Consumer Complaint Response Is Essential for Dealership Compliance

Establishing a compliance management system (CMS) is not a “one and done” event. Once ownership has implemented compliance programs, begun employee compliance training, and established a culture of compliance at the dealership, the next step is to monitor the compliance program.

Monitoring the CMS requires consistent and regular reviews to determine what is working, where compliance weaknesses exist, and taking prompt corrective action to address identified deficiencies. Compliance monitoring includes tracking consumer complaints.

The third interdependent control of a CMS is consumer-complaint response. This involves the following requirements:

  • A uniform system to receive consumer complaints and inquiries;
  • Categorizing received complaints in a uniform and consistent manner; and
  • Responding to complaints in a prompt and consistent manner.

Having a uniform system for receiving, logging, and responding to consumer complaints will provide management with invaluable information regarding:

  • Weaknesses in the sale and finance process;
  • Employees’ understanding of compliance requirements;
  • Identifying employees that may expose the dealership to risk;
  • Identifying compliance practices that must be revised; and
  • Providing insight to vastly improve customer satisfaction and experience.


As an example, review of a documented complaint process may show that over the past 30 days the dealership received seven complaints from customers indicating that they purchased paint protectant but were unaware they had agreed to purchase the product.

A quick analysis of questionable deals shows that six deals were handled by an employee we’ll call John Doe. He is either playing fast and loose or he is not following the dealership policy for full disclosure of ancillary products, use of a menu, and customer signature on the same accepting or rejecting products. If the first scenario is true, Doe is playing with your money, and discipline is in order.

If the second scenario is the problem, he needs more training on the dealership compliance policy for the sale of ancillary products. In either situation, absent a uniform system to record, track, and document consumer complaints, John Doe’s malfeasance, or negligence, would go unnoticed for some time and might not be noticed until the dealer principal is served with a lawsuit.

This unfortunate result is likely to occur where the practice at the dealership is to refer complaining customers to the individual in F&I responsible for the deal, rather than someone at the dealership not associated with the transaction.

When establishing a complaint-response system, a dealership should consider:

  • The types of consumer complaints received, and how to categorize them. Any complaints from a regulatory agency and complaints regarding ECOA claims should be placed in their own categories.
  • The intake procedures to direct complaints to specified individuals at the dealership.
  • The procedures to document complaints, including information regarding the complaint and the individual making the same, and each contact with the customer.
  • The review and determination of whether complaints are frivolous, require further investigation, or have merit. For complaints that have merit or may have merit, the dealership will need to resolve the dispute directly with the consumer and document the same, and refer to legal counsel.

With complaint monitoring in place, the data can then be used by the auditors of your dealership’s CMS.

For more information on this subject, contact the author or visit the Automotive Compliance Consultants Inc. website.

David R. Missimer, dmissimer@compliantnow.com, is General Counsel for Automotive Compliance Consultants Inc. (www.compliantnow.com). He spent 28 years in private practice as a litigator representing lenders, auto dealers, and numerous other entities and individuals.

David R. Missimer

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