Customer Reviews are a Pillar of Online Reputation Management
Dealers are seeing stars, and not because someone’s hit them over the head.
Today, a search for a dealership’s name oftentimes leads to star ratings attached to reviews, especially when you attach a city and/or state to the search phrase. Sometimes several different star ratings are served up on page one of the results.
Why does this all matter? Because online reviews influence a lot of purchase decisions. Here are some quick facts:
• 84 percent of Americans say online customer evaluations have an influence on their decision to purchase a product or service. (Opinion Research Corporation, April 2009)
• 67 percent of US consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. (BrightLocal.com December 2010)
• More people trust online customer reviews than traditional advertising. (Nielsen Online, April 2009)
• People are willing to pay up to 20 percent more to do business with a company with a 5-star rating than one with a 4-star rating (ComScore, Nov 2007)
How many stars are you seeing, Mr. Dealer?
Pushing for Positive Reviews
Considering consumers are more trusting of their peers’ online reviews, imagine harnessing the power of reviews to influence your market. How do you get more positive reviews online? Simple. Ask your customers to post reviews. Companies who help dealers with online reputation management have varying opinions on when and how to ask, but they all agree that you strike when the iron is hot.
Scott Falcone, president of Presto Reviews, suggested asking for and “getting the review in the dealership at the time of sale … after the customer has agreed to the deal but before they go into finance.”
Elaine Harper, director of marketing at Client~Connexion, agreed that the best time to get a customer review is while they’re in the dealership, but she recommended getting it after the customer is done in the finance office. “At the end of the transaction, right before the customer gets the keys … the salesperson will walk away and say … ‘Hey would you take just a second to tell us a little bit about your experience here while I run and go get your keys?’ They have the site pulled up … and that customer has the ability [to submit a review in private] while they’re there and happy.”
Also in agreement is Merla Turner, director of dealer training at eXteres Auto. She said, “I think [salespeople should ask for a review] at delivery. There’s too much that can still happen in the F&I office. Things can change.”
Falcone – who also owns World Hyundai Matteson in Matteson, Ill., and has a review site for his store with over 2,100 reviews – said he’s had very few issues with customers wanting to change their reviews once they’re done in the F&I office. “I can count on both hands the flip-flopper reviews from bad to good and good to bad … four or five of each.”
When working to increase the number of reviews about their stores, dealers need to know which reviews their customers can write in the store. Reviews written by customers at the dealership (traceable by IP address) aren’t allowed on some sites. Although DealerRater doesn’t allow customers to write and post reviews while in the dealership, some dealers are still getting hundreds of customer reviews posted to that site.
Matt Lamoureaux, VP of business development and strategic planning at DealerRater, said, “I understand why dealers would want to [have customers write reviews while still in the dealership]. I certainly felt like I wanted to do that at one time when I was [working] at the dealership. … We don’t accept reviews written inside the dealership because we are not able to determine whether the review was written by a customer, a customer under duress or by an employee of that store.”
His suggestion for asking for and getting customer reviews involves two steps. First, get your happy customers to say they’ll give you a review. He acknowledged that oftentimes people who say they’ll write a review don’t. According to a 2009 survey by Opinion Research Corp., “Only 29 percent of respondents say they have posted their own feedback on the Web.”
That’s why step two is to follow up with an e-mail. Lamoureaux said, “I think they had good intentions, but people are busy, they go on with their lives, maybe they have a hard time finding the page on which to write their review, who knows?” He added to send reminder e-mails as soon as customers leave the dealership, which he said will “increase your conversion about 10 times.”
A well-rounded online reputation management plan involves actively working towards getting good reviews on a host of sites and making sure your listings on those sites are up to date. Turner said, “You can’t put all your eggs in one basket because everybody searches differently … so you’ve got to have good stuff written about your dealership on a multitude of sites across the Internet.”
If you haven’t already done so, update your business listings on third-party sites where customers can review or see reviews about your store. Google is a good place to start. Go to Places.Google.com. Here, you can update your address and phone number and add information like an e-mail address, business hours, a website URL, a brief description of the dealership, and what categories best describe your business. You can further personalize your dealership’s listing by adding photos (up to 10) and videos (up to five). Adding all this to your Google Places listing is free, so there’s no excuse for incorrect or incomplete information to be in your dealership’s Places page.
Bing’s Local Listing Center (Bing.com/Local) offers a free listing much like Google, as does Yahoo Local (Listings.Local.Yahoo.com). However, on Yahoo the free Basic Listing is a bit limited compared to the others. It allows a phone number, address, website, store hours and products/services offered. There’s a monthly fee for the Enhanced Listing, which includes a more detailed business description, a logo, photos, a tagline and online coupons.
Beyond business listings on the major search engines, check and update your business listings on other review sites like Yelp.com, InsiderPages.com, Edmunds.com, MerchantCircle.com and YP.com. There are several other third-party sites that allow users to post reviews; you want to be on the sites that are popular in your market. Search for your business plus your city, as well as other popular businesses in your area (both competitors and totally unrelated businesses) to see what review sites people are posting on in your market.
To increase the number of positive reviews on these third-party sites, Falcone suggested dealers create a microsite with links to the dealership’s listings on these sites. He said, “It’s called an IRMP site. It stands for Internet reputation management portal.” At World Hyundai, part of the customer relations manager’s job is to try to increase reviews on third-party sites by asking customers to post a review on either a site that the dealership needs more reviews on or one that the customer already has a username on. When a customer agrees to write one, the customer relations manager tells them to check their e-mail, where there’s a message waiting with a link to the dealership’s IRMP site.
