Why Dealers Need to Take Ownership of Their Online Reviews

Online reviews are the new word of mouth—70% of car shoppers consider customer reviews trustworthy

It’s time for dealers to rethink online ratings and reviews. For many dealers, online reviews are a necessary evil to be occasionally monitored, perhaps managed passively, or ignored outright.

Too often, dealers consider a successful review strategy to consist of occasionally responding to a negative customer complaint. They know reviews can help or hurt them, but they just don’t have enough time to pay attention to them.

In fact, ratings and reviews are a powerful asset that can help dealers grow sales, improve customer retention, and retain top salespeople. But only dealers that proactively manage reviews as a strategic asset all year round will win with them.

Reviews matter, so take ownership

Reviews are the new word of mouth. About 70% of car shoppers find customer reviews to be either very trustworthy or extremely trustworthy, and 73% feel the same about expert reviews, according to a recent survey conducted by DealerRater.

Many dealers know instinctively that reviews influence opinion, but in the digital age, reviews shape opinions in a more immediate and permanent way through the viral impact of the internet.

Based on research and experience helping dealers build their brands with reviews, I recommend dealers take ownership of reviews in two ways.

1. Actively manage your reviews

One of the biggest (and most common) mistakes I see dealers commit is treating reviews passively.

Actively managing your reviews means—on a daily basis—monitoring reviews, responding to them, and encouraging customers to create their own reviews.

I suggest that dealers get started managing their reviews by listening and responding. Listening and responding starts by getting the lay of the land with some systematic research.

You need to do a complete audit of all the places where people are reviewing you online. In your audit, you should ask questions such as:

  • Where are you being reviewed, and which sites account for most of the reviews about your dealership? A simple and easy way to start is to simply Google your dealership’s name. You may or may not be surprised by which sites appear in the results. Start following them all. Monitoring only one or two sites will limit the scope of your understanding, but be sure to give priority to those sites that appear on the first page of search engine results.
  • How often are customers talking about you? Are you getting dozens of timely reviews on sites that influence customer perceptions, or are customers providing only a few reviews that are several weeks and months old? Lack of timely reviews is a sign that you need to get more proactive about encouraging customers to talk about you.
  • What are customers saying, both positive and negative, about you and competition? Customers who give feedback are doing you a favor. They’re giving you insight into their wants and needs, and how well you satisfy them. Both positive and negative reviews identify opportunities to fix problems and uncover strengths that you may not have been aware of.

When you have a strong grasp of where customers are talking about you and what they’re saying, you’re better equipped to take the actions that are crucial to treating reviews strategically:

  • Respond to reviews. When you respond to reviews, you improve your visibility and demonstrate your attention to customer care. Responding to reviews means addressing both negative and positive reviews. You should always be diplomatic and directly address unhappy customers, but also take time to express appreciation for a positive review.
  • Encourage reviews. I can’t stress enough how important it is to encourage every customer to review their experience at your dealership. Train your sales team to ask for a review post-purchase—when the car-buying experience is top of mind with your customers—and explain to your customers why reviews are so helpful. Position the ask as a personal favor. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be “no.”

Finally, amplify your reviews through third-party platforms that syndicate reviews out to all the places that people are looking for them. The broader the reach, the more valuable the review.

2. Use reviews to engage and retain staff

Reviews are as much about your sales team as your customers. One in five car shoppers read reviews specifically to find salespeople, and customers are not shy about discussing their experiences with specific salespeople.

Treating reviews as a strategic asset means leveraging customer reviews to retain your best salespeople—by helping them sell more cars. There are a number of ways to use reviews to engage and retain your staff. For instance, you can:

  • Mine sales staff reviews to support incentive programs that retain top talent.
  • Use reviews to train salespeople on how to improve their customer service skills.

Retaining good talent has long been a challenge for dealers. Reviews can help you win the war for the best talent.

Taking ownership of reviews is not a one-time event. You need to have an ongoing process to manage your reviews, and use them to engage and retain sales staff.

What you don’t want to do is generate enthusiasm around a review program, only to move on to the next urgent need at the expense of managing reviews.

I suggest designating someone at your dealership to be responsible for managing reviews. Make it an important and respected part of their job. That person might even be you.

Whenever and however you move forward, don’t let up after you get started winning with reviews.

Jamie Oldershaw is the general manager of DealerRater and vice president of reputation strategy for Cars.com. He has been with DealerRater since its inception in 2002, as the first automotive dealer review website. Jamie has an MBA from the University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, and a bachelors from Bowdoin College.

Jamie Oldershaw


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