Dealership Marketing

5 Principles to Rock your Online Reputation and Win more Customers

[highlight color=”#F0F0F0″ font=”black”]Not long ago I was on the phone with Sean Peoples, VP of Sales for CarGurus. I’ve known Sean for some time now and there’s never a dull moment during our conversations. We got on the topic of online reviews and he was sharing with me some interesting data around customer reviews on I asked him to share this data in a post here for our readers. I hope we hear more from Sean in the near future. He’s a smart dude! -Jeff[/highlight]

Who cares what people are saying about you online?

By now, you know the answer: everyone that is shopping for a car on your lot.  For dealerships, online reviews offer an opportunity to establish credibility and trust among prospective customers – or they can quickly destroy both when things go wrong.

Our experience with user reviews and online community runs deep (notably, our founder and CEO was the co-founder of travel review site, TripAdvisor).  More than 7 million unique monthly visitors research and shop for cars on CarGurus, and we invite each shopper that contacts a dealership through our site to submit a review of his or her experience.  More than 250 of these shoppers take the time to do so daily.

Recently we spent some time analyzing 100K of our most recent dealership reviews, and I wanted to share some insights from this study that I believe will be useful to your dealership.

The biggest takeaway from our dealership review research is that the majority of dealerships are nailing it when it comes to customer satisfaction are…

  • 75% of the reviews on our site were rated a 3 or higher (on a scale of 1 to 5)
  • A significant 64% had a score of 4 or higher.

That’s good news for an industry that is sometimes maligned in the public eye.

Perhaps more interesting, though, are the comments that are associated with high scoring reviews. Despite in-market buyers’ migration to the Web for the majority of their car research, our analysis of the most positive dealership reviews suggests the human connection at the dealership is still very much a driver in the customer decision making process, especially for those lower-funnel customers you are courting.

Professional, Friendly, Helpful
Professional, Friendly, Helpful

In reviewing the shopper comments in positive reviews, we found some prevalent themes that appeared again and again. As you’ll see, these are basic customer service principles, but I believe they are worth reviewing with your sales team.  Even the best “online reputation management strategy” cannot help you if you don’t build your reputation on this solid foundation.

  1. Friendly. The words “friendly” and/or “nice,” appeared in nearly 20% of the comments associated with 4 and 5 star reviews. Even customers who didn’t ultimately buy the car cited their positive experience with a “friendly” salesperson.  Friendly service was also often associated with promising referrals (“I would recommend this dealership to anyone shopping for a car.”)
  2. Trustworthy: Establishing trust with a nervous, skeptical customer – particularly when selling used cars – is no small task. In many reviews, customers cited “honesty” and referenced “direct answers to my questions.” That applies to the first phone conversation you have with a customer to what follows when they are in your store. Also worth the effort to make sure you’re connecting the dots on information shared in both cases: consistency breeds trust.
  3. Responsive: Prompt call backs have a big impact – this is cited frequently in reviews. The typical shopper on CarGurus contacts more than one dealer on listings in which they are interested.  Be the first to get back to them. (That said, don’t bug them too much thereafter – too many “annoying” call-backs gets cited in many negative reviews.)
  4. Fair: Perceived fairness usually does boil down to “getting a good deal”, but this doesn’t have to mean the lowest price. Rather, our user comments suggest it’s more about providing transparency around your pricing and your financing terms. At a minimum, make sure your sales staff is educated about current market values as your customers surely will be.
  5. Helpful: It makes sense that dealers who make the entire process seem “easy” make a big impression.  Satisfied reviewers frequently cited salespeople that were “willing to take the time to explain everything.”

Of course, not all reviews are positive.  Twenty-five percent of the reviews on our site score a 1 or 2, and we found some telling themes there too.  Aside from some blatant “bait and switch” experiences (and that’s another whole conversation), most of the consumer complaints boil down to communication breakdowns, which are easily avoidable in many cases.  Some suggestions:

  1. Coordinate all points of communication so that your front desk communicates the same thing as your sales floor, and both correspond to what’s online.
  2. Be straightforward with your pricing – don’t factor special offers into your list price without making it abundantly clear to consumers. It is great that you offer military discounts or special financing deals, but make it clear how those relate to asking price.
  3. Stay on top of your inventory – work closely with your inventory host to ensure your listings are complete and accurate. Don’t let already sold listings linger online, it only frustrates customers (and they will write about it).

At CarGurus, we limit reviews to consumers that we know have engaged with a dealership – they are solicited by invitation only. We do have a dispute process for dealerships that are concerned about an inaccurate review, and we try to address any concerns in as timely a manner as possible, as we know how important reviews are. Staying on top of your reviews wise.  And be sure to point to your stellar reviews in your social media and other marketing efforts.

It wasn’t long ago that reviews would make or break restaurants and hotels, but didn’t have an impact on much else.  The internet gave a voice to the customer, though, bringing hotels, books, plumbers and anything sold on Amazon into the spotlight.  Cars are no exception, and dealers have a huge opportunity to use this to their advantage, using reviews to attract and win customers.

Have you read through your reviews to determine which positive or negative behavioral “keywords” you could use to help your customer service and process at the dealership?

Sean Peoples is the Vice President of Sales for CarGurus, an automotive shopping site that helps consumers find great deals from great dealers. With ...