Opinions & Advice

Have you been “Flogged” ??

What do you do when a customer blogs about their bad experience at your dealer?

Well, it happened again.  Another panicked general manager called me to report that a disgruntled customer had blogged their story about a mishandled service experience. The extremely negative post had been indexed in Google, scoring in the top 5 position of page 1 of a search on the dealership’s own name as the searched keyword phrase.

It isn’t the first time I’ve been called to the phone to hear appeals for help; "fix it fast" to "get it off of there" and "what could I do to get rid of this?" I’ve been building dealership websites for 11 years, so my clients usually make the call to me when they are on the receiving end of customer complaint blog posting. For a better term, let’s coin a name for this experience – "Flogging".

What can a dealer do if they have been flogged by a customer?

It’s hard to quantify the actual damages to your dealers business, but there definitely has to be a negative impact. In every single dealership site that we manage, the searches made using the dealership’s name are consistently the highest percentage searched keyword.  So the exposure is certainly there and a dealer’s discomfort is justified.

Whether justified or not, true or an outright fabrication, negative blogging or "flogging" by customers is a powerful way for an unhappy customer to do some real damage to your dealers online and offline business. I’ve seen customers published negative blogging stemming from experiences ranging from a used car sale where the tires were supposed to have been switched prior to delivery, to a new car price that was quoted one way as a phone up, and wasn’t available for that price when the customer arrived, to a press releases from Consumer Affairs about a dealer groups indictment and fine.

My advice to our clients has generally been the same.  First evaluate whether or not elements in the post are utterly false in which case an attorney’s letter might be in order.  More commonly though I advise dealers to swallow their pride and actively do whatever it takes to resolve the issue with the customer while asking for a retraction or positive update in the blog.

At one such dealership, on our advice, the dealer principal gave the customer his cell phone number and personally resolved the issue to the customer’s satisfaction and asked the customer/blogger to post how the dealer rectified the problem. This turned the negative blog posting into a positive testimonial for the dealer.

What if the customers’ issues are not solvable?  In those instances I think a viable tactic would be to participate on the blog and report what preventative measures and changes in policy and procedure resulted from the experience. This can show that you the dealer are sincerely concerned about the consumer and have taken the measures to prevent this from happening in the future.

In any case, shouldn’t a dealer try any means possible to participate and have a voice in the situation?  To me, silence or non-recognition is the most damaging tactic. I think the dealer should do their best to participate so that both sides of the story is viewed.

Getting flogged by a customer can have a powerful negative impact to your dealership.  It certainly should be a topic of discussion among dealership management teams and should be covered in personnel training.  In this recent Internet phenomenon your customers are empowered by the capability to flog you.

All dealership employees should understand that their customer service performance, or lack thereof, could become the catalyst for a powerful negative blog post. Instead of factoring into a CSI from an individual bad questionnaire, a single angry customer can now compound their opinion to thousands of your customers who have searched your most common search – your name.

Guest Post by Jeff Bonnell | Principal of MJM Internet, LLC

I want to thank Mr. Jeff Bonnell for his participation and for writing about such a concerning subject.

There is something that I personally do to help monitor what consumers could be writing or “Flogging” about our dealer. I put together a short step by step video on how you too can monitor possible flogging by setting up an RSS import using Google Blog Search and Google Reader.

Online Dealer Reputation Management How To Video

Online Dealer Reputation Management
 

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Excellent video... I would also setup Google Alerts... http://www.google.com/alerts to keep tabs on sites like ripoff reports, dealer rater, yahoo answers, answers.com, supperpages, google maps and others...

one way to resolve this is to spam blog... and start your free mini sites... and just post content on that for the keyword that is triggering bad review to come up... make sure to get some links to them... submit to google, yahoo, blog directories to index and in month or two you can get that bad review off the first page... not entirely gone but it still helps.
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    Lao Shi
  • August 7, 2007

Many customer issues escalate not because there is no resolution, but because there appears to be no one listening. As consumers we tend to become frustrated when we are disempowered and blogs put a small amount of power back in our hands.

Negative feedback, "Floging" is what businesses are most afraid of. Your customers can say it to you, or about you. However by addressing these issues you show you care and you learn something in the process.

There's an art to addressing negative feedback you can say "good point, thank you!" and then write a post praising the customer and showing what you are doing to improve. This will make the customer happy, maybe. You can also take a poll to see if, indeed, others are experiencing the same issue. It makes you look more heroic and a heck of a lot more accessible.

Once a company has dealt with negative feedback it gets easier to go from the "fear" of what customers might say to the "freedom" to improve products, services and relationships. Basic and simple stuff, stuff you learn in college that our parent paid good money for.

Negative feedback is really a gift from our clients letting us know what is going on, how do we know that some lot jockey is not switching tires unless there is a client telling you. You just need to know how to package it and act on it.

Feedback can often contain profound seeds of truth. Companies pay consultants big money to unearth problems; blog feedback can offer them this information free of charge. The best approach, as you've said, is to respond to them kindly and humbly. That usually defuses the flog's negative respondents. It keeps the tone of the conversation civil and acknowledges everyone has been heard, and their comments are appreciated, no matter if they are negative.

Companies like LLBean do this as a part of the way they do business and have done this since they opened. LL Bean has operated this way for over 100 years. Offer quality products and service at affordable prices with total concern for customer satisfaction.

Some dealerships have been abusing customers for so long they have no other way to do business. This opens doors for "Boutique Dealers" who will go into a community and steal away the business by servicing the clients like they should be serviced.

