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Posting Car Complaints Online? Chrysler, Ford, GM Are Listening

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So, you're driving along, minding your own business, when your car starts making a funny noise. Or there's a gap in the upholstery that you hadn't noticed before. Or your windows won't roll up properly. You get home, and like most tinkerers in this day and age, you fire up the interwebs and do a little Googling to find a fix for the annoying problem.

Nine times out of ten, you're led down a rabbit-hole lined with fan forums and discussion boards, chock-full of posts from fellow owners who've complained of similar issues. Given the obscurity of some of those forums, it might seem that no one would ever read such kvetching, but according to Detroit News, Detroit automakers are indeed patrolling the boards -- and they're jumping in to address problems when they can. 

They're listening

It's a variation on what's loosely called "reputation management", which has been made possible, in part, by improvements to the web's major search engines. With Google, for example, company reps can scan for terms like "Ford Mustang" or "Chevy Camaro" and winnow down the results to reveal those that have been posted on blogs within the past 24 hours.

Chrysler appears to be leading the charge on this front, thanks to the work of Pietro Gorlier, the president of Mopar brand service, parts, and customer service at Chrysler/Fiat. Before the two automakers merged in 2009, he was doing exactly this sort of "listening" work for Fiat, and now, he's applied what he learned to the entire Chrysler/Fiat family.

Gorlier began by restructuring Chrysler/Fiat to focus on its brands, not on its overarching corporate identity. This is very similar to what General Motors has been doing the past couple of years, with GM stepping out of the spotlight and putting Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC front-and-center. The rationale for both companies' moves is identical: most customers don't buy the corporation, they buy they brand

Part of Gorlier's strategy then involved creating brand teams to patrol key fan forums, scrolling through the seemingly endless threads. Gorlier's teams reach out to owners when they see a problem they might be able to fix, and they pass innovative ideas over to Chrysler/Fiat's research/development teams. In the past year alone, Gorlier's online staffers have posted over 3,000 messages to forums, which have generated contacts with nearly 500,000 individuals.

While Ford and GM don't seem to devote quite as much staff time to such activities, it's become part of their corporate game plan, too. Quite rightly, they focus their attention on models with loyal fan-bases, like the Ford F-150 pickup, since owners of those vehicles are most likely to take to the internet with their complaints and kudos.


What's interesting is that lawyers at Chrysler (and presumably at Ford and GM, too) initially objected to the idea of company reps trolling internet forums. Though the Detroit News story doesn't go into detail, we have a hunch that the lawyers' objections might've been tied to liability: offer a handy fix for a problem, and the company could get sued if the fix isn't quite as easy or effective as thought. 

Then, too, there's the issue of contacting customers through "unofficial" means. Corporations generally have very specific ways in which they like to discuss things with owners -- ways that can be monitored and recorded in real time, as anyone who's ever called a customer service line knows. Unfortunately, forums aren't on that list.

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Comments (4)
  1. GM has a customer service rep that has a known presence on a Pontiac forum that I frequent. The rep does what she can to work a as a medium between GM and the owners with vehicle concerns for both vehicles in warranty and others that may be out of warranty but experiencing a known/common problem.

    Initially there was backlash from some in the forum accusing the service rep of trolling with the final goal of preventing warranty claims. Since coming on the scene, it has been a positive experience for many people that have been helped.

  2. It is great to hear positive feedback on GM’s social customer care engagement. We participate on many automotive forums, with forum owner permission of course, and work to take care of customers’ questions or concerns. Our agents engage online for questions that can be answered quickly and when a little more customer detail is required we will take to conversation offline to protect members’ privacy. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Pfft. I get far more helpful advice from an auto forum I frequent. Lots of techs who know what they're doing on there.

    If something isn't right on my car, I can usually find another person who experienced the same thing -- and what's needed to be done to get the car effectively fixed. More often than not, I'm printing out a thread detailing a fix and giving it to the service manager so their techs know what to do.

    I've seen some of those GM CSRs in action. Lots of happy talk. Some very basic troubleshooting -- which is helpful for a new customer whose too lazy to read an owner's manual. Thing is, if you have a problem the dealer can't diagnose -- they're worthless.

  4. We purchased a 2013 Ford C-Max on October 30, 2012. We wanted another hybrid (we also have a 2006 Toyota Prius) and the C-Max is "rated" at 47 mpg city and highway.

    Instead of the rated 47 mpg, we're averaging 39.5 mpg.

    Our C-Max has been back to the dealership for service FIVE times, four times for the electronic "brain" (Ford Sync) and one for a mechanical failure, which required the driver's power seat track to be replaced.

    The electronic issues range from the GPS being off calibration, the clock changing itself randomly, the phone not automatically connecting and the main control panel not displaying all the information.

    We have read many complaints online regarding the Ford Sync system. There is NOTHING intuitive about using the

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