Keep Your Dealership Customers Happy... While Staying Out of Court with Tom Kline
Updated: May 13
Tom Kline is the Founder and Lead Consultant at Better Vantage Point. He has 30 years of experience in the automotive and RV industries and has worked with both public and private dealers to solve problems, keep customers happy, and stay out of court.
Tom is also an Endorsed Expert for Dealer Marketing Magazine, the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association, the VIADA, and the CIADA.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
How Tom Kline got started in the automotive industry
Tom's transition to Better Vantage Point and how they help dealers keep the money they make
The biggest violations Tom sees at dealerships and his advice for handling reputation management
Tom shares success stories from one of his customers and clients
Tom's advice for documenting customer data and handling compliance management
How to get in touch with Tom Kline
In this episode…
Although reputation is very important for car dealerships, many tend to ignore this — and in the long run, their businesses are negatively affected. These dealerships fail to establish effective reputation management strategies and don’t realize that customer feedback can help a dealership improve its operations. Not only that, but tending to your reputation can also help you provide better products and services to future customers.
According to Tom Kline, the first step is preparing a cohesive policy or procedure document that outlines what needs to be done and can be revised as time goes on. He also encourages dealers to track their reputation on certain websites, following either a monthly or daily schedule of regular check-ins. This should also include responding to customer complaints, avoiding generic responses, and using the information gathered to improve their dealership's operations.
Tom Kline, the Founder and Lead Consultant at Better Vantage Point, joins Ilana Shabtay in this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast to discuss his strategies for handling reputation management in dealerships. Tom explains why problem mitigation is important and talks about the need for compliance management and documenting customer data. Stay tuned!
Resources Mentioned in this episode
Sponsor for this episode...
This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.
Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.
Visit their website at www.autoleadstar.com to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.
Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you'd want to talk to you in and out of the automotive industry.
Ilana Shabtay 0:15
Ilana Shabtay here, host of InsideAuto Podcast, where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today's guest, this episode is sponsored by AutoLeadStar.com. The AutoLeadStar platform is built on a technology so powerful it allows you to market, sell and service cars as you would in the real world at scale and online, making one to one matches between shoppers and inventory. AutoLeadStar is the only platform that is powered by scale, speed and specificity to change the way dealers do marketing today. Alright, we are back. I am so excited for today's guest, I've had the pleasure of speaking with quite a bit recently. So we have today Tom Kline, who is the Lead Consultant and Founder at Better Vantage Point. Tom, how are you doing today?
Tom Kline 1:05
I'm great, Ilana. Thanks for having me. How are you?
Ilana Shabtay 1:08
I'm good. And as I've told you before, I'm so excited for you to bring your content and bring your expertise. It's going to be interesting today. It's stuff that we've never spoken about. Really quick intro for you. Tom has 30 years as a dealership owner experience and has worked with both public and private dealers to solve problems, keep customers happy and stay out of court, which is really important. He is the endorsed expert for Dealer Marketing Magazine, the Recreational Vehicle Dealer Association, the VIADA, and the CIADA as well. So lots of experience, so excited for you to be here. Why don't we start with and we're gonna get into the good stuff. But why don't we start with how you got into automotive? I know you did run a dealership you own. You had some ownership in dealerships. So talk to us about that journey.
Tom Kline 1:58
Right. So my family, it's actually in my DNA, Ilana. So my grandfather was in the car business starting in 1925. And he told me stories about taking the body and the chassis off the train and having the cars assembled right next to the railroad tracks. I'm not sure if that was fodder, or he made that up, or that's the way it was. But that's what I was told. So he had a Chevrolet dealership starting in 1925. And my father worked for him and my father bought his dealership in 1964. And here I am after being in the business for 30 years.
Ilana Shabtay 2:40
I love it. I love the family business, especially in automotive, I think it's so great to be ingrained in the industry from very young. But how did you make that switch from you know, working in the dealership to creating this business and tell us a little bit about what Better Vantage Point does?
