Dealerships Fake/Alter Customer Satisfaction Surveys To Get Marketing Money From Toyota

We recently posted about a couple who went into a Toyota dealership, got a little ticked off, and were refused a car. Not because she had poor credit or was acting a fool in the store, but because she and her husband were “in a bad mood.”

The customer’s husband suspected that the salesman refused to sell his wife a car because he was afraid of receiving a poor customer service survey from them. It turns out that he may be on to something, if what our tipster says is true. He claims that his roommate used to be a CSR for a Toyota dealership and it was the roommate’s job to make sure the customer either did not fill our the survey or filled our paper surveys so the answers could be changed or poor reviews thrown out.

The tipster writes:

Toyota pays each dealership an extra amount of money for marketing based on the customer satisfaction surveys that are given to each customer after they purchase a vehicle. If they do not score a 90% or better they do not get the extra money each month, (part the extra money is then distributed to the employees so there was significant incentive to get positive surveys) anything less then a 5 on a 1 to 5 scale will reduce your customer satisfaction score. My roommates job was to get those surveys back to the dealership (while they are still not filled out) by offering free tanks of gas, carwash etc, and to not let the customer fill out the survey online. My roommate would then fill the survey in for the customer online (using as many different computers as possible, in case Toyota was looking for a repeat IP address) or fill in the paper survey and return it to Toyota. If the survey was already filled out they would either change the answers or throw the survey away so that Toyota never received it. It was a constant battle each month to try and change enough surveys to counter balance the surveys that people submitted without returning them to the dealership. If you want to get the free incentive and still get your opinion heard, fill out the survey online and then take the paper copy to the dealership for the free tank of gas. I do not know if all the Toyota dealerships work this way but the way the system is set up I imagine that many do it this way.

Obviously, Toyota’s incentive program needs a bit of work.—MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: Leonid Mamchenkov)

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  1. Plaid Rabbit says:

    I used to sell cars for a GM dealership, and this was also the case. We had a huge mural of the customer service survey, and we had a whole division of people who’s sole job was to make sure that everything was peachy and that the customer could leave nothing but a “5 star” review on the survey.

    If they brought it back to us (instead of sending it in to GM directly, which was who sent it to them) and showed us what they put down, we gave them a free car wash and oil change. Now that I think about it, those shady bastards probably were doing the same thing if the person didn’t put 5 stars on everything.

  2. bpotterr says:

    It seems to me that the best way to get positive customer satisfaction surveys would be to satisfy your customers. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

  3. nweaver says:

    The problem is, customer satisfaction is counter to car salesman strategy.

    EG, “Bait and switch” (Yeah, we got a Fit Sport with a manual transmission. Get there, and it was an automatic.) is far too common.

    So better to sell the cars like the scumbags they are and fake the surveys.

  4. Havok154 says:

    Back in the day, CompUSA would do the same thing. Have the customer fill it out and hand the written survey to us. That way we could weed all the bad ones out, possibly fix any issues they had, etc. Then the company became smart and got rid of the paper surveys. Instead they would randomly call a certain number of customers to make sure they were satisfied, taking any possible editing or filtering at the store level out of the cards.

  5. dieman says:

    Subaru had me fill out a survey for my 07 car, but the dealer did *not* ask me for the paper copy. Ironically, Data Recognition Systems handled the survey, and they are headquartered like 3 miles from where I lived. (and have a huge building like .25 miles from here)

    So not only does this particular Subaru dealership not suck, the car manufacturer supports a local company to boot. :)

  6. dieman says:

    @dieman: DRC, Data Recognition Corporation, not DRS.

  7. SOhp101 says:

    Wait, this is news? Shady dealerships have been doing this for the longest time.

  8. ADM says:

    Something similar happened to me at the Volkswagen dealership in Brookline, MA several years ago.

    I had a decent salesman who gave me a good deal on the car, but they botched something up logistically (entirely their fault), which led to a 1-day delay in my getting the car.

    As he left me the keys, he reminded me that VW would be calling with the satisfaction survey, and that I should make sure to tell then “All fives, all fives.” He was so emphatic, I still remember it vividly years later. Given the screw-up mentioned above, and the fact that I didn’t like being told how to rate my customer satisfaction survey, I wasn’t entirely satisfied and gave them a 3 or 4 in one of the categories.

