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Kristen Judd

Kristen Judd CAO

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An Open Letter to Google

Dear Google:

You amaze and confound us daily. You have created an infrastructure, tools and resources for accessing and organizing information that the majority of people and businesses all over the world rely on every day. That is truly awe-inspiring. You are pulling search, social and reviews together in envelope-pushing ways.

Nevertheless, change and innovation are rarely universally embraced as you have experienced first hand. As the old saying goes – you can please come of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Most changes will benefit some of the people and disadvantage others.

That being said, the recent retirement of Google Places in favor of Google+ Local has been confusing and concerning for many automobile dealers. Like many local businesses, automobile dealerships live and die by online visibility in search and consumer reviews (and many spend a significant amount of money on Google Ad Words and you would like them to spend even more money with you through the Google Cars lead generation product. 94% of online adults in the U.S. use search and 73% of all people in market to purchase a vehicle consult reviews written by other consumers online. It is essential to dealerships’ bottom lines that their stores get found in search results and that they have a positive reputation on consumer review sites.

On behalf of our automobile dealer clients, I have a few observations and requests related to consumer reviews on Google+ Local and the impending combination of Google+ Local pages and Google+ business pages.

The Zagat Scoring System and the Three Categories for Automobile Dealerships

The Zagat guide and its 30-point rating system is familiar to many restaurant lovers and foodies, but therein lies the rub. The immediate association for people in the know about Zagat is that it is for restaurants, not car dealerships, plumbers, hair stylists, nail shops, and all of the other local product and service providers that also rely on customer reviews. This is one initial hurdle that businesses that are not restaurants will have to overcome.

On paper, the 30-point rating system has appeal. Reviewers are asked to rate businesses on a scale of 0-3 in three separate categories. The scores awarded in the three categories are then translated into an overall business score on the 30-point scale. The intent of this modification of the rating system would presumably be to provide other consumers consulting review sites with a more precise score that takes into account the business’s performance in key areas that would be of importance to others conducting research.

The three categories for rating restaurants make perfect sense – food, décor and service. In contrast, the three categories for reviews of automobile dealerships -- quality, appeal, and service – are not as easily applied.

I am not afraid to admit that I don’t understand what these categories mean with respect to an automobile dealership. To me, these categories are inherently confusing and I suspect that I am not the only one who feels this way. What does “quality” mean in this context? The quality of the product? The sales experience? The facility? What are consumers supposed to assess when assigning points for “appeal”? Is this supposed to relate to the dealership facility? My concern is that this could easily be confused with the “appeal” of the brand the dealership sells. For Google+ Local reviews of dealerships, the category with the most potential for consumer confusion, in my opinion, is “service.” Since car dealerships sell and service vehicles, and customers write reviews about both sales and service experiences, having a category for reviewing “service” could make customers wonder if a review of a purchase experience should include a score for service or not. If the object of the “service” category is for customers who purchased a vehicle to rate the customer service their received from sales and finance during the process, then what are customers to assess for “quality”?

I am not trying to be difficult or over-think the categories, but the fact of the matter is that if consumers have to spend too much time trying to figure out the rating system in order to post a review, the likelihood that they will elect not to complete a review and abandon the effort are higher, especially in the case of satisfied customers. Customers that had a problem or an otherwise unsatisfactory experience tend to have more fortitude and will go through hell or high water to post an unflattering review. It is challenging enough to harness happy customers to write reviews, we don’t need any additional barriers to entry.

But you acquired Zagat, so you’re going to use it. I get that. I have a reasonable request. Please create more appropriate categories for automobile dealerships.

The Zagat categories for nightlife are: atmosphere, décor and service. Golf courses and lodging are assessed on the following on Zagat: facilities, quality and service. These categories are more intuitive and simply bear more of a relationship to each type of business.

Asking consumers to review automobile dealerships on categories such as: experience, facilities and customer service, would make far more sense than the current nonsensical categories. At a bare minimum, the review screens should incorporate some guidance on what should be considered and assessed in connection with each of the categories. I know that the enhancements you are making are ongoing, but these relatively minor changes would go a long way.

Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,

Kristen Judd

President, 3 Birds Marketing

via the July 2012 edition of the 3 Birds Marketing newsletter

Aaron Wirtz
Well put. I also think it's misleading that when you hover over the "1" rating, it says that means "Good" and a "0" is "Poor-Fair." Come on, now.
Bryant Keith
What is most baffling to me is the fact that our Google places (or +local) swap and combine stores constantly. Why waste my time sending post cards and filing out every single line in the back end to have it randomly place musical chairs with my information. We have even paid a Google photographer to come out and do the inside walk around of our showroom in the hopes that will help keep our information in check only to have it swap again. Why ask us for information if it's not going to have any credence to what is displayed?
Kristen Judd
Aaron and Bryant -- Thanks for taking the time to comment. @Aaron -- I agree that it is going to take some time to get used to the new scoring system and that the 1-3 scale for the subcategories does not leave much room for nuances. @Bryant -- There was no shortage of frustration with Google Places prior to the switch to Google+ Local. I know that many people experienced some of the same problems that you described with respect to changes reverting back and stores that were painstakingly separated combining again. FWIW I had heard that Google was not putting much effort into correcting these problems with Google Places because of its planned retirement. I am sure that we are all hoping that some of these things will level off now, but I do think that it is a good idea to continue sharing these types of experiences and learning from each other along the way. @kwjudd @3birdsmarketing
Adam Ross
Since you have to be vague and don't want the sales department penalized by a poor service department or vice versa, How about "Sales Department" "Service Department" "Facility" I think giving them some suggestions may help speed along the process... Great feedback, Kristen!
Eric Miltsch
Kristen - very nice overview of the new platform and some of the (unfortunate) features currently in place. I've been watching & listening quite a bit to the changes and the yet-to-be-released updates & upgrades. A lot of the chatter happening within G+ revolves around much of what you expressed. It also seems, from my perspective, that many of the "simplicity" elements such as the Zagat rating scale & 0-1-2-3 ratings systems are being positioned for even greater mobile usage - helping mobile using find, scan and make decisions even quicker. Google (as well as Bing, Apple & Facebook) are all in a race to allow our mobile devices to become identity devices. Being able to find places of interest that have all the visual validation elements - such as ratings, reviews and additional info from our social connections - is the ultimate goal. Is this the best solution? Definitely not, but it's setting the stage for cooler stuff down the road. Great letter. Let me know if they reply:)

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