Jeff Wyler Automotive Family strives for transparency when it comes to customers and ‘Big Data’
Ahead of the Curve
Kevin Frye, eCommerce director at Jeff Wyler Automotive Family, has become recognized as an expert in the automotive industry when it comes to what dealerships should and shouldn’t do when collecting information about customers who visit their websites.
What your customers don’t know can still hurt them. And if it does, there’s a good chance it’s going to hurt you, too.
So warns Jeff Wyler, owner of the Cincinnati-based Jeff Wyler Automotive Family, when it comes to automotive retailers’ care and handling of customer information gathered online. Currently, only a small minority of Internet shoppers realizes how dealerships use the details people willingly—as well as inadvertently—provide as they browse. But awareness of “Big Data” is growing, and with it so is the potential for legal challenges.
“Your website has become the front door to your dealership,” says Wyler, whose 14 stores include Jeff Wyler Toyota of Clarksville (Ind.) and Jeff Wyler Springfield Toyota (Ohio). “As such, it’s become increasingly important to be transparent about what happens when a customer pays you a visit. There’s no reason not to be.”
A Human Face
So he went one step further and asked Wyler to introduce the policy with a brief but heartfelt video statement. As the television advertising spokesperson for his dealerships for more than 40 years, Wyler welcomed the opportunity to put a human face on what is becoming an increasingly complex technical issue.
In the three months since, other dealers have yet to follow—and Frye believes that could be a problem. Over the past year or so, Frye has become known as an industry expert on the issue of customer privacy, delivering a presentation on the topic at the Digital Dealer Conference held in Atlantic City, N.J., in May.
“I spent 5-6 months researching this,” says Frye. “The European Union passed a law requiring sites to disclose the use of ‘cookies’ (a mechanism for tracking a customer’s movement throughout a site) right out of the gate with people. Then California passed a law that said basically the same thing, requiring you to disclose the information you are collecting and give customers choices regarding the use and sharing of personal information. And Canada passed an anti-spam law that prohibits you from sending a commercial email without at least the implied consent of the recipient. This is just the beginning. The Federal Trade Commission is looking into this. There’s only going to be more regulation, not less.”
A Three-step Approach
Frye’s concern is that new laws are open to interpretation. That can create gray areas that attract lawyers inclined to file lawsuits against high-profile businesses like auto dealerships.
To help head off such litigation, Frye recommends dealers proactively adopt Wyler’s three-step approach:
- Be transparent—Disclose to customers up front the information you are collecting and how you are collecting it.
- Show the value—Explain that data collection can personalize the customer’s shopping experience, helping them find the vehicle that best fits their needs.
- Provide an “opt out”—Make it easy for customers to turn off the technology if they don’t want to be tracked.
So far, Frye says few customers have taken notice of the Wyler dealer group’s efforts to be up front about its online policies, including never selling customer data to third parties. But he’s convinced that acting a year in advance is far better than waiting until you’re a day late.
“If we do our best and practice the highest standards of business, how can we be wrong with that?” says Frye. “The truth is Big Brother is here in a big way. That’s not necessarily all bad. There are benefits to the customer. But we also need to show respect to our customers. That’s our approach.”