Before we get started discussing how to obtain a 5-star reputation for your dealership, pull up Google and conduct a search for your dealership’s name. (Note: if your dealership’s name is not unique to only your business, you may have to put quotes around it or add the city in which you’re located.)
What do you see? Is it positive? Does it make you cringe? Do your competitors show up in your search results, as well?
How you reacted will tell you if your dealership has what I call a 5-star reputation.
Potential customers will often do this type of online research before they consider doing business with your company. In an in-depth survey from late last year, BrightLocal found 92% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses. That 92% reads reviews to varying degrees (with the majority, at 59%, saying they occasionally read reviews).
Do you know what else they found? 80% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
I conducted a more recent study on the matter, as well. From my survey, 54% of people said they read online reviews before buying from a local business. That means, no matter what, they consult online reviews before they consider making a purchase.
Reviews are a big part of your potential customers’ research process. And they’re not just reading about the vehicle they want to purchase. They’re reading about you — how your sales staff treat people, how friendly you are, how transparent you are, and how you make them feel when they’re trying to purchase a new vehicle.
“80% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”
So, what do your potential customers see when they search for you?
A Real Example
I did a Google search for “Lithia Ford of Boise.” Since I recently purchased my new truck from them, I know first-hand how well they take care of their customers.
Here’s what I noticed:
- It’s obvious they’re actively obtaining feedback with a total of 176 Google reviews and a rating of 4.1 stars. However, I checked and their two main competitors have a higher rating of 4.6 and 4.7-stars.
- The second result is their Yelp listing with a 2-star rating. That’s not good. They should focus on improving this rating since it’s highly visible in the search results.
- Facebook, DealerRater, and Cars.com also show up in the top search results. Each have a rating of at least a 4.3-stars.
- Their two competitors show up in the 4th and 5th spot. Remember, this was a branded search for “Lithia Ford of Boise.” The objective here would be to suppress these two search results, by ranking other web pages that mention the Lithia Ford of Boise brand. In essence, pushing the competitors to page two.
Research Before Buying
According to GE Capital Retail Bank’s second annual shopper study, 81% of consumers perform at least some sort of online research (websites, social media, and reviews) before making a purchase. Does Lithia Ford of Boise really want Kendall Ford and Corwin Ford showing up for a Lithia branded search?
A basic branded Google search for your dealership is an extremely common form of customer research. What do you want your potential customers to see?
What the customer is looking for will vary, but for an auto dealership, it could be any of the following:
- Online reviews: quantity and rating
- Social mentions and recommendations
- Court cases
- Complaints with the BBB or other sites like RipoffReport.com
- News releases
- Customer testimonials
If someone who wants to buy a new truck is researching Lithia Ford of Boise, they’ll see that Yelp review score, as well as results for Lithia Ford of Boise’s two biggest competitors.
If they do in-depth research, they’ll see Lithia Ford of Boise’s great review scores across other sites, as well as their website, which does have a customer reviews section.
In theory, they could try to rank their own customer reviews page, or any number of other, relevant pages.
They can’t opt out of Yelp, though, so they’ll need to focus on earning a higher review score there.
Earning a 5-Star Reputation
So, how can Lithia Ford of Boise make sure their Yelp score matches the rest of their four-star-plus review scores?
It all comes down to delighting the customer.Delighting your customers should be first and foremost. You have to act like a 5-star dealership before you can earn a 5-star reputation.
To ensure this happens, consider utilizing secret shoppers, recording phone calls, reviewing digital communications, etc. Really, any point where the customer interacts with your company, product, or service should be monitored.
Personally, I’ve learned this the hard way. Experience has taught me to “trust but verify.”
Hire trustworthy employees and trust them to do their jobs. Along the way, verify that they’re living up to your expectations.
You have to do your part, too. Set an example for your employees. Show your salespeople and office staff that you appreciate them. Live up to their expectations.
Every single person at your dealership, in every single role, should be committed to customer service, even if they don’t regularly deal with customers. Everyone has to be invested.
If you’re delivering great service and your customers are happy with their new vehicle, you’re on the right track. But, when it comes to your online reputation, you usually have to take it a step further.
This may not be true, though.
For example, take Yelp’s pie chart shown below. Two-thirds of all reviews captured on Yelp’s website are a positive 4 or 5-stars. Combined, they tremendously outnumber the negative 1 and 2-star reviews.
Also, according to the pie chart, businesses of all types are three times more likely to receive a 5-star review than a 1-star review. If you truly delight your customers, your chance of getting that coveted 5-star review are even better.
If you find your online reviews are primarily negative, it may be because you haven’t given your customers a reason to say otherwise.
It’s simply a matter of motivation. A pissed off customer’s motivation is often to seek revenge on an offending dealership. A happy customer may not be quite as inclined to go through the effort of leaving a positive review; assuming they know how to do so in the first place.
That’s why your reputation management processes should include asking for feedback and reviews— good or bad. Integrate your process with daily activities so every customer is asked for their feedback.
Keep in mind, directly asking for reviews may violate a website’s guidelines. Yelp falls into this category. Here’s what they have to say about review solicitation:
“There are ways to let your customers know you’re on Yelp without being overly solicitous. There is an important distinction between ‘Hey, write a review about me on Yelp,’ [BAD] and ‘Hey, check us out on Yelp!’ [GOOD]. It’s the difference between actively pursuing testimonials and simply creating awareness of your business through social media outlets.”
I think Yelp’s explanation is a load of crap.
Remember, a pissed off customer’s motivation is often revenge. If they’re angry enough, they’ll often seek out new ways of getting back at the dealership that wronged them, justifiable or not.
Many times, this revenge comes in the form of a negative review or a grievance on a website like Complaints.com.
What is a happy customer’s motivation? Often, there isn’t any, which is why I don’t see anything wrong with asking for a legitimate, honest review. I believe it balances out the playing field with the Negative Nancies of the world.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone, as Yelp puts it, asking for a review by “sticking a laptop in front of a customer and smilingly invite her to write a review while looking over her shoulder.”
But, I also don’t see anything wrong with asking for an accurate review from a real customer who bought a real vehicle from you, no matter how it’s initiated.
I already know from experience that Lithia Ford of Boise treats their customers right. I had a great experience when I bought my new truck.
I also know their customers are taking notice. I can tell from the positive online reviews they have on Google, Facebook, DealerRater, and Cars.com. They just need to even out that Yelp score and work on actively promoting a few more of their pages, or pages on other sites that mention them in a positive light.
They’re already delighting the customer. They just need to ask for more reviews and work a little bit harder on reputation management. They need to do this in a smart way– basically, they need to integrate asking their real customers for reviews into their closing process.
If you delight your customers at every level, and asking for reviews is part of your everyday customer service system, you’ll be headed for a five-star online reputation. Once it all becomes second nature, you’ll leave your competitors in the dust.
Your potential customers are researching your dealership online. You know what you want them to find – and a good online reputation never happens by accident. You have to go out there and earn it.