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Something that both concerns and frustrates me is the internet secret shopper program.

It's not that I have a problem with the concept, but I find the execution to be laughable. Having experience with only a few manufacturers' secret shopper programs, I readily admit that there may be some better organizations out there but the manufacturers' programs with which I am familiar, being Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo and in the luxury segment, give me cause to worry.

The secret shoppers are necessary in order to help keep lead handlers on their toes. Responses to inquiries should be made in a timely manner, be well-written with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar and should always include information that the customer will find useful, interesting or engaging. A glib "Come on down, the price is right" reply should never be acceptable for any new-car dealership, at any level of the market.

The very purpose of the secret shopper, being to monitor and to critique a dealer response, means that the person actually submitting the lead should remain anonymous. The lead handler, whether this is someone in a BDC, a sales person or a manager, should not have any indication at all that the lead is in fact testing the content, timeliness and quality of their response. The opposite is true. 

Each manufacturer has a set format, which is very easy to recognize. The worst example, Jaguar Land Rover, includes a name, e-mail address, zip code and the generic year and model of interest. The e-mail is always a hotmail address, the zip code is always that of the dealership and the name used is invariably something flippant. For example I remember James Hawkins (there was an overwhelming temptation to sign the reply e-mail as John Silver) and the latest one, Alice Cooper. Really?

The leads are delivered simultaneously to each dealership for each brand, exclusively through Jaguar Land Rover Digital and so, having access to the incoming leads at two Land Rover stores and two Jaguar, (plus being in communication with several others within our dealer group) I am able to see those leads which are by their very nature instantly recognizable.

Where this starts to get silly is in the fact that Jaguar Land Rover insist on a particular format for the reply. No variations, no information that might be useful, just three questions asked of the "customer"; color choices, model of interest and when he or she might be available to come in for a test drive. That's it. They have even approved a template, in which the rep merely types the year, make and model of the vehicle of "interest", several times, and hits "send", and everyone is happy. Grammar, whilst not poor, is suspect and no dealer worth his or her franchise would send such a pitiful message to anyone who had expressed interest in a $100,000 vehicle.

They don't care about the fact that a real potential customer who inquires receives a vastly different response, as long as they see a response that checks their boxes, and nothing else they are happy. This is easy for anyone in their employ to check for the required elements. Previously, a response sent one month would pass, the same response word-for-word sent the following month would fail, because the process was very subjective. Dealers protested, and so JLR Digital approved a particular template to use for their "inquiries".

Volvo's system is a little, but not a whole lot, better. 

Which brings me to my initial question. If a manufacturer uses a secret shopper that they are aware is instantly recognizable as such, and requires a cut-and-paste pre-approved response that is formulated for them and them only, can somebody please explain to me what on earth the point of it is?

You might say that I should just go with the flow, if everyone is passing their evaluations then both the dealer and the manufacturer are happy, right? In order to constantly improve then anyone, whatever their profession needs to be challenged, and this is anything but. I could explain how to do it properly, but would anyone listen?

If everyone is just phoning it in, then why spend money on that program at all? Somebody is being paid, and no doubt a serious amount of money, and they are not doing their job! They are certainly not concerned whether or not I am doing mine....

Has anyone else had similar thoughts, or am I alone here?

Views: 426

Tags: Leads, Responses, Secret, Shopper

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Comment by Stephen Favill on June 3, 2013 at 12:42pm

Thanks Tom. Here is a case in point: I always try to customize my response to the inquiry, and in one instance I used the words "understeer" and "oversteer" when explaining how Jaguar's AWD system works in real terms, and was given a fail mark because of those two words. Fortunately, our JLR rep went to bat for us and had that reversed.

So now, I just use the cookie-cutter response that Art Wolf's team wants to see to any "shopper" lead. All genuine inquiries still receive the individualized response that any real potential customer would want to see. I understand, they probably employ people at minimum wage who are not well-educated, and so they need a response that can be graded easily and without any need for discretion or having to place themselves in a customer's shoes. Tom's comment about "homogenize me down to the level of my competitors", unfortunately summarizes what they want to see. Easy-to-understand, and lowest common denominator standards.

Comment by Tom Gorham on June 1, 2013 at 6:55pm

Stephen, thank you for having the guts to say what every dealer and internet manager is thinking.  Don't worry about what manufacturer it is, they all are trying to micromanage the dealer.  The intentions, as you stated, are good.  The results are oatmeal.  A great dealer, who gets it, might just think, "OK, homogenize me down to the level of my competitors."

Comment by Joel Casser on May 27, 2013 at 7:12am

Being a Volvo dealer, the internet mystery shops drive me nuts.  You can tell who they are most of the time, because it's a new car inquiry, the phone number is out of state, and there's always two questions in the inquiry.  But the big issue for me is just that like JLR, they expect certain cookie cutter answers, and nothing else will do.  Never mind that I use video for all of my initial responses, and I have closing rates well above the average for my brand, all my mystery shops come back as a F because they don't get a written response.  I went so far as to rattle off an angry email not just to the mystery shopper company they used (Pied Piper), but also to a lot of the higher ups at Volvo.  I'm at the point now where I toss the results in the trash because they don't do me any good.


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Comment by Jerry Thibeau on May 27, 2013 at 5:37am

It's about holding people accountable.  If people know it's out there they tend to perform at a higher level. 

If anyone would like to be shopped and critiqued, I'll gladly provide five free ones to five different dealerships.  The catch, you need to be willing to share the results right here on this thread with the community.  Who is up to the challenge?  Highest score wins a prize!


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Comment by Marty Garvey on May 27, 2013 at 3:55am

Nissan uses the JD Power secret shopper program and rewards good responses with cash to the responder if their response meets the quality standards. It tests the BDC, Showroom sales, Service, and Quick Lube areas of the dealership. It works well, and uses real shoppers with real email addresses who purchase cars and service. I like it.

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