You have bad breath. It hurts you to hear that, I am sure, but someone had to tell you. I think it is better that you hear about it from me now, rather than from someone talking about you behind your back. God forbid you find out that all of your friends and relatives have been posting about your halitosis unbeknownst to you. Who else heard this? Everyone must know by now. “Is it costing me dates?”, you wonder. So goes it with the online landscape of reputation management. You must be at the ready to discover, uncover, and overcome all potential statements made about or against you, your dealership and your business. Your livelihood is at stake.
In the olden times (I love that word, “olden”) you could be sure that a customer would share their perspective of your dealership with their 10 closest allies. Today, you must be ready for that same client to share their opinion with 10,000 online entities. The Internet has given the public the world’s most powerful megaphone to reach the masses with their messages. Knowing that dissatisfied customers discuss their displeasure with you far more often than a happy customer, it is crucial that your dealership is taking the necessary steps to squash (read: contain) any negative comments before it damages your future business, as well as properly leverage the positive feedback.
You must monitor your reputation. Begin by ensuring that you “own” the first two to three pages of each search engine. Simply Google your name and see what links are out there about you. If you have been overtaken by negative reviews (or other dealerships), it is high time you seek a consultant, SEO company, or expert to help you retain ownership of those pages. Don’t forget to peruse any reviews that are attached to your place of business on Google Maps – and ensure you are marked in the proper location. This is where I believe the majority of customers will read reviews about you.
Next, do yourself a favor and keep your ear to the ground. Listen for tremors from past customers. Go to Google Alerts and type in your DBA (or any such version of your dealer name) and you will be e-mailed whenever your name pops up in the online world war of words.
There are several review sites available to your customers (past, present, and future) that you should be privy to. They include Edmunds, DealerRater.com, MerchantCircle.com, InsiderPages.com, JudysBook.com, Yelp.com and MyDealerReport.com. (Automotive-wise, DealerRater.com is known throughout the industry as doing it best, but Edmunds/Google still seems to get the most reviews.)
If you’ve completed your research and are disappointed at your findings, whether the reviews are scathing or far too few, you must be proactive. Begin seeking out positive feedback online from customers. This can be done while they are in the showroom before the deal is completed, as well as after the sale. Ensure your staff is asking their sold customers for online reviews. At my former dealership, every customer that purchased a vehicle would receive an e-mail shortly after the sale thanking them for their business and asking them for feedback. In the e-mail, I called it what it was. “In the online world, word of mouth reaches not tens, but tens of thousands. You will be receiving a survey in the mail or online from our manufacturer. As this is our report card, we ask that you complete the survey as honestly as possible so we can continue making other customers as happy as we’ve made you. If you are incredibly pleased with the experience, please do me a favor and visit http://dealerrater.com or http://edmunds.com and post a review. I would truly appreciate it and don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions in the future. (In the later e-mails, I would urge for the referrals, but this initial e-mail would be to garner reviews – before anything ever goes too wrong with the vehicle.)
This practice should not only take place in sales, but it is critical that your service department and collision center have similar goals. The service department is a key selling point to every dealership and many online researchers will look to see how your service is judged before stepping foot on the lot.
After you’ve attracted these glowing remarks, celebrate them. Use this social evidence to your advantage. This can be done as soon as your customers begin shopping you online. If you are inundated with positive reviews, share them on your web site as testimonials (or have direct links to the sites where you are celebrated). You can attach these links in your e-mail correspondence with your Internet lead prospects as well. It is a pretty strong value statement to attach a link to a number of testimonials when all of your competitors are sending them e-mails like, “Thanks for your inquiry. We have the Chevy [model] in stock. I look forward to hearing from you.” Blah. Where is the value? Where is the attempt to build trust?
Once you have the reviews, don’t only pat yourself on the back in front of customers, but make sure to bring it in-house as well. If one particular employee is mentioned in the review, honor them with a mention of that in front of the team during a weekly meeting. Any way to make your employee feel that his good job was noticed, not just by the customer, but also by the company, will go a long way toward his enthusiasm for the program.
When negative reviews strike like fiery lightning bolts from an unhappy god (and they will), you must have a process for handling them. First, only have one dedicated person responding to the criticisms. Have it be someone articulate, with a level head, able to understand the customer’s mindset. You must get involved with the negative comment quickly. Do not feel as if you are backed into a corner, but don’t come out guns blazing either. Let the customer know that you will do your best to appease him, thank him for his feedback, and take the conversation off-line to the phone. No use having a battle of words on a post with an angry customer. Ensure that his review and future follow-up phone contact and clarification will definitely be put to use and help you better yourselves for the future. Then, put your money where your mouse is and attempt to fix the problem. If you can solve the dilemma, send him back the link to the review site and ask if he’d be willing to update the post, letting others know that you’ve collectively worked to resolve the issue. If he does this for you, thank him in the same forum for the opportunity to work together then and in the future. Know that you will have unhappy customers leaving negative reviews, but if you work to overcome them (and have that one scathing remark surrounded by positive word of mouth), then you have succeeded.
From sales to service, before the sale and long after the sale, your dealership must be engaging the customers and attracting positive feedback. The more people promoting your dealership online, the better. Comparing yourself to your competitors through these reviews can be a remarkable closing tool and it is imperative you build this social evidence in your favor. Online reputation management may not change the public’s perception of our industry, but it can certainly better its opinion of you. We are all self-conscious creatures with a need to know what others think of us. That being said, I was kidding about your breath. It is delightful and minty-fresh. I am sure you would like everyone to know that about you. However, your fly is down. It has been the entire time you were reading this. Wouldn’t you have liked to know?