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You are being rated

November 15, 2010

By Mark Bilek, CATA Internet Director

As more and more people turn to the Web for information, it’s important that new-car dealers embrace and maintain a positive presence on this maturing media.

While there’s a lot to be said for growing your business one satisfied buyer at a time, the Internet speaks to thousands of people in your community each day. So it’s very likely that a potential customer is going to hear about your store on the Web before he visits your dealership.

Online ratings are as old as the Internet itself, and the current trend is away from authoritative "expert" reviews and toward real-life "consumer" experiences. This movement has been heightened by Web sites that focus on concentrating consumer feedback.

Sites like epinions.com, ratings.net and bizrate.com allow consumers to create and read reviews of products and businesses in an open and, often, unmediated, forum. As you might expect, there are sites that cater directly to the needs of the new-car shopper and service customers in the consumers’ hunt for information about local dealerships.

"The Internet has become an invaluable resource for dealers looking to improve sales and promote service. Unfortunately,  the wealth of information available on the Internet can also be a detriment to dealerships, as there are Web sites that post consumer ratings of dealerships," says DriveChicago.com committee chairman and CATA board member Kurt Schiele.

"Thankfully, there is a way to make lemonade out of lemons by working with customers to resolve disputes and advising good customers to go to various rating Web sites to post positive feedback. Remember, a flurry of bad reviews on informational site like Google.com or Edmunds.com will turn customers away in droves."

There are three basic types of sites dealers should be aware of when monitoring their online ratings.

1. Third-party rating sites

The most popular is DealerRater.com, which started more than six years ago. These third-party sites allow consumers to freely post comments about experiences at dealerships. Comments can be good or bad and are only filtered for language and graphic content.

Dealers also should be aware of the growing presence of the BBB online, as visitors can browse bbb.org and read how customer complaints were handled at local dealerships.

2. Automotive portals

The most popular is Edmunds.com, which has its own dealer ratings application. Sites like Edmunds are often visited by consumers who are more than three weeks out and looking at several different vehicles. If, during the course of that visit, the consumer finds a highly rated dealership, he is likely to send future leads in that dealership’s direction.

3. Search engines

Sites like Yahoo.com and Google .com provide direct links to customer ratings next to your natural dealership listing—not your paid listing. This is the link that most consumers will scan to when searching for your dealership, and if the link to read customer reviews is close by, it’s likely they will click on it.

On the Internet, unfortunately, one bad apple can spoil the whole bushel. With each negative comment or review, dealers can literally lose thousands of potential customers. It therefore is very important that new-car dealers take steps to make sure they are portrayed in a positive light.

What can dealers do?

While you can’t submit a self- review (because the rating Web sites cross reference the IP address of the submission with that of your dealership) there are a couple of things that dealerships can do to help improve their online ratings. In some cases, you can completely flip the switch from a negative to a positive.

Ask satisfied customers to write a review. This is the most effective online marketing tool you can utilize because it’s both free and genuine. Getting actual customers to write positive reviews lets future customers know that your dealership is honest and trustworthy.

The best way to do this is to send happy consumers a follow-up e-mail that includes a link directly to the online rating services. Encourage the customer by telling him it only takes a few minutes and that he can remain 100 percent anonymous.

Respond to negative reviews with love. The saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar." Reach out and contact that unhappy consumer who posted an unsavory review and try one more time to make nice.

If you can satisfy them, ask them to update their online review. By doing so, you’ll be telling potential customers that your dealership cares about all of its customers. (It’s interesting to note that even if you can’t fully satisfy the customer, he might return to the rating Web site and "update" his comments to include the fact that the dealership tried to make things right.)

Change the game

As a dealership, the last thing you want to do is engage in a shouting match with someone who’s posting a negative review. The customer has more time than you do, and now has an outlet to release anger. Even if your dealership is completely in the right, it’s likely that potential buyers will side with the offended consumer over the dealership.

Obviously, there are some rotten eggs that you can’t make happy no matter what you do. In most cases, it is best to avoid trying to resolve those disputes in an online and public fashion. Usually, once a customer has written the negative review, he feels that he has voiced his opinion. In most cases, it is best to cut your losses. Remember, one negative review will easily get lost in a sea of positives.

While no dealer wants to read negative or hurtful comments from customers, it is important to consider that the Internet is an open forum for dialog and that you can participate in that conversation.

It is best to think of these online rating sites as a form of gorilla marketing. First, it’s free. Second, you have the power to change the game. Having satisfied customers writing reviews for you costs you nothing. Working with unhappy customers to resolve disputes is likely to generate additional future sales.

It’s easy to get distracted by cynical or false comments, but the beauty of the Internet is that you have the ability to turn those negatives into positives and win over future customers. In the end you want to make the online rating sites work for you, not against you.

 

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