyone has a different rating system,” Zuchowski says. “(Numerical-rating systems vary), and I don’t know how you ever roll that up and aggregate that number. I think over time there will be a standardized way to evaluate customer satisfaction as based on consumer input.”

The auto industry isn’t ready yet for the switch from snail-mailed or emailed dealer-satisfaction surveys, though, he says. Dealers have some concerns about negative feedback made public for others to see.

A possible solution is allowing the dealer a chance to respond to complaints before they’re made public, something DealerRater.com currently is doing.

“If they didn’t know there was a problem, (the dealer) didn’t get a chance to fix it. So they want an opportunity to fix it before it goes online,” Zuchowski says.

Hyundai has 820 dealerships in the U.S., with plans to add five more this year, he says, with most of those in the so-called “smile” states along the coasts and in the Deep South. Hyundai sales are growing sharply in California, Florida and Texas, with California accounting for the largest share.

California also is where Hyundai lacks enough stores to meet demand, Zuchowski says.

During a panel discussion at the industry conference here, he says Hyundai is weathering well `the fallout from fuel-economy restatements on some of its late-model vehicles, although he does not know how many customers have taken advantage of the debit cards the brand has distributed as a form of compensation.

However, Zuchowski says consumer awareness of the of the issue, which also saw sister-brand Kia forced to restate its fuel economy downward by as much as 6 mpg (2.5 km/L), is about “23%-24%,” far below public awareness of Toyota’s unintended-acceleration-related recalls at the height of the contentious matter three years ago.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com