  9. espertus says:

    I had a related problem with the San Francisco Toyota dealership. After leaving my Prius for service in the morning, I telephoned in the afternoon to ask if my car was ready. I was told it was and took a bus to the dealership. I saw my car (with a customer satisfaction survey hanging on the rear view mirror) but was told the car wasn’t ready. I had to wait more than an hour. When I got home and went to fill out the customer satisfaction survey, I saw that they had removed it before returning my car to me. I was so angry that I phoned and mailed Toyota customer service. I ended up getting an apology from the San Francisco dealership and a credit for $100 for future work.

  10. exkon says:

    Sigh, I worked at Toyota dealership for like 5 years as a lot porter (amazing things you learn…)

    This the main case, as extra money comes to the salesmen and dealership so they go to extra lengths to make sure good surveys are seen.

    One thing they would do if they sold a car to a customer and they knew a bad survey was going to be had…the survey would be sent to the “wrong” address.

  11. HawkWolf says:

    th toyota dealership in my area seemed to be a little crummy. the sales people weren’t too chipper. I was buying a scion, which was like walking into walmart and buying something. Best experience ever. “So which do you want? Do you want all this other stuff? Do you have a trade in? Do you want the extra crap that’s pure profit? Okay, bye! Enjoy your car!”

    the idea of haggling and finagling to buy a car is assinine. It should be exactly like buying anything else – if you know what you want, you just walk in and get it for a reasonable price that doesn’t depend on whether or not the sales person can convince you that he’s poor and you really should pay 2k over MSRP or something.

  12. Elara says:

    I admin a Mazda forum, and we have so many reports about dealerships begging, pleading, and threatening customers to get a good score on these things it’s not funny. If they don’t get a perfect score, they get in trouble. If they find out you filled one out negatively, they’ll call you to the point of harassment trying to make you feel guilty and find out what you’ve written.

  13. mfergel says:

    Yeah, it’s amazing the push dealers/salesman make towards those surveys. I just bought a truck a couple of weeks ago and the salesman and salesmanager both made sure to tell me to score everything high….plus, the salesmanager also sent me a follow up letter to tell me I’d be receiving the survey and to fill it out with high scores. Haven’t gotten anything yet. Kind of surprised that I would since I bought a used Nissan truck from a Ford dealership. Oh well. I probably won’t send it in anyway.

  14. virgilstar says:

    Mazda does this also. When I bought a car, it was all the dealership could do to stop me from filling in my own survey. Several phone calls at home offering to send me free gifts in exchange for sending them an empty survey so they can fill it in themselves. All geared towards staying out of trouble with MNAO (Mazda North American Operations).

  15. RandomHookup says:

    The best way to get an absolutely useless survey is to insist on perfection. My GM dealer does this to me and I don’t bother to fill them out. I’m surprised the Japanese companies operate this way, too.

  16. myrall says:

    I had a crappy experience at a Mazda dealership and let them know about it via a paper survey. Two days later, I received a call from my saleswoman (at work, no less) letting me have it for filling out a negative survey and blasting me because she was relegated to working the lot – whatever that means. I then talked to the service manager and started receiving surveys from corporate. The most I ever got out of complaining was a free detailing. I made it abundantly clear I’d never go back to that dealership.

    I started doing business with another Mazda dealership, and when I explained my difficulty with the previous one, the new one bent over backward to court me. They said a ton of customers had defected from that one dealership and they were happy to have the overflow.

  17. Boston Kevin says:

    When I bought my Corolla at Toyota of Weymouth in MA, the salesman looked me in the eye as I walked out the door and told me I must fill the survey out with all fives. I’ll never forget it. He also mentioned that there would be a question about whether or not I had met the technicians. Although I hadn’t, he showed me a picture of them and said “Here, this counts as meeting them.”

    I have since taken my Toyota business elsewhere.

  18. aka Cat says:

    The surveys are idiotic.

    For a dealership to score as “exceptional” on all counts, they’re going to have to have precisely the car I want available immediately (something that’s out of their control), sell it to me below invoice, skip the sales pitch for the extra warranty etc (counter to their profit margin), treat me like a princess, and psychically know what I need to know during the “here are the keys, this is where your manual is, this is how to operate the door locks” extravaganza.

