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From the Trenches - Ethics are for Kids!


Ethics: The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the conduct of the members of a profession.


"I read the news today, oh boy,

I saw my company got a bad review.

And though that news was rather bad,

Well, I just had to laugh…"


I'm always reticent when I speak about ethical behavior in the car business.  I know there are those who grew up in the hard-scrabble inner city who will say I'm a small-town naive schoolboy.  They live by the motto, "buyer beware."  They pride themselves on being "savvy".

On the other hand, I run the risk of being "holier-than-thou", self-righteous, or goody-goody.

But I've never been either one of those stereotypesI consider myself a pragmatist.  And I consider ethical behavior GOOD BUSINESS!


The Internet introduced the average consumer to unprecedented information.  It has empowered the consumer much to the chagrin of many an automotive salesperson, manager, or dealer.  It has introduced transparency in our business.


"A sucker is born every minute" belongs to the early 20th century.  "Buyer beware" belongs to our past.  "The customer is always right" may not be true, but it is relevant. 


Great customer service equals success.


Do you obsess about your online customer reviews?  Stop it!  It is a symptom of misplaced priorities.  You should be obsessing about the very things that create great customer reviews organically.  Your future depends on it.


I've often talked about word-of-mouth advertising being the beginning and the end.  Before mass media, it was the main (and the best) kind of advertising.  We have circled around and come back to that with Social Media and Online Customer Reviews.  Consumers are judging your every move.  They are doing so very publicly.


The next decade will give those who act transparently and in their customers best interest the advantaqe over all others.  You can "push" advertising at them telling them how great you are, but if it doesn't meet reality, others will give them the true scoop on you.


This will manifest in how you treat your employees, how they treat your customers, and how they become advocates for your business.


It may not be Disney, as GM aspires to, but it just might be the future of your business.




Written by
 Tom Gorham

Editor, From The Trenches

Automotive Digital Marketing

Professional Community

Views: 574

Tags: Customer, Digital, Ethics, Marketing, Media, Reviews, Sales, Service, Social


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Comment by Tom Gorham on October 11, 2012 at 8:43am

As a follow-up to the story about the Camaro owner who's car was abused by mechanics, here is today's story about the results in case you've missed it. "Dealership in Camaro-thrashing story buys back car from satisfied owner".

Not judging who's to blame in what happened, but this is a positive outcome.  Doing it sooner may have prevented this story from going viral against the dealer and may have even made the dealer look like a hero.  It might even have gone viral in favor of the dealer.

Comment by Tom Gorham on October 10, 2012 at 5:42pm

LOL Jim.  I would have loved to see their faces!  If it wasn't so foolish and possibly disastrous for the dealer, it would be funny!  But it's definitely not funny for the dealer OR the customer.

Comment by Jim Radogna on October 10, 2012 at 9:01am

I saw that one yesterday - Unbelievable! I agree, the dealer should have done immediate damage control. Although, when you piss off a customer enough, you may not have that opportunity anymore. Bet those geniuses where shocked when they heard that recording!

Comment by Tom Gorham on October 10, 2012 at 6:19am

Jim, here's a different kind of example of how things can go wrong for a dealer... "Camaro owner records mechanics abusing car, scheming to get damages paid for".  I think the dealer would have been better off taking responsibility for what happened, buying the car back, and firing the jokers who did it.

Comment by Tom Gorham on October 9, 2012 at 6:37pm

OMG Jim Radogna.  You said the two words I've had on my mind... Bill Heard.  There's an old phrase, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." 

But even without the dramatic examples, it is not unusual to revisit an area and find that big dealer is either gone or no long big.  Times change and successful dealers adapt or lose market share.

I read that story about the dealer who had his customer arrested.  What a nightmare.  And nightmares have a way of going viral.  How much advertising money will it take to get out of that?

I am heartened by the recent polls that show trust in dealers is increasing.  We have been fighting the stigma of slime with transparency brought on by the Internet and it is finally paying off.  I look forward to another decade of advancing the cause of dealerships and community.  Thank you for your graphic examples!

