Back in April, I wrote an article for Dealer Magazine called “A Five Star Reputation for your Dealership.” In that article, I wrote about my experience with Boise’s Lithia Ford, and then dug into their online reputation. I mentioned a few key areas they could improve upon, and also talked about how well they’re doing.
If you’d like to read it, it’s available here.
That article centered more on the technical, customer-facing side of an online reputation for auto dealerships.
With this article, I want to focus more on the behind the scenes aspects of an online reputation. Namely, what you can actually do to earn more positive reviews, how your team plays a part in every review, and how reputation is something that can’t just be set on cruise control.
If you want to compete with other high-profile dealerships, you can’t ignore your online reviews. You have to embrace the process, even if your feelings on online reviews aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy.
Reviews are here to stay, and you should put them to work for you. If your competition works on earning more positive reviews and you ignore the process completely, you’ll be missing out on both potential sales and an important part of your overall online reputation.
Everyone Plays a Part
Many types of businesses only have a few employees whoever interact with customers or the general public.
Auto dealerships don’t have this luxury.
That’s why it’s important to train every member of your team on what online reviews are, how they work, and why they’re important. This includes your receptionist, finance manager, sales people, general manager, technicians, and everyone in between.
I recommend putting a “review policy” in place. The specifics of that police are up to you, of course, but they should probably include the following:
-When to ask for reviews
-How to make customers comfortable with the review process
-How to ask for reviews
-How to observe and adhere to each review platform’s terms of service (ie: not giving gifts or cash in exchange for reviews, not having a dedicated “review station” in your dealer room, etc.)
-Who monitors and responds to online reviews
A review policy is essential, but it won’t mean much unless every member of your team fully understands the review process.
Here’s what Tony Troussov wrote in Auto Dealer Monthly:
“Online reputation management is everyone’s job. Starting with the dealer or general manager all the way down to the receptionist, all employees must have awareness and an action plan. The best thing you can do for yourself and your team is to rate a business yourself. Choose your favorite restaurant or hotel and write a review about them. You’ll feel good as well as learn the process. Next, ask your team to do the same. Once everyone knows how to do it, they’ll have more confidence asking for and explaining customers how to do it.”
I recommend not stopping with just one review. Have each customer-facing employee leave a legitimate, honest review on all of the major platforms– Google, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor.
You always want to leave genuine reviews, so if any of your employees have recently purchased a vehicle, walk everyone through the process of leaving a review on DealerRater, as well.
Getting the most out of your online reviews requires more than just earning reviews.
You have to manage any reviews that already exist, and set a strategy going forward.
If your Yelp and Google Reviews are already spackled with angry, negative reviews, you need to perform some damage control before you can move forward.
Then, there’s the reality of reviews for dealerships. Take this with a grain of salt, but Automotive Digest reports that most industries receive about 80% positive reviews and 20% negative reviews– whereas dealerships receive 20% positive reviews and 80% negative reviews.
I don’t think those numbers are exact, but you are facing more obstacles than some industries experience.
If you aren’t currently managing your online reviews, here are my quick suggestions:
-Take inventory of all of your online reviews, and note which platforms need more positive reviews and which platforms are performing best for you
-Make note of which platform has the most reviews– this is likely where you’ll have the most success when you ask for reviews
-Make an honest, non-emotional reply to every negative review you can (you can read more on that here)
-Going forward, know that you can’t just earn a few reviews and then move onto the next thing– reviews have to be a continuing focus
-Learn from any negative reviews you’ve received, and focus on fixing the objects of any repeated criticism
If you’re already bogged down with a rating of three stars or less, take heart. Here’s more from Automotive Digest:
“Turning your reputation around may be easier than you think. When it comes to star ratings, breaking the 3.5 threshold gets you into the consideration set. In other words, don’t worry if your reviews aren’t 100% five stars. The fact is that people want to read real experiences, and will likely expect to see a few “bad eggs” mixed in. A mix of reviews builds credibility and trust in the mind of the potential customer.”
This is true. Potential customers seek out bad reviews. If they see common themes in those negative reviews, they’ll become wary and possibly move on. If they see one-off complaints, it will help them trust the positive reviews even more.
If you have only positive reviews, they may think your reviews are fake, doctored, or paid for.
That’s not to say you should seek out negative reviews– far from it. Just know that negative reviews are nearly inevitable, and that you can often learn from them.
I suggest focusing on building your overall review score to as close to five stars as you can, but also realize you can’t please everyone, all the time.
Responding to negative reviews in a professional, courteous manner is a huge part of managing your online reputation.
I’m a believer in responding to positive reviews, as well.
When you’re active across review platforms, potential customers start to see your team as real people who take the time to respond to other real people.
So, the work doesn’t stop as soon as you’ve earned a positive review. If at all possible, respond to each customer and bring up something you remember about selling them a vehicle or performing maintenance on their vehicle.
Chances are, your competitors aren’t responding to reviews. If they are responding to reviews, they’re only responding to negative reviews.
Responding to positive reviews presents a great opportunity to set yourself apart from other dealerships. It also helps turn customers into repeat customers, and repeat customers into brand advocates.
But whether you’re monitoring or responding, your work is never done.
I liked this snippet from an article on Jazel Auto:
“Once the hard work of establishing a great online reputation is finished it could be tempting to stop reading and responding to customer reviews but experts advise against this. Existing and potential customers love to see “human” interaction on review sites. Something as simple as a thank you posted in response to a positive review goes a long way in conveying that your dealership is customer focused. Reading reviews will also help you keep tabs on what is being said about your auto dealership. One quick way to see what customers are posting on Google is to set up a Google Alert (link this) for your dealership name. Every time something is said about your dealership you will receive a notice. To see what is being said about your dealership everywhere else on the web conduct frequent searches on Google, Bing and Yahoo with your dealership name and the word “reviews” at the end.”
Monitoring your main review platforms are a huge part of maintaining your online relationship. It can take as little as five minutes a day, and you can assign this task to an employee that may have an extra five minutes in the morning– including sales people and managers.
Earn More Reviews
Monitoring and responding is important, but there’s nothing to monitor or respond to if you’re not receiving any reviews in the first place.
There are several ways to earn more reviews:
-Send out review cards with any mail correspondence
-Ask for reviews during email contact
-Ask for reviews in person
-Use reputation management software (I have a suggestion)
Most of your reviews will center on service. You probably sell quality vehicles, and your customers usually know what kind of car they want before they buy it. Unless you sell them an absolute lemon, your reviews will center around their experience with the people at your dealership.
Here’s another good piece of advice from Auto Dealer Monthly:
“The best time to ask is when a customer is raving about their experience to a salesperson, service advisor or a manager, whether in person, over the phone, or in an email or letter. Additionally, you can reach out to those who made positive comments about your store on the factory surveys. To get the momentum going, set up the store goal for the month and give employees an incentive (lunch, a company jacket or a gift card). Then read reviews during your sales meetings, and recognize those with most reviews.”
Incentivising customers with cash or gifts is never a good idea. But incentivizing customers with great service, and actually asking for reviews is an excellent idea.
It’s important for everyone on your team to be on the same page when it comes to reviews. That includes the people doing detail work, the people answering the phones, and the people filling out financing paperwork.
Every area of service your customers touch should be an opportunity to earn more reviews.
Ask, manage, train, and maintain. That’s how you edge out the competition.
Thanks for reading!