    I actually did have a car buying experience like that once. But it’s ridiculous to expect perfection all the time.

    “Lake Wobegon, U.S.A. — where all the children are above average.”

  19. drbrn_grl says:

    It’s the same as my Ford dealership. I’ve leased two cars in the past 4 years. Each time, my salesman, who I actually liked, told me that if I rated anything less than a 5 it was like getting 0% on a test. I don’t know if I really believed him, but after reading this post, it seems like a pretty common thing. I have to say that there was never a suggestion that he or someone else fill it out for me.

  20. latemodel says:

    When I had my Chevrolet truck at the dealership for a warranty repair, the service writer told me that if I brought the survey in for them to fill out they would give me $100. I would have given them a great rating anyway.

  21. The last time I bought a car (from Langan Volkswagen in Meriden, CT), they actually provided five-star service. They’re the satellite dealership for a larger organization, so, as one of the service guys explained, “They don’t care how many cars we sell — just that we keep the customers happy.”

    Amen to that!

  22. chasnleo says:

    I had some recall work done on my Tahoe GM (the brakes no less) and they obviously did not fix the problem, they had not touched it and I called them on it. They were paranoid about the survey and told me I could bring it in blank and they could fill it out and other offers. I never got one in the mail, they may have “accidently” sent it to the wrong address.

  23. Swifty says:

    The trick is to make a copy of the survey you fill out, and attach a little note detailing how the dealership offered to give you free gas and an oil change an any other bribes for bringing the survey directly to them. Send the copy off to the survey mailing address.

    Bring the original survey to the dealership. Accept your bribes. Then just sorta casually mention that you already mailed off a copy of the survey.

    I don’t trust car dealerships any more than car salesman. Which is an odd, but appropriate analogy.

  24. VA_White says:

    You know the easiest way to get all fives on your survey? Don’t suck!

    When I bought my car, Lexus of Tucson was incredible. Even though I was buying a used Lexus and not dropping 50k+ on a new one, they treated me wonderfully. The sales staff and finance people were respectful and well-informed.

    I knew the market for used Lexuses (Lexii?) in my area because I’d been stalking a deal on a car for months. I knew ahead of time what I wanted to buy, what was a fair price, and what financing I would bring to the table.

    This was the second used Lexus I bought at Lexus of Tucson and because they went out of their way to make the transaction perfect, they received a very high score on their survey and I send everyone who mentions car shopping over there because they are that terrific.

  25. Sudonum says:

    My local Chevy dealer mentions to me that I will be getting a survey in the mail when I take my car in for service. There is no pressure for high scores. I have rated them down on some things a couple of times and always the next time I brought a car in my service writer would ask me why I rated them that way on that issue. I explained it to him and that issue would never occur again. THAT is what surveys should be for.

  26. rubberpants says:

    @Swifty

    Actually, I wouldn’t tell them I’d already sent it in. Muhahahaha!

  27. Juancho says:

    I bought a Mitsubishi in late January and had the same story about surveys- we need to get good ratings, please fill out the high score, blah blah blah.

    Now, I did have a good experience at this dealership, but that turned me off, and they did get slightly lower scores on a couple of things.

    The survey was from J.D. Power, btw.

  28. jitrobug says:

    So, couldn’t this come up before the sale as a negotiation point?

    “drop $500 and I’ll give you all 5’s”

    beats an oil change.

  29. theinsanefurry says:

    Some of the local GM dealerships here have laminated survey sheets on all the tables, showing you exactly how you are supposed to fill out the survey (all top scores of course).

  30. jd007 says:

    My Ford dealer used to call me after every appointment to see if I was satisfied. If I said everything was great, a survey would appear in the mail a week later. If I said anything other than great, somehow the survey would never get mailed to me…

    Same thing goes on with home builders too. If they don’t get good surveys, they don’t get their bonuses…

  31. bayboy says:

    When we were bying our Lexus two months ago, our sales person told us not to fill out the survey because when you don’t put everything in as perfect “it reflects bad on them”. And she proceeded to tell us a story how one of her clients didn’t listen to her and it brought down the dealer’s rating.

