Reputation ManagementBest Practices

Reputation Management
10 + 10 = Exposure

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Answers these questions honestly: Do you have a Compliance Management System (CMS) and whose responsibility is it? When was the last enterprise risk assessment to ensure all personal and dealership assets are protected? (Who has looked at the “big picture?”) Who trains the staff about compliance and how often? Has anyone ever done an analysis of your insurance policies to determine if there are any holes in your coverage?   Do you have a process at the dealership to find and fix online consumer complaints? Do employees have a channel and mechanism to bring their complaints to the attention of management?  When was the last update to the Employee Guidebook? Do employees sign a Legal Rights Agreement? Are you using arbitration to settle disputes with consumers? (In practice, do you understand why this strategy is highly ineffective?) Are you prepared for a local media story? Do your employees know what to do, what to say, or who to direct the reporter to? Who audits your websites on a monthly basis to ensure compliance with advertising laws? Who inspects your other advertising?    Does your dealership have work to do?  Any one of these issues could cost you a lot of money.   Remember, it’s not how much money you make that’s important.  What’s critical is how much money you keep! Consider the “what if.”  What if…this were to happen or that were to happen?  How would you handle it? If those ten (10) didn’t stimulate you enough, here are another ten (10): What would you do if a regulator walked into your dealership? Do you have a plan as to how you would handle that situation One very large dealership group with more than eighty (80) stores allowed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to survey its customers to ask them about potential dealership wrongdoing.  What would be your thinking here? How would you handle that?  Have you started your work on the new Gramm Leach Bliley regulations?  The deadline is December 9. Unfortunately, the new regulations are complicated enough that you cannot simply write a check for an “app” to be compliant.  Some of your work will require good ol’ fashioned shoe leather.  Is anyone tracking how your waste (oil, batteries, tires etc.) is being disposed of and have you ensured your vendors have the adequate insurance to protect the dealership if it’s not handled properly?  Do you have a recall policy for your used vehicles?  Whether or not the used car is “your brand,” did you know the dealership would likely be liable if a customer were in an accident as the result of an unfixed recall? Have you ever checked to see how your IRS 8300 processes are working?  Are your cashiers receipting in monies with enough detail for you to track the transactions?  (Did you know the fines for non-compliance are up to $3 million and potential jail time?)  Did you recently inspect your Red Flag compliance?  Are your F&I managers just “blowing past” that screen and selling vehicles without paying attention?  This is a critical issue which will help in your defense if you are ever taken to court for selling a vehicle to someone with a stolen identity. As a dealership, are you sending out Adverse Action Notices in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)?  Failure to send these could result in a class action lawsuit to include punitive damages for “willful non-compliance.” Are you selling repossessed vehicles or salvage vehicles without disclosing this status? Does your staff know how to handle an Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) “hit” on a potential buyer’s credit application?  Do you have a procedure in place?   These questions are but a few of the concerns for your dealership when you are thinking about your daily risk.  As one dealer friend of mine advises, “Button up!”. Another says, “Stop everyone from reaching into your pocket!” Practice your “what ifs” and prepare!   In my experience, it’s not necessarily “if,” but “when!” Watch the YouTube video here . Check out Tom Kline's YouTube Channel for relevant information which is at the forefront of sharing preventative measures and insightful actions that you can take today to protect your dealership.
