When Henry Ford introduced the moving automobile assembly line in 1913, it changed the automotive industry in many ways, one of which was the rise of the independently owned auto dealership. This business model, adopted to allow manufacturers to expand into new territories with minimal investment or risk, is now the norm. In fact, most states have laws that forbid auto manufacturers from selling their products directly to consumers.

Although this model has many advantages — owners and employees who live in, understand and are accountable to the local market, among others — it leaves manufacturers with the challenge of maintaining uniform messaging and customer care from the brand down to the dealership level.

Global promises, local disappointment

Auto manufacturers spend $35 billion annually on advertising with precise messaging — whether luxury, reliability or unmatched service — designed to create brand loyalty among potential buyers. Although manufacturers can provide their dealers with the same branding and inventory, the customer experience between dealerships located within a few miles of one another can be drastically different, and all those ad dollars pale in comparison to the power of even a single customer review.

Just think about the last time you got food poisoning at a fast food franchise. Did you limit blame for the incident to the employee who mishandled your food, or even to that particular franchise and its owner. If you’re like most of us, you blamed the brand itself, vowing never to eat at there again. Perhaps that’s why, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, 80% of domestic and foreign auto brands saw customer satisfaction slip drastically last year.

What’s a brand to do?

1. Identify and monitor all feedback channels

At the same time that an increasing number of consumers (more than 80%) start their purchases by researching brands online, their fellow consumers have a bigger megaphone than ever before. Social media amplifies consumer feedback — complaints that a few years ago may have reached only a few friends and family are now seen by hundreds of followers, and their hundreds of followers as well. And don’t ignore reviews in organic search. Although they lack the sex appeal of social media, reviews on sites like ConsumerAffairs have tremendous staying power, and because review sites are trusted domains, they tend to rank well on SERPs, meaning they’re some of the first results consumers see when they search for your brand.

2. Communicate customer care and engagement expectations with the marketing and sales teams at dealerships.

Dealerships represent your brand and should therefore reflect your messages to consumers about trust and reliability. We know that no matter how many policies or how much support you put in place, messaging at the local level can be hard to control, especially with thousands of dealerships around the U.S.

Here’s the good news: properly monitoring your brand’s feedback channels and partnering with third-party review sites like ConsumerAffairs makes is easy to spot the elevated concentrations of complaints around a particular dealership (or sometimes even employee) characteristic of one rotten apple working to spoil the whole bunch, or to spot common issues across dealerships that can indicate regional or brand-level issues.

3. Take ownership of your whole brand’s reputation.

Whether or not franchisees are separately responsible for their own customer engagement successes, the brand should be responsible for ensuring these successes with uniform strategies and expectations.

Partnering with review sites like ConsumerAffairs lets you consolidate feedback by creating an umbrella with the brand as the primary point of collection with brand- and dealership-level reviews. This lets brand-level employees ensure dealerships are following up with dissatisfied customers, and it allows brands to easily take control of the interaction if the dealership can’t provide the customer with a satisfactory resolution.

If you’re spending money on marketing, you need to consider the impact customer experience has on your message.

Automotive brands are some of the highest ad spend of any industry in the U.S., yet they suffer from flagging customer satisfaction caused primarily by customer service missteps at the local franchise level. We’ve got your back. To learn more about how partnering with ConsumerAffairs helps national brands identify and solve problems with local sellers and distributors, check out this case study featuring Easy Rest Adjustable Sleep Systems.