    She offered us a free tank of gas if we gave them the survey papers when they arrive

    Unfortunately for her, we caught them lieing to us on the lease and overcharging us.

    So we did fill out the survey

  32. premnas says:

    As a long time salesman of Honda automobiles, I’d like to apologize for the lousy attitudes demonstrated by so many of the “sales professionals” found in this business. It’s the actions of these individuals that give the car salesperson a bad reputation- most people expect to get scammed the moment they walk into a dealership. Having worked floor sales, and now Internet sales, I am fully aware of the tricks of the trade.

    Customer satisfaction surveys are a part of this business at every dealership. There’s usually a lot of money riding on them, although it is the sole discretion of each dealership as to whether or not its salespeople ever see any of that money. At my dealership, we get docked a certain amount for a poor survey, and we get a bonus of the same amount if we receive a perfect score. While I never coach a customer on how to score us, I see nothing wrong with letting them know how we’re graded, and I’ve accepted the fact that I’m going to get bad surveys from time to time. I simply can’t score perfectly in every category every time (I’m not perfect). Moreover, there are some customers that just expect too much and will never give a perfect survey; even I bend over backwards for them.

    My tip for a better car sales experience: Use the Internet to its full potential, and go through your local dealership’s Internet department. Everything you need to make an informed decision can be found online at just about every car-buying site on the net. Once you’ve narrowed down a couple of makes and models that fit your needs and budget, go to your local dealership’s website and request a price quote, a test drive, or both. You can also send out for a few quotes from other dealers just to see if yours is competitive, and all without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home. The vast majority of the time, I think you will find that Internet pricing is extremely competitive. Within a short period of time, you’ll receive a quote via email, and maybe a phone call from the Internet SP who sent it. You can specify your preferred method of contact when you request your quote, and if you have any questions, the sp will be happy to answer them via email or by telephone.

    Now, when you are ready to take the next step, the ice has already been broken. I always enjoy finally meeting a customer with whom I’ve been communicating via email. You can visit the dealership, and if you are accosted by a pack of vultures, simply say that you are here to see [insert name of the internet salesperson with whom you've been corresponding]. Additionally, you’ll already have a hyper competitive price in your hand before you even walk in the door.

    Given the age of information we live in today, I’m surprised that more people don’t buy cars this way. I’ve even gone so far as to take the car to the customer for the test drive, and return later with the necessary paperwork for them to sign after they decided to buy.

    Now for my little rant regarding certain customers: Not all salespeople are out to get you, and there is nothing wrong with the dealership making some profit on the merchandise they sell. A car is one of the few retail commodities for which you can actually negotiate a price, and most dealers are happy to get by on roughly a 3% margin. A generic can of chicken soup has more than 3% mark-up. Dealers, or salespeople for that matter, are not crooks out to steal your money just because they don’t shave every cent of profit out of a deal. A good deal is a car you are happy with at a payment you can afford. If you dislike your SP for some other reason, ask for a different one, or get up and leave. Heck, most of the time, I coach my customers on how to get a better deal, and spend my time working the desk.

    Above and beyond anything else, be courteous and be realistic. It’s amazing how much more smooth a transaction be when the salesperson and customer both work towards a mutual goal. Customer service is expected from a dealership, but common courtesy is a two way street. I’ve had a few customers who were just downright rude. I’m sure they were mistreated elsewhere, but never by me. And I’ve also had customers loudly declare that I didn’t want to earn their business because I couldn’t accept an unreasonable offer.

    I know much of my rant doesn’t seem to relate to customer survey scores, but indirectly, it really does. Buying a car need not be a hassle or a bad experience. The happiest customers are the ones that have done a little research, know what to expect, and come prepared with a realistic offer, and their survey scores reflect this fact time and time again. There’s never a valid reason to falsify the surveys- take the bad ones in stride, and learn from them.

  33. mcase2 says:

    Perhaps politness works at Honda, but there is an even darker side to Toyota surveys. I filled out an honest survey about Toyota of Watertown. I bought two cars from this dealer and had all maintenance performed by them. But after filling out a negative survey I was confronted by the service manager about it when I came in for service. The GM of this dealership did not seem to care that his service manager abused customers who dared to criicize there frequently incompetent service. Apparently the only use of these surveys is to weed out disatisfied customers and leave only smiling sheep who will put up with any amount of crap from a dealer and still fill out a positive survey.

