The car-buying experience has vastly improved in recent years as dealers have increasingly prioritized customer service.
Yet, surprisingly, automotive dealerships are facing a reputation crisis: Consumers don’t trust them.
According to V12 Data, 99% of auto shoppers expect a hassle when buying a vehicle. Misalignment between expectations and reality, as well as falling consumer trust, are the results of a damaged reputation brought on by fraudulent reviews.
Although many factors affect a dealership’s reputation, customer reviews carry the most weight. Nearly all customers start their car-buying experience online, and 59% of auto shoppers choose a dealership based on reputation.
These statistics show how negative online reviews can put a serious dent in sales.
But if the overall customer experience is improving, why are dealerships racking up negative reviews? The answer often lies in fake negative reviews paid for or written by competitors.
Fake reviews aren’t always negative, either. Many business owners fabricate positive reviews to boost their own company’s reputation—which they should never do.
Unfortunately, the lure of big profits can prompt some people to use fake reviews as a weapon. Competitors may only write neutral reviews at first. But if they see an increase in sales, you’ll see a rise in one-star reviews.
These attacks are frustrating and can have a devastating impact on dealership revenue.
Let’s dig into some numbers to see how much money a dealership would have lost in 2017 from false negative reviews.
As many as nine out of 10 car buyers start their search online, and almost 60% of them look for companies with a good reputation. If your business had any negative reviews on page one of Google, you could have lost half your potential customers.
On average, dealerships sold about 1,045 new vehicles and earned approximately $2,100 per automobile in 2017. These sales brought in nearly $2.2 million in profits per dealer. But if your company lost half of its sales because of bad reviews, your revenue would have been slashed by $1.1 million.
Many businesses won’t look online to diagnose the problem. Instead, they may blame their sales team rather than the guy across the street.
When profits drop by 50% because of a competitor attack, that’s the definition of a crisis.
Although this is infuriating, it’s important to remain calm. Some negative reviews might be legitimate, and responding unprofessionally could cause further damage to your reputation.
Don’t assume all bad reviews are false. It’s crucial that you remain open-minded while reading all of your reviews. When criticism is legitimate, take the opportunity to correct the issues in question at your dealership. It’s worth noting that you might need to seek the help of another employee if you’re too biased to properly evaluate reviews.
While you read, watch for these fake review red flags:
- Lack of detail
- More first-person pronouns like “I,” “me,” and “my”
- More verbs than nouns
- The frequency with which the individual posts reviews—are they a professional reviewer?
Once you’ve identified all the negative reviews you believe are fake, begin making notes to prove your case.
Although most websites won’t remove complaints, you should always report fake reviews just in case. If you gather enough evidence to support your claims, website owners may be willing to help.
For example, if someone in New York files a complaint about your Oregon dealership, you could try offering that as proof of falsehood. This is especially useful if you find a dealership in the state of the person who made the complaint with a similar name to yours.
Although removal of the fake review is your best option, sometimes it isn’t possible.
When you decide to respond to this type of review, it’s very important to choose your words carefully. Lashing out, especially if there’s a chance you’re wrong, can cause more damage to your reputation.
When replying, your goal should be to clarify the situation for potential readers of the review. Here are a few tips for responding to fake reviews:
- Cast doubt. Make it clear that the reviewer cannot be confirmed as a previous customer, and you have no record of them coming to your dealership.
- Speak to the readers. Your response should show potential readers that you are willing to help resolve the situation. People overlook mistakes when businesses make an effort to properly resolve them.
- Facts overpower fiction. Sometimes a bad review can be traced back to an incident at the dealership, but the customer is embellishing the situation. In this case, state the facts point by point in an objective way, and offer evidence as needed.
- Be patient. Sometimes reviews rank higher in search results when they’re new. Wait to see if they subside in your search results before responding.
Negative reviews are always frustrating, but the situation is much worse when you didn’t do anything to earn them. To recap, continue to monitor and record all online reviews about your business. Become an expert at spotting false or inaccurate criticism.
And, most importantly, always respond with the reader in mind to showcase your reputation for effectively handling customer complaints.
Jonas Sickler has been developing and deploying marketing campaigns for nearly two decades. He has a wealth of experience with connecting multinational brands with influencers across social media, websites, and blogs. Jonas is also an expert in crisis management and online reputation repair. Follow him on Twitter: @JonasSickler.