It’s not the best idea to ignore your online review management (ORM) once your dealership has a few dozen positive reviews. Proper ORM is an ongoing effort, which isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Dealers can work with vendors that provide alerts and/or a backend tool that aggregates reviews from around the Web, or dealers can monitor review sites themselves. Alerts – whether set up free through Google Alerts or from a vendor – can be extremely helpful.
“The important thing is to set up these alerts so that you are made aware [when your dealership is mentioned online], and then to make sure that you respond professionally in cases where negative things have been said,” stated Lamoureaux. He said if responses are unprofessional, they can actually do more damage to the dealership’s reputation.
Turner suggested dealers “take a deep breath and pause” before responding to a negative review. Think about what you want to say, how you’re going to say it and how it can be interpreted. “If a customer has their facts just a little bit wrong – maybe they’re attacking you for something that you just didn’t do – I think it’s important just to set the record straight in a way that’s incredibly approachable and gentle.”
A couple of instances that require responses, according to Turner, are when the dealership made a mistake and when a review is generating a lot of responses. “If you genuinely screwed up, admit it and apologize. There’s that whole element of really being humble that people are very responsive to. … You need to respond when a review gathers momentum. Some reviews have a lot of comments or a lot of traction, and you want to shut that puppy down.”
She explained how rectifying a mistake can impact a dealer’s reputation. “Customers don’t expect you to be perfect; they just expect you to make it right. When somebody updates a review and says, ‘Hey, the dealership contacted me and made it right,’ that’s incredibly powerful. I think that can be more powerful than a flat-out positive review.”
She also has a rule about which reviews to not respond to. “Don’t engage people that are completely insane. ... The general public is not stupid … they’re going to know [the problem is] not you.”
Effective ORM has the potential to do much more than improve a dealership’s reputation. It can:
• Lead to trackable sales
• Be a tool for individual salespeople
• Provide a competitive edge
• Help add positive content to your website, Facebook page, etc.
• Offer an SEO boost
No doubt, proper ORM will lead to sales, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Additionally, dealers won’t be able to track ROI unless they adequately and precisely source their customers. Falcone said in an average month, World Hyundai sources six or seven deals to their online reputation. He said they often hear “the Internet” when asking customers how they heard about the dealership; when his employees hear that, they know to dig deeper for a more specific answer.
The second additional benefit – that salespeople can use ORM as a tool to improve their own reputations – works best with sites that allow dealerships to create individual review pages for salespeople (Presto Reviews, Client~Connexion or DealerRater can help with this).
Falcone said, at his dealership, “We’re hearing about once every 10 days or so … [a customer] asking for a salesman by name with no appointment.” When the salespeople ask customers how they heard about them, customers say something like, “I was on your review site and read your reviews, and you’ve got a lot of awesome reviews. I figured I’d ask for you as my salesperson.”
According to Lamoureaux, many DealerRater Certified Dealers are creating pages for individual salespeople and even linking the individual’s photo on the staff page of the dealership’s main website to the DealerRater page dedicated to that salesperson.
A couple of the experts also pointed out the importance of keeping an eye on your competitor’s online reputation on review sites. Falcone said, “If someone’s searching a [competitor] in [your market] and there’s some negative stuff that comes up, it’s really compelling. People tend to click on that, so if traffic winds up on this third-party review site because of a negative review of my competitor and I’m there with positive reviews, I have a great chance of capturing a customer that might not have been visiting me ever.”
Lamoureaux said dealers can “leverage the voice of the customer as a competitive advantage” if they “pay very close attention to the reviews that are … being written about their direct competition.” He provided a specific example of how he leveraged the voice of the consumer when he worked in a dealership.
“I would have customers all the time that would say, ‘Matt, I’ve got a better deal from this other dealership that beats your quote by $1,000.’ And it wasn’t [that] the other dealership was giving a better price; they were using that tactic to get the customer in the door … Because I was paying attention to the reviews … I knew in that case all I would need to do is introduce the customer to DealerRater … and suggest they go compare what was being said … knowing full well when they did that the other store would display reviews that said things like ‘the price that was promised is not what was delivered when I showed up.’”
Working with vendors for ORM allows dealers to automatically redeploy positive reviews. Facebook, Twitter and the dealership’s other Web properties are great places to syndicate positive reviews. Dealers can post on Facebook, tweet, etc. about and link to good reviews they get on other third-party sites.
One of the main advantages of a dealership having its own review site is it’s another URL that can hit page one of search engine results pages (SERPs) at least once. Plus, subpages within a review site can take up more than one slot on page one. One of the goals of Presto Reviews, although not guaranteed, is to get dealers’ review sites on page one. Falcone said, “Each dealer is a little different. For some dealers, [getting the review site to page one takes] a matter of days. Some dealers, it’s a matter of a week or so.” An IRMP site is another URL that can crack page one of the SERPs.
He thinks the surge of people looking for reviews is just beginning. “They’re going to need another search term to differentiate Dealer A from Dealer B, and adding the word ‘reviews’ is going to be huge in that consumer search mentality in the near future … It’s a tidal wave that’s coming, and I think that dealers better grab a surfboard.”
Vol. 8, Issue 2