loyalty culture
Dealership Culture: Make Trust Your North Star

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Bolster your dealership’s culture with clarity, consistency and accountability to succeed in a multi-channel world According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Rory Blackwell, the ultimate one-man band, played 108 different musical instruments simultaneously on May 29, 1989 in Devon, England.  Fortunately, a car dealership is the opposite of a one-man-band. A dealership is full of skilled, well-trained and dedicated professionals, all ready to do their part to help the dealership succeed. That said, I believe the most essential instrument required for them to play in harmony is trust.  Yet building trust in a dealership is a lot easier said than done. It can apply (or not) across the board to ownership, managers, employees and customers.  Trust can be earned, of course, but it also can be easily or quickly lost.  Culture Matters I’ve been thinking a lot about trust after listening to a recent podcast hosted by Troy Scheer with Brian Kramer, the General Manager at Germain Toyota of Naples, in which the two discussed the important role played by culture in a dealership. A running theme throughout the podcast was the importance of a culture built on trust.  A dealership must first define its culture, however, and I believe the touchstone for any dealership culture should be the customer experience. The challenge is to bring sales, finance and service together as a team – whether online or in the store -- to seamlessly provide the desired excellent experience to each customer.  This united effort is complicated by the need to balance in-person and digital contacts with customers. An employee who is busy in the showroom meeting and greeting customers is unavailable, at the same time, to respond to digital leads. Yet both types of communication are essential and must be made. You can’t afford to ignore customers or make them wait too long. That’s why the best dealership cultures inspire everybody up and down the line to do whatever it takes to deliver a positive customer experience.  Getting there with a minimum of friction, however, requires management to take three steps: clarify what’s expected, be consistent in its application and hold everyone accountable.  Clarity Means No Surprises When buying a vehicle, I’m always mystified why the salesperson doesn’t walk me over to their service department and personally introduce me to someone in sales to initiate a more long-term relationship. Those of us in the business know that typically parts and service can generate 49 percent of a dealership’s profits.  My guess is that the salesperson is focused on the short-term and is already thinking of his or her next sale, instead of what’s best for the customer or dealership. This particular salesperson may not fully understand or appreciate or trust the store’s culture.  Automotive retail can be a pressure cooker, but clarity actually diffuses the pressure because everyone knows what’s expected.  Consistency Means Everyone Contributes Whether your customer-first motto is in your mission statement, your store, or on your website, you must consistently practice what you preach.  As an owner or manager, you should encourage your employees to take risks and try things without fear of repercussion.  If you tell customers that you want them to be customers for life, you need to prove that by standing behind that statement with products like Lifetime Powertrain Warranties. Many of the dealerships we work with offer lifetime maintenance and customer loyalty programs in the finance office and train their service technicians on how to create a first-rate experience to keep service customers coming back time after time.  Consistency means backing your mission statement up in every department across every experience.  Communication Means Accountability This is the attribute where the rubber hits the road, hard choices are made and, ultimately, trust is built. Make your people accountable for their actions, and allow them the privilege of learning from their mistakes. Nobody wants to be second-guessed or blindsided, of course, especially during the course of a busy day.  Likewise, you don’t want employees running to management to make a decision they could and should make. If they know you have their back, they’ll have yours.  Above all, keep it transparent. Nothing undermines a culture of trust more than a manager who allows a closed-door meeting to talk privately about somebody else. A Culture Where Customers Win Making trust the centerpiece of your dealership’s culture turns former roadblocks into speed lanes.  More importantly, it enables customers to believe in your brand, because they know your entire team is looking out for what’s best for them. Customers are listened to, calls are followed-up, questions are answered. And you can reward their trust by offering them extra benefits for doing business with you, such as lifetime powertrain warranties.  I’d like to finish up with one of my all-time favorite quotes from legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who says, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all of the time.”  There’s no better way I can think of to describe building a lifetime value culture across your dealership that will last the test of time – do it right all of the time. 
How To Handle A Customer Dispute Like a Pro: Part 2