Tom Kline 2:59
Sure, what we do is make sure that the money that dealers make is the money they keep by
Ilana Shabtay 3:06
It's very important thing for dealer,
Tom Kline 3:09
It's important. You can sell 500 cars a month, but if you're not keeping any of that money, it's a rough way to go, having all that exposure and all that money tied up and all those assets. So what I do is through compliance, through risk mitigation, and through dispute resolution, we try to put policies and procedures in place. And when possible, lay off the risk to a third party insurance company or establish some kinds of policies that will make sure that if a problem happens, that the dealer is not on the hook for that problem.
Ilana Shabtay 3:50
And so how did you get into that? How did you make that shift?
Tom Kline 3:53
Well, at the dealership, kind of the way I started kind of the same way I started in the collection department, which was the Collection Manager got fired and I was anointed the next day as the Collection Manager when I had never done any collections before, so I had to figure it out. So over the last, I'd say 20 years compliance has been kind of an evolving issue, I'd say things stopped being the Wild West probably in the 90s sometime in the early part of the 90s. And compliance became important and so as it was becoming important for the dealership as a family member, that's kind of the role I assumed and that I enjoy and I still enjoy today doing what I'm doing for dealers what I did for so many years for the family dealership.
Ilana Shabtay 4:46
Yeah, so tell us about that. What are some of the biggest violations you see or patterns that you see in dealerships that you think our listeners would appreciate just just going home and checking on on their businesses as well. Sure you see a lot, so you could pick some of the biggest ones and share with us.
Tom Kline 5:04
Sure. Where I start with most dealers is what's going to be what possible violations might hold them personally liable. And so I start with the IRS at 300 compliance. And that's the cache reporting requirements to make sure that all the employees are trained on that, that they've signed a Acknowledgement Form that they've been trained on it, that they're routinely trained on it, and that someone is going back and auditing at the dealership to make sure they're not missing some 8300s. Because failure to comply can lead to fines up to 5 million years ago. So that's one of the first items I bring up for a dealer. Really important, because the IRS comes in and finds out that you're willfully non compliant. It's gonna be a bad day at the dealership. So yes, that's one of the first things I start with. Sorry, go ahead.
Ilana Shabtay 6:05
Oh, I bet that that's a big one $5 million. That's a, that's a really, really big risk for the dealership, what's the what's on the other ones.
Tom Kline 6:13
The second thing I usually ask is if they have a insurance pollution policy, because with all of the oil tanks, and all of the various pollutants that may get into the water runoff, or into the, you know, into the water system, and go down the city drain, and all of that kind of thing. dealers can be held personally liable for those contaminants getting into the water. And it's usually joint and several liability, which means that not only would the dealership as a company or a corporation be liable, but the dealer himself can be liable. So if you don't have an insurance policy, check on that right away, that would be the second thing that I would look at.
Ilana Shabtay 6:57
Awesome. Um, wow, I feel like I especially since you know, I'm in the tech in the digital digital world with dealers. And so we never talked about this stuff. But I wonder if they just try to avoid most of these conversations with them, I have a feeling that they do so good that you're bringing this up for sure. There's another aspect of your business that I saw that you work on as well, that I think is important to bring up. And that can actually be a whole nother topic, a whole podcast episode, which is reputation management. And so tell us a little bit about how you help with that. What your stances. And you know, I'm really interested in knowing there's some dealers that are in it so deep, almost like they have basically ignored reputation management for so long. How do they start? Because doing a 360 is going to be very difficult for dealers like that. So how do you advise?
Tom Kline 7:53
Yes, so it's just like any other problem with the dealership? Because I'm a problem solver at dealerships? I mean, ultimately, that's what I do. You start by just taking the first step, which is, how are we going to do this, let's put a policy or a procedure. Let's start, let's start with a clean sheet of paper, write down the first three or four things that we know about. And then we'll add to it as we've learned and as we go along. But to answer your question, what I advocate the dealers do, there are 36 websites that they should check on a monthly basis, about five or six or seven, they should check on a daily basis, the obvious ones, Facebook and Google and dealerrater. And some of those, one of my clients calls some of them the hater sites.
