Online, there are two important categories for dealers to focus on as they communicate with customers. The first category is communication that is controlled by the dealer: advertising, email, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), blog sites, and social networking pages. The second category is the tidal wave of information that is not controlled by the dealer: user reviews, word of mouth, car forums, personal blogs, social networking pages, Twitter, and so much more.
The messages outside of your control can seem frightening and unmanageable, but they must be paid attention to and they can be managed. The reason they must be managed is that these peer reviews are of very high value to your potential customers.
A 2009 Deloitte Study showed that 55 percent of U.S. consumers believe that online customer reviews and ratings influence their buying decisions more than any type of online advertising. They also noted that 62 percent of consumers read online reviews. Consumers see online reviews as unadulterated and feel they are getting accurate information from peers.
Much of the content generated in online reviews is generated by outliers, individuals with either very good or very bad experiences; and many dealers feel that their online reputation is at the mercy of any customer with a computer and something to say. This is not entirely true. While open access to writing an online review is the very thing that makes it so valuable to other consumers, there are three key ways for dealers to manage their online reputation.
1. Polish the image you can control.
Make sure that you are putting forward your best image in all of the communication you control. Keep your website updated. Post testimonials on your site. Share milestones in your press releases, customer emails, blogs, and social networking pages. Brag about your achievements in your advertising. Encourage satisfied customers to write online reviews.
2. Avoid creating a bad experience.
Avoid creating a bad experience for any customer. Easy, right? In reality, readers of online reviews understand that mistakes are made and there are always squeaky wheels. A few negative reviews can be overlooked if there are many more positive reviews to counter them or if the dealer demonstrates how they responded to customers’ unsatisfactory experiences. In fact, 95 percent of unsatisfied customers will return if an issue is resolved quickly and efficiently, according to the National Association of Retail Marketing Services.
3. Increase your reviews.
The number of reviews you have is important. Readers feel more comfortable that they are getting a thorough evaluation of the dealer they are researching when a large number of peers have weighed in. Dealers should encourage all of their customers to write reviews as a way of increasing the overall volume of reviews, credibility, and their overall online rating.
Chip Grueter is the president of DealerRater. He founded the company in 2002 to help customers share their car dealer sales and service experiences online. He may be contacted at 800-266-9455.