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In Part 1 , you will recall that we had the goals of discovering the truth, building trust, and de-escalating the customer's anger (a.k.a. extracting the venom). We learned how to set expectations, communicate during the first meeting, and how not to irritate the customer. Here's how to build on your initial success and capitalize on the customer trust you have earned.   The Second Meeting: Gather Final Information and Achieve Mutual Understanding If mistakes happened, acknowledge them. It builds trust and continues to make you human and trustworthy in the eyes of the customer. If the dealership made a mistake during the sales process, it's okay to say, "I'm sorry." Disarm by telling the truth. Continue to acknowledge the customer's emotions (i.e. angry, upset, anxious, etc.) Try to extract the remaining venom here. Let the customer vent as necessary. When you find that the customer is repeating the same thing over and over it's time to say, "Let's focus on how to make you happy." You do not want to have the customer repeat their bad feelings over and over as it begins to wear a groove that is hard to overcome. If you don't take care of the problem now, it is going to get worse, and it's going to cost more money and you are going to create a problem for someone else at the dealership. Be creative and ask lots of questions.  Ask multiple questions, "If I could do this (xx), would that make you happy?" During these conversations ask things like: If I could buy the unit back at $xxx (including a profit for you as the dealer) would that interest you? What if I provided you with a service credit for $xx? (This option will only cost you fifty cents for every dollar that you offer to the customer.) What if I could sell you a different unit and take yours as a trade-in? How would you feel if I were your personal concierge during your ownership experience so you could call me with any issues that you had and I would take care of them? Some solutions are non-monetary. Explore these options. Customers want to be pampered and feel important. How can you accomplish those things? Offer to put the solution in writing "to make you more comfortable so that you are assured of getting exactly what we are discussing." The Third Meeting: Buy-in Present at least two (2) potential solutions for the customer. When you present a singular solution, a customer feels like you are shoving an answer down their throat. If you proceed that way, then a lot of the trust building efforts you've earned will evaporate. Be creative and don't be afraid to try something different.   It's okay to offer options where the economies are different. For example, maybe you offer to make three (3) payments of $xx or a service and parts credit of $yy and those numbers have $500 difference between them. You may be surprised which option the customer chooses. In any event, offering options shows you care and that you are trying really hard to help the customer. Words can be perceived as "cheap," and here you are showing the customer that you care by not just serving up one option.  Wrapping Up With The Customer Put your agreement in writing. Consider having the customer sign a release of any further dealership obligations. Follow Up! Follow through! Follow Up! Execute on your promises. Make sure you personally see that things are done. There is no shame in asking for help or advice or a "TO." Sometimes, other personalities may help you re-close the customer on a solution. This is just like selling in many ways. Consider documentation changes to your customer facing paperwork to guide how this process may look (i.e. an alternative dispute resolution structure.) Be creative here, too. Arbitration is not the only way to handle this. I think arbitration is overrated and ineffective and does not solve problems. It prolongs problems but does not help you, in my opinion. That is a future topic that I will cover. In short, there are all kinds of creative structuring which may work for your dealership. So, you did it! Be proud of yourself and allow yourself to have a quiet moment of success. Success comes in many forms and a job well-done is the result of your good attitude. Well done. Please contact me if you have any further questions. I've handled well over 1000 customer complaints of all shapes and sizes in my 30+ years in the business. Check out these 3 videos with quick steps for resolving a dealership customer dispute, complaint, & problem.
How To Handle A Customer Dispute Like a Pro: Part 1

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"The only difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude," states the recent, popular internet meme I encountered, and I agree. Customer disputes often begin when you hear from a third party. The customer may not complain because of their feelings: shame, embarrassment, or self-doubt, to name a few. You may instead hear it from a lawyer or regulator (i.e. a Motor Vehicle Dealer Board, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), State Attorney General, State Consumer Affairs Division, Better Business Bureau etc.) There are some customers who will find something wrong with the vehicle and use that as a wedge to try and leverage you into some bigger action. This type of customer will not usually come right out and tell you they want out of the unit, but rather will go "on campaign" and send you emails and letters and phone calls demanding you fix the problem. This campaign may start with an internet posting complaining about the vehicle and the dealership. Ultimately, the customer will get frustrated and finally ask you to buy back the unit. Customer problems often begin with internet complaints and how you address those early on may determine your ability to successfully conclude the problem. So, this is where opportunity begins. Treat the customer using the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have done onto you." Always proceed as you would want to be treated in the same situation. Being nice and being kind is always appropriate.  Over my 30 years, I have crafted a three (3) step model to manage these situations. I will detail the first step here as well as what not to do. My next article will address steps 2 and 3. Schedule a meeting. Make it formal. Do not have these conversations on the telephone. The customer should have to "invest" in this mutually shared experience, which will require effort on the part of the customer. Invite the customer to come see you in the store.   