Ilana Shabtay 8:39
But certainly true because I'm so much more inclined than this. I don't know what that says about me as a consumer. But I'm so much more inclined to leave a bad review, if I'm angry than a good review, if I'm happy and that shouldn't that really shouldn't be the case. But that is my natural instinct. So
Tom Kline 8:55
I think it's everybody's natural instinct. But the important thing is that you go on, and you look for them first. The second thing is that you have to acknowledge how the customer feels. If they're angry, you label it, you say I'm sorry, we made you angry. We'd like to help you. Please call John Jones at the dealership, don't just say I had come across another dealership that all their posts just say please call this phone number but with no contact information. So if a customer and some of the others there are services that will just post a generic response, but that's obviously not what I advocate generic responses. When you're shopping for a car and you're looking through reviews and you're trying to see which dealers you're going to be interested in. You're going to read the dealership's responses and you're going to see if the responses are sincere or not. If they're insincere, it's a real turnoff for the customer. So the response has to be very personalized, it has to be very specific, we're sorry, we upset you, we're sorry, you're unhappy, please call John Jones at the dealership at this phone number. And then the process that I advocate is, once you've identified who it is, which is pretty easy, because you know, you're going to come in and look at Red Malibu, and their, their, you know, their, their trading in their green, Ford, you know, escape or whatever that it is right. And they're gonna put all that on the on the reviews, all you have to do is call the desk manager and say, what's the name and the phone number of the customer who came in right with the specifications, then somebody the dealership should reach out and call that customer, invite them in, and sit down and listen to them and see what the see what happened. dealers can use this information to see where they're having problems in their operations, that customers are going to tell you where you're having problems, it may be policy that you have, or it could be an employee who has a bad apple, that you need to either counsel and correct, and get them on the right path or replace. So you can listen to these, these reviews are really important. So this isn't something that you should just designate to a low level person to fix the problems, because generally the problems are complicated enough that somebody in upper management needs to do it. But even if you can't fix the problem, for example, let's say their credit is so bad, that they can't get them approved. Or let's say that they're seven or $8,000, upside down. And they don't have any cash down, right. So it's really, really tough to do anything for them, bring them in you listen to them, let them know that you appreciate the feedback, maybe give them a gift certificate for $25, for lunch out, have lunch out on us, but I really don't want you to be dissatisfied, we want to make sure you're happy. And then after that whole process is done. Once you've gained the trust of the customer again, and they understand that you are interested in them, then you can ask them to go update their review. And you say I really take these things personally, it's really important to me that you're happy, this is my company, I've been here for so many years, please go back out and let people know we're not such a bad guys, after all, I'm sorry, we couldn't sell you a car, I'm sorry, you know, you've had these credit challenges, and I understand how hard it is. But that's you know, that's not really on us. And this makes us look bad in front of other people. So and then if you're going through and you're reading reviews, as a potential customer, you see that there was a problem, but that the dealer did something about it, and that the customer was, they might not be happy, but they at least it's at least neutral. And as a consumer, that's very reassuring. Because you know, if you have a problem with your purchase, you're going to be able to go back and do something about it.
Ilana Shabtay 13:07
Right? You want to know that you're working with humans, which I think is part of what you're trying to train here. And I love that I think that's really important. And I don't think dealerships put enough emphasis on reputation management, even though we talk about it all the time. They don't go that deep into the process, right? It's just about checking boxes, it's less about how do we make this a, you know, a conversation? How do we make this a process, how to make this something that is embedded in our sales people so that we can, you know, avoid it in the future. So I really, really appreciate that approach. I think that's a deeper approach than some of what I've seen in the industry.
