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JD Rucker

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Reputation Management Starts at the Dealership

Reputation

With General Motors mandating reputation management to its dealers and other manufacturers considering the same course of action, it's clear that power of online reviews is catching the attention of the automotive industry at the highest levels. The old days of CSI being the primary indicator of whether or not a dealership is servicing their customers properly are quickly fading to the past. Online reviews are the future. In many ways, they're the present.
 
One of the biggest challenges facing dealerships today is that the outspoken consumer willing to go to review sites and leave their thoughts are most often the ones who left the dealership upset. We can provide services and techniques for getting as many positive reviews as possible, but at the end of the day it's the actions at the dealership level that have the greatest influence over whether an upset customer is going to leave a bad review and whether a happy customer is going to go through the time it takes to leave a good one.
 
Here are some ideas and best practices that you can apply at your dealership to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives.

 

Make the Owner or General Manager Aware of Risks

When a detailed negative review pops up online, it usually only takes a handful of questions asked around the showroom floor to identify the person who left the review. "Oh, ya, I remember that guy. He was completely unreasonable. Nothing we could have done would have made him happy."
 
This may or may not be true, but that doesn't matter. The point is that the salesperson, service provider, or manager that worked with the customer knew based upon their interactions that there was a risk that the person was leaving unhappy. They may have had an argument. They might not have offered enough for their trade. They might have waited a long time to get their oil changed. Rarely do reviews pop up from people who were dissatisfied without giving any indication while they were at the dealership that they weren't pleased.
 
Despite what many believe, there aren't a ton of people who go around looking to give bad reviews to every business with which they work. In many cases, they try to have their issue addressed at the store and leave feeling like their concerns were not addressed. This prompts them to be more public about their displeasure.
 
An owner or general manager does not attain their position without having some skills in bomb-defusing. We're faced with new circumstances that may blow up at any given time on a regular basis. Just because a salesperson or service adviser couldn't make the person happy doesn't mean that a thoughtful ear from a high-level person at the dealership can't make it work. That's not to say that the owner or general manager can make things better, but they should be able to communicate to the customer that their concerns have been heard. That's what most people want when they leave bad reviews. They want to be heard. Often times expressing their concerns to an owner or general manager is enough to let them know that their concerns will be addressed, if not for them than at least for the next person who has similar issues.
 
It doesn't work all of the time but there are negative reviews that happen every day that could have been addressed at the dealership with an empathetic ear.

 

Pay Attention to Bad Experiences at Other Dealerships

Many dealerships have started putting in measures to try to encourage online reviews near the end of the sales process. They should be having their salespeople in particular (or finance manager in some cases) discuss the importance of online reviews for the business and asking people to help them when they get home. These requests, of course, go largely ignored because there's really no reason for them to want to do so.
 
An exception can occur when people have a bad experience at another dealership. "I came here because ABC Motors thinks their cars are made of gold or something."
 
In those situations, it's a best practice to check at some point to see how the competitor is doing with their reviews. If they're doing well, then a salesperson can use this as an opportunity to get a review for their dealership.
 
"If you like the way we treated you, we would appreciate it if you let people know. As you can see, ABC Motors is doing a great job at getting people to write positive reviews for them on Google. We would love it if you can help us by writing a positive review for us as soon as you get home.
 
At this point, some would even suggest writing a bad review for the competitor. This is not a good business practice and should be avoided. People are smart. If they had a bad experience at another dealership and you ask them to write a good review for you, they may or may not follow that up with a bad review for the competitor. It doesn't matter if they do or don't - just a drop in the bucket - but you should take the high road in such instances and never encourage negative reviews even if someone had a bad experience elsewhere.

 

Give Exceptional Service

No program or service can hide a problem for very long. If the issue is systemic and you're getting bad reviews because you're delivering bad service, it may be time to re-evaluate your practices.
 

Remember that today's consumers are connected, they do research, and they are very aware of their power over businesses. The company culture shines through each employee whether it's a positive one or a negative one. If you are constantly getting bad reviews (and thankfully there aren't a ton of dealers who fall into this category in 2013) than you should take a look at the things that people are saying online. We all know there are reviews that are bad because of misunderstandings or outright ignorance from the consumers, but there are more bad reviews that echo the truth than most are willing to acknowledge. If it's a growing problem, find out what the people are saying and do what you can to improve it.