The First Meeting Listen to the customers' story first. Take notes, writing down everything the customer tells you. (I do mean everything.) Sometimes this can take more than an hour. Invest the time. At the end, show the customer your pages and pages of notes. Then tell the buyer you are going to read them back and you want them to let you know if you missed anything. Then read the notes and paraphrase what you have been told. This should take as long as it takes. (I've had these meetings last all day.) The net result is the customer will feel heard, which is part of the "disarming process." These steps are meant to show you were listening and the customer was heard. Do not skip any of this or try to do it quickly. While you are taking notes, nod and say things like "I understand." Label the customer's feelings. If they have a terrible tale of woe, use phrases like: "That must have been frustrating." "That must have been hard." "That sounds really aggravating." "I wouldn't want to go through that either." Do not feel the need to create a solution during the first meeting. In fact, even though you can often solve the problem by snapping your fingers, if you choose this shortcut, the customer will often decline the solution as he is not yet emotionally invested in the process. It's frustrating, but it's true.  At the first meeting, set a time for the second meeting and let the customer know that you are going to do some homework in between meetings. Setting multiple meetings and being "gameday" shows you care and you want to help.   Set expectations before the end of the first meeting and let the customer know that you may not have any solutions by the end of the second meeting and you are going to work on their issues. Reassure the customer that he is valuable and important to you. Do not be defensive as it will turn out negatively and the customer will feel you are trying to defend the dealership. Be truthful. Half-truths will get you nowhere. When you add half-truths and caginess to this situation, you are going to get yourself and the dealership into trouble. Quickly correct any errors (or omissions) that another employee may have said, or a false perception that a customer has. If you set the customer straight and tell them the real deal, they (almost always) can deal with the circumstances. Be realistic. Assure the customer that you are going to work toward a satisfactory resolution. Be true to your word. Do not over-promise. Emphasize that you want the customer comfortable and happy. Follow-up properly and call back when you said you would. It builds trust.  How To Listen Be quiet and let them talk. Try to find common interests. Use the same bonding methods you use when selling. Be relaxed. Nod, as appropriate.  Body language–do not cross your arms or your legs. "Be open" with your body language. The customer is going to tell you how to run your business. Do not take the bait here. Be patient and stay calm as "everyone else is an expert."   Tell the customer that their problem is "Important." Repeat: "I want to help you," multiple times. Try practicing these items with team members. It may be hard to eliminate bad habits.  Here's How To Irritate A Customer–Guaranteed Not listening Failure to set expectations Bragging about your lifestyle, how much money you have, your personal experiences Be inefficient Be insensitive Break promises Pretend it's not your fault Ignore the customer's issues Use the words, "I'm sorry you feel that way." Check out these 3 videos with quick steps for resolving a dealership customer dispute, complaint, & problem . In Part 2, I will show you how to conclude the complaint.
Online Reviews: The Golden Key to a Solid SEO Strategy

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We seem to finally be getting to a point where I estimate a significant majority of dealers track and care about their review scores. However, the motive for actively managing reviews focuses on a couple of different objectives. One is to comply with OEM standards or excellence programs. For example, both General Motors and FCA require that dealers enroll in a Reputation program as part of their dealer programs (SFE or CFAFE).  The other reason to have an active reputation program is an excellent reason . . .because they believe, correctly, that potential car buyers read reviews and look at dealer review scores to determine which dealership they will purchase a vehicle from. While that is enough justification for focusing on getting new reviews and keeping a high average rating, another benefit of a strong reputation management strategy I do not frequently hear is that review management is a part of your Google advertising or marketing plan. Truly this is a missed opportunity. Investing significant dollars into an SEO program to increase your organic search results on Google can be a primary source of new visits to your website. What often gets missed is that reviews can significantly impact how Google displays your business in organic searches. If you are investing in SEO on Google, ignoring the impact of reviews on your results could cause you to waste your precious marketing dollars. The Impact Reviews Have on Your Google Search Results Google my business is some of the best quality traffic a dealer can get, giving you the bottom of the funnel purchasers that can be reached and converted. This result is true not only for new vehicle sales but even more so for service. An easy example would be to consider any search a consumer would enter on Google, such as "brakes service near me" or "oil change service in (my city)." These are not searches a typical consumer would make because they are curious. With new vehicle sales, we know that car shoppers might be searching 90 days out for their new vehicle, but have you ever heard of consumers shopping 90 days out for an oil change? Consumers are making these searches in the market...right...now!   