Tom Kline 13:49
I think it's really important, and I call it reputation mitigation, because it's really about mitigating the problem. Because if you're going to have a big problem at a dealership, it's going to start one of three ways. In my opinion. problems come on two legs, the first two legged problem can be a customer. The second two legged problem can be a disgruntled employee. And then the third problem is advertising problems or discrepancies or bait and switch or vague advertising or just disappointing a customer who comes in. That's how problems usually start. So if you can stop the problems before they start by satisfying those disgruntled customers, by reviewing all these websites every month, you're gonna go a long way into preventing lawsuits, and regulators getting into your business and the Attorney General writing you letters and all the politicians and the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission. And if you're in a military area, the Armed Forces disciplinary control board. I mean, the list is endless.
Ilana Shabtay 14:58
Wow. Um Yeah, dealer, I'm glad and I hope dealers are listening to this so that they can avoid all of these fines and save some money. But tell us about what I'd love to hear if you can think of one success story that really sticks out. And something, you know, maybe even a dealer that was very against, let's say, or was very adamant about them having no issues whatsoever. And then you come along and tell them a different story, I'd love to hear a little success story about that, I can imagine that happens quite a bit.
Tom Kline 15:36
It does. I guess I'll use my cell phone, one of the success stories, one of the customers who had complained, and we're not dealers, but we were able, horrible people badly and all that kind of thing. After I satisfied his concerns, I think he bought seven cars for me over the years that I was there. Wow. So if you treat people, as you said, If you treat people like humans, and you really listen, and you really try to fix their problems, and you really try to help, they will be very grateful and, and never forget it. And this particular customer I'm thinking about, he never asked me about the price of the car, he just said whatever you say is fair is fair. And I was always 100%. Fair. We didn't, it wasn't a full MSRP deal. It was completely fair. So if he went down the street and shopped the price, the price I gave him was fair. And I appreciated the loyalty, he used our service department all the time. So this is, this is key. I mean, he was a customer for life, he really was just by my fixing his problem. And I couldn't even tell you what the problem was, other than he felt like he didn't get treated properly. And so I think that's a really good example of why working on your reputation online is important.
Ilana Shabtay 16:58
That's so interesting, because I talked about this with people at our company sometimes because you know, we're a software company, and there are going to be bugs and problems that we have with our customers. And sometimes it's almost a good thing, because it gives you an opportunity to prove that you have a team that can problem solve, and that it's there for you. And so it's interesting, because problems are inevitable. So we have to; it's all about how you actually fix them and approach them. And this is a prime example of that, you know, if you didn't have that little problem, you might never have had a customer that bought seven cars from you and serviced their car from you that you know, all those years. So a good lesson, a good takeaway.
Tom Kline 17:37
As far as one of my clients, probably a good example is I had a client who really felt like he needed me at all, he felt like his operation was smooth. And in the first 30 days of my relationship, I found five different insurance problems where he thought his agent had given him all the insurance that he needed in order to be able to use his term buttoned up, to make sure that he was all in order, I found five different major problems. And we were able to fix those very quickly. They're not complicated, but they just require attention. And sometimes I see things that either the dealer isn't asking about Perhaps he's not asking the right questions, or the insurance agent isn't aggressive enough and saying, hey, you're not listening to what I'm saying. You really need to consider these things. And it can be something as simple as making sure when you go rent a car, right? So the dealer goes on business trips all the time. And obviously, he's going to go on vacation. So you go rent a car, and you don't check the boxes, because you think you have insurance that's covered by the dealership, right? you're renting a car and they say, do you need the collision way? We say no, I don't need that. No, I don't need the liability. Well, have you ever really checked to see if you have a drive other car policy, or a hired non owned policy, so you're covered, no matter what car you drive, these are really important distinctions on if you had an accident in the rental car, and you didn't check the boxes, and you thought you had insurance, you're not only going to have a problem with the the cost of the car itself, which might not be a lot to a dealer, but certainly the liability aspects, you know, could be in the millions of dollars if it's a serious accident.
