By Mike Lee, Internet Director, Melloy Nissan

Two recent conversations prompted my exploration into online reputation and the discovery of solutions to improve our dealership’s star rating.

The first was during a meeting with our factory’s owner loyalty consultant. While discussing online reviews and our approach to inviting customers to leave us a review, she was flabbergasted when I told her, “We don’t choose, we invite everyone that interacts with the dealership to leave us a review.” Her response was, “Aren’t you afraid you will get a bad review?”

The other one happened during lunch with one of our credit union partners. While brainstorming why they were having difficulty growing their membership, I asked, “Do your current customers like you?” His response was, “I think they do. We survey them once a year.”

This led me to explore the misconceptions about online reviews and what it takes to manage and improve a business’s reputation. After some research, here’s what I found:

  • 90% of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase.
  • 84% of consumers trusted online reviews as much as personal referrals
  • 74% said that positive reviews made them trust a local business more.(1)

After learning the large role that reviews play in the consumer purchase process, I decided we had to make some changes in order for our dealership to stand out. We started looking at our processes and how we had changed them over the years. Two years ago, we were in the middle of the pack when it came to star ratings. Our 3.8-star rating was OK, but it didn’t make us stand out in a market that was crowded with players. We knew that we had to make some changes if we wanted to grow sales and profitability.

Our first change made was in how we solicited reviews. Several vendors provided us with handout cards asking for reviews, and we had an application that salespeople and service advisers could use to send invites via text; However, these all relied on someone to initiate the process. Invites were issued on a ‘hit or miss’ basis, which resulted in very few reviews. Salespeople only invited customers to leave a review, if they thought they would get a good review. We weren’t getting enough good reviews to offset the few bad reviews we were getting. We found out pretty quickly that it was hard work getting our employees to buy into our philosophy of “Every Customer, Every Time.” We changed the process to a fully automated system with the humans completely out of the loop. Then, every customer that purchased/serviced a vehicle was invited to leave a review on their favorite review site. This immediately increased the number of reviews that were being posted.

Since online reputation scores are based on averages, our ratings started to climb as soon as the number of reviews increased. We were doing a good job of taking care of our customers, so I wasn’t too scared of a bunch of negative reviews. For every 5-star review, you can get one 1-star review, and you would still have a 4.2-star rating; That was better than where we were coming from.

Change two was not far behind. All of those new reviews generated a lot of extra work crafting responses, so we found a vendor that would monitor all of the review sites and write responses that were appropriate for each review. They would also let us preview and edit each response, if we felt the need. With this addition we began to see movement in our star rating. We had never been great at responding to reviews and no one was specifically designated to complete that task. One person could now monitor the responses and stay on top of it daily with minimal effort. We are now able to spot trends and react quickly if we see specific problems in a department or with a particular employee.

Implementing these two changes cost the dealership less than $1,000 a month. The rewards were almost immediate with a steady increase in our online reputation scores. We are a high-volume dealer competing against Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Honda, and Toyota dealers every day. After about a year, we passed all of them with our 4.6 Google star rating. In fact, we passed Lexus, Mercedes, Porsche, and BMW. Our store currently has more than 1,600 Google reviews and we are maintaining our lead in the market, but we aren’t satisfied. Our next goal is to get to 4.8 Stars.

Source/Notes:
1 Forbes Magazine

About the Author

Mike Lee is the Internet Director at Melloy Nissan. Mike learned the automobile business from the bottom up, serving as a salesman, F& I Manager, Sales Manager, F&I Director, GSM and is currently Internet & Fleet Director at a Melloy Nissan, a large dealership in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Author: Contributing Writer

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