Jim Radogna
Great post JD. Your comment says it all: "No program or service can hide a problem for very long. If the issue is systemic and you're getting bad reviews because you're delivering bad service, it may be time to re-evaluate your practices." Thank you!
Larry Bruce
I guess let me start by saying... "I think Reputation Management is BS" Basically you can't manage your reputation because you don't own your reputation... the customer does. That said there is no doubt it starts at the store, it can't be managed there but it can definitely be influenced simply by doing what you should be doing in the first place, taking care of your customer. REALITY you should treat every customer as if you know they are going to review you because they are. Maybe not online but they will or will not talk favorably about your store if they are not taken care of. So if you even get the slightest hint they might be unhappy it would be a good idea to get upper management or customer relations involved, just hearing the same thing from someone else is many times all it takes. So what can you do online well 2 things really: 1. Check to make sure the rules for review have been followed both Yelp and Google have rules if a bad review didn't follow those rules you may be able to get it taken down. 2. GET MORE REVIEWS - this is easier said than done I am afraid...bottom line you will have to show the customer their WIIFY (Whats In It For You). People are busy and they expect to be treated well...very well when they are spending $30, $40K plus on a car. Asking them to review your store favorably when all you did was take care of that need is well, like the McDonald's drive through person asking you for a tip because they remembered to put napkins in your bag.... Really!? When we started providing incentives for our clients customers to review them on facebook, twitter and G+ we immediately saw a 137% increase in reviews across the board. The trick isn't to get the review...that's easy... the trick is to make the review payoff... that's quite a bit harder. Lastly you should also be asking for the review right there in the store. I know there is a lot of controversy on this subject but I see nothing unethical about asking a customer for a review while the experience is fresh and what you have done for them is still top of mind. This can easily be done with an iPad & a cell connection to the net. That is my take on Reputation Management which really should be called Reputation Enhancement NOT Management. What say you?
Ryan Leslie
Larry, I won't sugar coat it... I strongly disagree with most of what you've written here. 1. Your customer doesn't own your reputation, you do. The only entity that can truly impact the reputation of the dealer is the dealer, to me that equals ownership. It may seem like semantics, but saying the customer owns your reputation puts undo focus on a single review as opposed to a consistent process. Are the customers responsible for your sales numbers, marketing initiatives, or any other process driven event at the dealership? They simply respond to YOUR efforts, right? 2. I absolutely agree that you should "check the rules" for each site, but I'm not sure that you have recently based on your recommendations here. Incentives to generate reviews are not necessary, but worse than that, they carry the risk of false advertising penalties from the FTC! They are considered paid endorsements without disclosure. Jim Radogna wrote a great article several months back about this, Jim, will you post a link? 3. "Review stations" and in-store collection is the wrong kind of "Old School." It is now explicitly forbidden in Google's TOS, again, "check the rules." There are lots of reasons NOT to ask for reviews to be written in-store. I'll be blunt, if you are only finding success in getting reviews when the balance of power over the consumer is heavily weighted in your favor you are doing something wrong. If they don't remember you on the way out the door, that is your fault not theirs. Last thought: I'm not trying to attack you, I hope it doesn't read that way, but you are really far off the mark here Larry. This is the kind of advice that led to Google's review purge in Aug. 2012. Gaming, incentivizing, outsourcing, "enhancing," and in some respects managing, are all the wrong way to approach YOUR reputation. JD offers some great advice here: Treat customers well, provide excellent service, demonstrate the importance of their voice early and often in the sales cycle, and invite them to be part of your business by lending their own story.
Ryan Leslie
Sorry about the formatting above. Mods please feel free to add back in the proper line breaks.
Joe Webb
As always, you're spot-on, JD. I believe that everyone (dealerships, corporations, etc) need to look in the mirror and improve themselves before they try to point blame elsewhere and get others to fight their battles for them. Regarding reputation management, the first step a dealer must do is to DO EVERYTHING BETTER THAN THEY DID BEFORE. Want to improve customers' opinions of you? DO YOUR JOB BETTER.

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