Ilana Shabtay 19:30
Wow. And, and that actually brings me to my last question here, which, you know, automotive is moving so much to digital, right. And we've been talking about this for years, but I think COVID especially really accelerated the dealer tech adoption and, um, you know, there's some things that haven't fully gone digital, right, like we haven't fully gone paperless. For example. Although I do see in the next couple of years, this is just progressing more and more. How do you see that evolving your business and your business model? If at all? Or has it already affected it?
Tom Kline 20:08
A lot of dealers had? It's a great question. First of all, a lot of dealers have to pay monthly for a compliance management system. And they think because they bought the software, that that's really all they need to do. And that's not all they need to do. There's a, there's, um, the analog component, right? That's me, there is an analog part of the business, which is, for example, are you documenting all these customers that you're satisfying? Are you somehow documenting that information, because the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that you have to have a compliance management system. And as a part of that compliance management system, you have to have a way to show the regulator's that you are resolving these customer problems. So you may be resolving them. But if you're not documenting them somehow, then that's a mistake. I mean, I advocate the old three ring binder, it can be as simple as if you have a customer problem, and you fix it, punch it and put it in the binder. And over time, you'll have a chronological list of all the customers that you satisfy. Because if a regulator walks in, and they say, Well, how do I know you're taking care of your customers, because Mrs. McGillicuddy says you do a terrible job. And then you pull out your binder and say, let's go through my binder. Now there's more sophisticated ways of doing it, obviously. But for 10 bucks, you can solve the problem, it's not. software can help. But you're always going to have to have an interface for that software, somebody's going to have to go to make sure that your red flag report is written every year, I have a dealer who said I'm all covered for red flags. I said great. Glad to hear it. Let's look at it. And as we dove deeper and deeper and deeper, there's an A requirement to write an annual report as to what tested the red flags, and then what you did to mitigate the risk for those customers for identity theft. And he didn't have that report written even though he paid a lot of money every month for this compliance program. So there's plenty of room for a good solution. I haven't personally seen one yet. But maybe there is but I think you'll always have to have a me as an analog component to move that along and make sure that it's everything's being done the way it should.
Ilana Shabtay 22:36
Yeah, and I think that's a really good mix. You have, you know, whatever the, what they call compliance management software?
Tom Kline 22:44
Compliance Management System
Ilana Shabtay 22:45
System, okay, thank you. Compliance Management System. And as long as you have someone that's actually managing that system, then you have a nice hybrid of Okay, there are technologies that support this, but you also need someone to be more goal oriented to make sure that the strategies in place that so that we're hitting all of these, you know, compliance requirements,
Tom Kline 23:06
But it's just like having a CRM with no management CRM.
Ilana Shabtay 23:10
Tom Kline 23:11
Otherwise, it's going to be garbage in garbage out.
Ilana Shabtay 23:14
Exactly. You can't have a system or software, where it's just gonna run when it really does require someone to input output information in there. So that's a good way for us to think about it. So I appreciate you clarifying that. Wow, like how I started this, this podcast was really exciting to me, because we always talk about digital marketing. And I'm so happy that we're able to bring in a little bit of a different type of content and really important stuff for our dealers to hear. So I appreciate all your expertise and your time. Great getting to know you in the past couple of weeks. And thank you for coming on to insight auto podcast. Any last remarks for our listeners before we sign off?
Tom Kline 23:58
No, only if I'd say if anybody has any questions about this. Feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn or through the website, bettervantagepoint.com. I'll be happy to answer your questions.
Ilana Shabtay 24:08
Awesome. Yes. And thank you for letting us know how to find you. And for those of you that did enjoy this episode, please tune in to insideautopodcast.com. We will catch you next time. Thank you so much, Tom.
Tom Kline 24:20
Thanks for listening to InsideAuto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.