Your online reputation has a direct impact on your bottom line. What are you doing to manage it?
84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation1. Though many dealerships spend significant effort and resources to collect more positive reviews online, few dealerships have a clear procedure in place to effectively manage the negative reviews that do come in. No matter how many positive reviews you receive, many consumers will actively seek out and read your negative reviews, so it is important to manage them carefully.
Of course, the best way to manage a negative review is to prevent it. Most dealers expend major effort to deliver a top-quality customer experience, as they should. But keep in mind that customer satisfaction is not always just about the reality of the customer experience; it also depends heavily on customer expectations for their experience, as well as their perceptions of the experience. Both expectations and perceptions can frequently be improved far more cost effectively than actual customer experience. A few minutes spent thinking about what you can do to help set proper expectations with your customers from the beginning of their experience is very well spent. Similarly, what simple things could you do to help make the perception of the dealership experience better for the customer? Managing customer expectations and perceptions can prevent a whole host of negative reviews from ever happening in the first place.
When a negative review does come in, you’ll want to try to improve the star rating. The key action here is to promptly and publicly respond to the review. But before taking that step, first seek to understand why that consumer may have written it. What are they hoping to achieve? Consumers may have several motivations in writing a negative review, but mis-diagnosing those motivations will likely make your response ineffective. As a general rule of thumb, unhappy customers want to feel like they were heard. Do your best to listen rather than defend. Where appropriate and after the customer’s concerns have been resolved, ask the customer in an offline forum to consider updating their review to reflect their entire experience.
Fact of life: Not all reviewers are going to change their review just because you reply to them and try to make them happy. But you can resolve the review for your business and for others who read it. By far, the largest and most impactful audience reading reviews is future customers of your business, not the author of the review. Write your review responses while thinking about how prospective customers (who are likely to sympathize with the author of the negative review more than your business) might react to reading it. Appropriately responding to negative reviews will show potential customers that your business values its customers and is always looking to improve, which will in turn help set good expectations and influence their perceptions when they do come in to your showroom. And of course, remember that all feedback can and should inform your future efforts to improve your customers’ actual experience, and ultimately your bottom line.
Finally, you may get some negative reviews that you can remove from the public web. Many dealerships focus on simply getting many positive reviews to try to ‘bury’ the negative review so fewer customers see it. While this helps to minimize the impact of the negative review by giving you a higher overall average, keep in mind that many review sites don’t default sort reviews in the order received, and many consumers make an effort specifically to read a business’s negative reviews. Therefore, ‘burying’ your negative reviews does not necessarily solve the problem. If possible, it is far better to get them deleted.
The reviews you likely care about most are written on third-party sites (Google, Yelp, Facebook, Cars.com, etc.) which you do not control; therefore, the key to getting them removed is know the Terms of Service for those sites. When you see a negative review that violates their Terms of Service (and they do vary by site), report it to the review platform. If they don’t remove the review, keep trying several times if you are convinced it is a violation (many of the sites manually review disputes like this, and case workers may interpret your arguments differently with different outcomes). Some things may really frustrate you, but that does not necessarily mean they are a violation of Terms of Service, such as the customer’s review blatantly lying (even if you can prove it!), saying bad things about your business after you had resolved their problem and they said they wouldn’t, or telling other customers not to shop at your store. Knowing the most common violations of review platforms’ Terms of Service committed in negative reviews and how to address them can give you a decisive advantage in getting them removed.
The next time a negative review comes in, don’t just wring your hands in frustration. With these steps, you can minimize the damage and even turn those negative reviews into an asset to improving your business and your bottom line.
Learn more about how to prevent, improve, resolve and remove negative reviews during my session at the Digital Dealer 23 Conference & Expo (Sept. 18-20th in Las Vegas).
Steve Pearson is the CEO of Friendemic, and he loves helping dealerships connect with past and future customers through social media. Prior to joining Friendemic, he worked at McKinsey, Vector Capital, and Google. His professional passion is using technology to improve customer experience. His other passion is climbing; ask him about Mt. Everest. Steve holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.