So it is incredibly important that when the bottom of the funnel shoppers is searching on Google, your business displays, whether that is the search results, the knowledge panel on the right, or in map searches. However, just having a complete Google My Business (GMB) listing won't get you there. What Does Google Look At? We have already established that a dealer needs to have both a complete Sales listing and Service listing on Google. That complete listing gets you "relevance" and means Google could start displaying your listing in relevant searches, but that is only half of the equation. You want more than to show up. You need to be near the top of search results if you expect to get clicks to your website or clicks to call or for directions. The other half, according to Google, is "prominence," and this means reviews. Actually, this means more than just having reviews. Google looks at: 1) The number of reviews 2) Your average rating 3) Recency of reviews 4) Reviews with likes 5) Review responses 6) Review keywords The Consumer Buying Process Back to your SEO strategy. You create Google Sales and Service listings and then pay an agency to manage your SEO for your business to show up more frequently. However, without reviews, you have tied their hands and limited the results they can deliver. Reviews are a basic requirement if you want to optimize your investment in Google. What about your website? Isn't the value of SEO to get more webpages to display? Yes, that is true. However, as Greg Gifford recently shared, you need to think of Google as your new homepage.   The consumer buying process begins with searching on Google. While many websites display in the search results, the Knowledge panel for a GMB page dominates the right side of the screen. On map-based searches, GMB powers those results. The journey for a consumer then is:  Without a steady influx of reviews (with responses), you will be limited in your efforts to get #2 of this process to display, and without that middle step, purchase intenders will find other GMB pages and end up on competitive websites. In your next marketing meeting, when you address website visits, before committing a budget to spend a dime on Google, check the associated GMB page and make sure you have a recent influx of good reviews, with responses. Part 2: "The Importance of Reviews in Your Google AdWords Strategy " Read the full study here .
The Automotive Insider’s Guide to Having a Seamless Reputation Management Strategy

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It’s an early fall Tuesday morning. The air is crisp (at least here in the northeast), and your coffee is hot as you pull into the dealership. You immediately notice a giant garbage can knocked over next to the service drive, and squirrels and birds are feasting undisturbed. Service customers have been arriving for a few hours, driving by the unsightly mess as they pull in. Even after their arrival, your guests are staring out the service department window in disbelief. It is a terrible visual, and it literally stinks. What do you immediately think?  You need to clean up the garbage as soon as possible since no one else has taken the initiative to do so.  Managing your dealership reviews online can feel a lot like cleaning up that garbage. The days of the phrase “all buyers are liars” are over because, in 2020, every single person has the ability to voice their opinions online, and not just to the managers of the dealership. Vendasta reports that  92% of consumers now read online reviews vs. 88% in 2014 . So, if you would take the time to clean up the garbage around the dealership, why wouldn’t you have a process in place for handling reviews?  Every day, millions of automotive consumers go online to research where they should purchase and service their vehicles. They do research across the internet:  Facebook, CarGurus, Cars.com, Google, and Yelp, your dealership’s website, your competitors’ websites, and so much more. According to TrustPilot in 2020,  Nearly 9 out of 10 consumers read reviews before making a purchase .  With the highest CSI, the most successful stores recognize the importance of reputation management and have a solid process in place, including well thought out internal guidelines, to address customer reviews. These processes vary depending on the specific circumstances, but most draw from certain general principles. In creating Reputation Management Guidelines for your store, or even in evaluating the Guidelines you might already have in place, some general considerations might include: Establishment of a mapped out internal process for the escalation of negative reviews. One of the worst things you can do is not respond to a negative review. Not only does this give you an opportunity to validate your position, but it also can assist in defusing a correctable situation before it escalates to the factory.  Have a point person to be the “voice” of the store. There should generally be one person who is responding, not 5 or 6 different. This way, one person is accountable for this, and consistency is more likely to be attained.  Ensure all the key people in the store (Owner, GM, Service Manager, etc.) are aware of the situation before responding to the review. This is tied into the store’s reputation management escalation process. You may want to have a conversation internally about what happened to get all of the facts before you respond.  Encourage your sales team to ask for reviews mentioning their names. When a positive review is made about a particular person, other people who read the review will instantly identify that person as someone they would want to have that same positive experience with. The top salespeople usually have the most reviews. Your customers are actually content creators! I am sure you don’t think of them this way, but you can take a review and repurpose it to be used on your website, social media, a blog, etc. Recognize that reviews provide positive opportunities as well. In a car dealership today, having a strategic process to address customer reviews is an absolute necessity. Implementing solid controls to manage this process will not only affect your CSI, it will also increase trust. Reviews that are handled well can create meaningful customer interactions and help you to package your online presence in a positive light. In closing, reviews need to be monitored, tracked, responded to, and then utilized for content creation.