Comment by Jim Radogna on October 9, 2012 at 6:25pm

There are just not enough advertising dollars to keep "the most successful companies" on top anymore. For instance, how about the dealership that had their customer arrested recently because they screwed up the contract and undercharged him for a vehicle? How many times and from how many sources have we read that story in the last week or so? Or how about the dealer group in the Bronx that just got hammered for bad behavior? Although I grew up just over the bridge in Queens, I'm long gone, so why am I reading about it in dozens of different places all the way over here on the left coast?

Sorry, but the game is changing. If you act unethically nowadays, there's a good chance it will become national news and bite you in the ass hard. You just can't sweep it under the rug like you could in the good old days.

I wholeheartedly agree with Tom. It's disheartening to hear rationalizations that you can somehow buy your way into success with deep pockets regardless of the way you conduct business.

For those of you who think the mighty can't fall, I have two words for you - Bill Heard.

Comment by Tom Gorham on October 9, 2012 at 5:36pm

Oh Tim, I neglected one thing. You said, "McDonalds is the most (financially) successful fast food chain because they out spend Burger King and Wendy's (on advertisng)." Hmmm, I occassionally eat at all three but I can't recall seeing an advertisement for any of them in a long time. Maybe I don't watch enough TV, but I am online all the time. I spend more time at McDonalds because I just happen to like it better. ;-)

Comment by Tom Gorham on October 9, 2012 at 5:26pm

Tim Martell, I won't get into the personal aspects of your comment.  I trust that you know yourself well-enough.  But the rest leaves room for clarification. 

To start with, I was not talking about companies in general, although my statement could refer to many industries.  I was talking about dealerships which are people businesses that are impacted by trust.  I like to think about the car business at the dealership level as a relationship industry that sells a product.

I say this because I believe manufacturers, for example, are more into selling a product while dealerships are into selling themselves.  If a Chevy customer is pondering which of many dealers to buy from, we have to sell price (value) and ourselves (value).  The product has already been sold to the customer.

The fact that advertising is advantageous has nothing to do with the statement that, "The next decade will give those who act transparently and in their customers best interest the advantaqe over all others."  Doug Davis was right to point out that a bad reputation can erode your business to the point that you can't afford the cost of out-advertising your competition.

I also want to point out that when you reference large dealerships that spend a lot on advertising, you are pointing out a condition that continues to exist today while I pointed to the next decade.  In 2000, there were still many dealers that were doing great business without the Internet.  They didn't convert until they began losing business to those that embraced the Internet.

Advertising comes in many forms and layers and is very adaptable to changing times.  I certainly don't predict its demise.  I don't think I said that either. 

But transparency isn't going away any more than the Internet did.  Those who choose to use unethical behavior will find themselves exposed and their reputations tarnished to the detriment of their business no matter how much advertising they do.  Those who embrace transparency and the best interests of their customers WILL have the advantage.

Yours was a very long comment.  I may have just competed with that so I will leave off here.  I truly do appreciate your comment in any case.

Comment by Tom Gorham on October 9, 2012 at 1:30pm

Ryan, I suspected you would identify with my statement about reviews.  We have a lot in common on that subject and perhaps I will expound on misplaced priorities in another article.  Thanks for the comment.

Doug, thank you for some good examples of dealers that do it right and wrong and how advertising cannot save the one with a bad reputation.  Extrapolate that out over the next decade and I think it will become clear what "advantage" I was discussing.

Ralph, LOL!!!

Tim, I'm at work right now and I want more time to ponder what you said here and respond.  I will try to do so later tonight.  Thanks for your comments.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on October 9, 2012 at 10:19am

I know this is supposed to be a comment about Tom's great article, but I just wanted to say I am very impressed with the length of Tim Martell's comment without a single attempt to divert traffic to a Wikimotive web page... Tim, there may be hope for you yet!

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