Ask Bark Brief: Why Do Dealers Care So Much About My Survey?

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Scott writes:

Dear Bark,

Can you explain the continued existence of dealer sales and service surveys? I recently had my stick-shift 2013 Accord Sport in for a required maintenance, which included an oil change. When I picked up the car, I noticed that the technician had not reset the oil life indicator. So I did it myself.

Two days later, I received a call from the service department asking about the quality of service I received. When I told them everything was fine except that they didn’t reset the oil life indicator, the service rep asked, “Would that prevent you from giving us a passing grade on a customer survey?” I said that given the almost-perfect service, I’d award them four stars out of five.

The service rep replied, “No, four out of five stars is a failing grade, thanks anyway.” This is data manipulation of the highest order, like the NFL choosing not to collect concussion statistics from teams so they don’t have to report it. If everyone knows these statistics can’t possibly represent a true sampling of customers, why are dealers trying so hard? Why should anyone ever answer a dealer survey?

Do surveys mean anything to anyone in the auto industry?

Keep up the great work.

Great question. Most automakers have some sort of bonus program for franchise dealerships. You may remember in my famous piece “How Do New Car Dealers Make Money?” that one of the very few ways a new car department of a dealership can make money is by achieving the goals in these bonus programs.

However, they aren’t just sales bonuses. GM’s “Standards For Excellence” bonuses, or “SFE,” as they’re commonly referred to, measure much more than just raw sales data. They measure “pump in/pump out” reports (which honestly sounds more like something Jack would be discussing), which tells the OEM how many cars the dealership is selling inside and outside its designated market area. It measures service penetration (which is how much traffic the service department is generating) versus new car sales. But, most importantly, it measures Customer Satisfaction Index, in both sales and service.

Nothing less than a perfect score counts. 4/5 is, indeed, a failing score in the eyes of the OEM. So they’d prefer that you not fill out a survey than give them a 4/5. It costs them serious money to not hit these goals — we’re talking five figure bonuses.

Yes, everybody manipulates the data — and so would you, if it meant that much money to you. They can’t actually offer you any free money or anything for giving them a 5/5, but they can offer you a free oil change or something along those lines for filling out the survey — regardless of the score that you give them—and then really, really ask very nicely for you to give them the best possible rating.

That’s why they do it. Not saying that they should, but they do.

Got a question for Bark? Shoot it over to or hit him up on Twitter at @barkm302.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • Dr_outback Dr_outback on Jun 22, 2016

    I have lost thousands of dollars because somebody filled out a survey with less than perfect scores because they had to leave a voicemail, the complimentary car wash wasn't thorough enough, the TV wasn't loud enough, the TV was too quiet, they had to pay for a repair, they think 8's are great, an hour for an oil change, free inspection and car wash is too long, they got lost in the service drive and never did find the waiting area, the TPMS light came on a few days after the service, we didn't give them a free loaner for their $70 oil change, they had to call in twice, the tires should have lasted longer, we should accept Discover...

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Jun 22, 2016

    The incentives are completely broken and the data is completely meaningless if they require all 5s. Same problem with Uber - a driver I know had to stop picking up a particular customer because she didn't believe in giving a 5 unless you, say, delivered a baby in the back seat or saved Grandpa's life by performing the Heimlich maneuver or something. And the problem is that from Uber's standpoint less than a 5 is a fail. If your rating dips then Uber sends you fewer and less desirable passengers and trips, and eventually suspends your driver account altogether.

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