  34. Don37 says:

    I have also seen how Toyota surveys change the attitude of a Toyota dealer, to the point that it’s service department and Service Manager will totally ignore you. It all started recently when just after I took delivery of my new Toyota from James Toyota in Flemington NJ. After a couple of weeks I hadn’t received all of my paper work, registration, certificate of ownership etc. After many calls I was directed to the Customer Relations Manager, Jo-Ann Roundtree, I told her the complete story and she told me that everything had been mailed out several days ago. I told her I hadn’t received everything so she verified my address with their records and it was correct, so she told me to wait a few more days which is the same response I had been getting. I mentioned that I still had the survey from Toyota, that is when she went BALISTIC and accused me of trying to threaten her and hung up. They finally found my paper work on a clerks desk and I picked it up personally, Ms Roundtree just happen to be unavalable at that time. A few months later I had some warranty work done, it took three trips for the same trouble. When I picked up my car I was told that I would probably receive a survey from Toyota and they wanted me to make sure to give them an excellent rating because that reflected how the service department handled the problem. Well I rated them according to their performance which I didn’t think was what it should be. Now when I go into for warranty work they can never find any trouble and I am told that it is a normal condition. Calls to their Service Manger Chris Thorn are never returned or if I am lucky enough that he answers his phone he will tell me that he will check for me and get back to me which he never does. So from my experience with James Toyota and surveys I would say that they do not take the surveys to improve their relations with the customer or to improve service, but they are looking for that one good one that makes them look good.

    Sorry this so long but it is only half of problems I’ve had since taken ownership of my Toyota.

  35. llmermd says:

    I have read each and every one of the comments here and I must say that I am saddened by, not only the fellow employees of car dealerships, but also the customers of car dealerships. I have been in the business for 12 years. Mostly at Saturn (warm and fuzzy) now at a Chevy dealership. I really don’t agree with some of the things that go on, but seriously!? The comments about taking the freebies and sending in a bad survey anyway. Why are you going through all that trouble? If you were that unsatisfied by the service then you integrity should enable you from taking the gifts. Now I actually work in the CSI department and I was online and on MY time looking for ways to not have to bribe people to just return the surveys. But by reading the stuff here, I don’t think that there will ever be a way of actually getting feedback the honest old fashioned way! Please help! I am honestly looking for ways to increase our survey response with actual responses! Any suggestions?

  36. mcase says:

    The survey system employed by Toyota is actually employed by the dealers in a retaliatory fashion. We are a two-Toyota family. Both of these cars were purchased at Toyota of Watertown in Watertown, MA. I routinely used this dealership for all my service. Eventually however, after a series of screw ups, I decided to use them only for routine maintenance such as oil changes . One day when I went to the dealership for an oil change. I knew something was up when instead of entering my order on the computer (which might generate a survey form) – they called me up on the customer screen, but then wrote the order on a scrap of paper. I found this odd, but could not figure it out. But then, I was personally confronted in a rude and threatening manner by their somewhat unstable service manager for writing a bad survey. Apparently I was flagged for writing a less than favorabkle survey. The gm of the dealership seemed as if he could care less, and took no action because its their clear aim to simply to get rid of any customer that might complain about bad service. I wrote to the Toyota corporate complaint service, but needless to say that went no where.

    • Kayra Kaye says:

      Astounding how Toyota has twisted the Japanese quality approach in the United States. Marin Toyota (under new management) sold me my 2004 Matrix with not a Toyota extended warranty but an outside vendor. When I traded in the car it was a nightmare to have my money refunded!

      When I purchased my 2005 Matrix the salesman had emptied my 2004 Matrix of all my possessions before I even signed on the dotted line. They also charged me for undercoating which was not applied. When I questioned this, I was told I didn’t understand how it was applied. (Hey! I am from Minnesota!) I did get reimbursed for it.

      I also went to shop for a new car at Oakland’s Downtown Toyota. Because the car I was interested was not on the lot yet, they wouldn’t give me the time of day.

      Next car, I will shop for brand and service. And the brand will not be Toyota

  37. mcase says:

    dd