There are many examples of these quality companies through out the business world and it is "Standard Stuff"

Embrace the "Flogger" and hold them close. Thank them and let them know when they come into your store they are valued as a preferred client, like all your clients are.


J
To me, the best case scenario is to do as Jeff recommended -- turn the negative into a positive. Instead of the top blog headline being "John Doe Ford Ripped Me Off", it gets bumped down on the blog or deleted altogether, replaced by "John Doe Ford Really Cares About Their Customers". That sort of sentiment in a high listing on the SERPs is awesome.

Dealers need to enter "Internet 2007". I would venture a guess that no other market that relies so heavily on the Internet has a lower percentage of stores with blogs. It is great for marketing, SEO, and can act as a "Flog Shield".

If a customer is searching for your dealer name, they are looking for you. They will click on you right up top where they expect to find you. Flogs (I love the coined term, by the way) will then only have a negative effect on customers who notice them before they are able to click on the dealer.

A high quality dealer blog will greatly reduce the chances of the flog getting noticed. While I respect Umer's suggestion of posting a spam blog as one way of handling it, I think there is a better approach.

If you put your name on it, why would you want it to be low quality? Some people will click on it. Those who do will want to gain something from it.

There are companies out there, many of whom post on this blog, who have services for dealers who don't want to spend the time doing it on their own.
B
Excellent point, J.D. Situations like this are an opportune time for dealers to recruit more business. The challenge, of course will be in catching it before too long. One of the most famous "flog" stories of all time is of <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2004/09/14/kryptonite-evolution-2000-u-lock-hacked-by-a-bic-pen/" rel="nofollow">Kryptonite Evolution 2000 U- Lock hacked by a Bic pen</a> where the lock company did not respond quickly enough to the negative press on Engadget.com which resulted in detrimental damages to its business.

In the case for car dealers and with today's better awareness of things like this, situations like this can be handled more effectively. If the dealership does not have a blog and something like this occurs then the best means of attack/defense is to start taking an active (day-to-day) role with the plaintiff blog site to do some damage control, as some of the people here have commented.

Simultaneously, the dealership needs to launch a counter-campaign on the subject through his own site (or blog). You do not need a blog dedicated to the issue because that would be a poor use of resources, but for a few hundred dollars a month dealers could add a "content channel" to their blog focused on its service level commitment. For more about content channels please <a href="http://www.autoconversion.net/autoburst" rel="nofollow">visit our site</a>.

While flogging is different from a public display of dissatisfaction from a customer off-line, the means of countering can have an equal impact. With a little effort and dedication, dealers should be able to get their counter-campaign at least as visible as the smear campaign.

Great topic,
-Ryan Gerardi


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    Jeff Larsen
  • August 9, 2007
Thanks all for some great ways to overcome such a scenario.

What about this?

Now I haven't mapped this all out yet and would like others input, but I would like to do one or more of the following:

1. An open car shoppers blog marketed to the dealership's selling area, to allow your and your competitor's customers to post their shopping experience; good or bad. Great way to learn and adjust processes accordingly.

2. Create, manage, and promote a blog pertaining to only your dealership for all of the dealership customers to: hopefully praise the great sales or service experience, or vent on any known/unknown dissatisfaction of the visit to allow the dealership to rectify issue before becoming out of control.

Or this next option which Im in the process of doing...

3. Create a personal blog specifically for your internet customers to reference. I imagine the front page with some sold customer photos and testimonials and since I already take 5-10 photos to send to buyer's friends on day of delivery and on anniversary thereafter on day of purchase. Then other pages on satisfaction of shopping experience, satisfaction of vehicle, and the list can go on and on. Can't speak for other IM's, but for long distance customers we're trying to build the trust with, I think would be a great reference.

All of these options would at least give the customer a way to 'vent' on what they consider to be a poor experience before creating their own blog which would be alot more for us or the dealership to overcome once posted.

All comments welcome please.
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    laura villevieille
  • August 9, 2007
this was a topic of discussion on npr-talk of the nation a few months back...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9288507
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Online reputation management is an important issue for all businesses and auto dealers in particular. Buying a new or used car is still considered to be one of the worst retail experiences for many consumers.

70 percent of car buyers get price and product information from the Internet before they contact a dealer. Increasingly consumers are also Googling “Dealer Name” + complaint to find and eliminate dealers with “consumer issues”. This will dig up even old postings. Consumers are more likely to use a dealer with no complaints than one that has even a few complaints.

Of course the real problem with user generated content is that often you don’t know the motivation of the individual poster. Is the poster a dissatisfied prospect, a disgruntled employee or competitor? But even fake comments are likely to influence consumers more than anything that you tell them.

Another challenge to managing your reputation is that not all posts and comments are publicly visible. The content of paid sites like angieslist will not show up in searches. So unless you subscribe to such sites and visit them often you will not know if your being “flogged”.

Clearly, managing your online reputation is a difficult task that will only get worse. What I think is needed is a service that enables dealers to create a credible online rating similar to ebay’s merchant ratings. A site that can’t be gamed and only allows feedback from actual customers. A credible and robust rating would go a long way to counter “flogging” and most likely would attract high value customers.

J
Replying in reverse order...

Andrew:
Edmunds is doing something like that. It is moderated and requires approval. I sent a couple of tests -- one legit, one semi-legit but spammy (as if written by the dealer), and one that was clearly a bashing that was poorly written.

The legit one went through fine. The spammy one was edited to remove a link that I tried to sneak in. The bashing was heavily edited, but the ratings (zero across the board) stuck.

Overall, I was extremely impressed. It would be a massive undertaking that would fall under many catch-22s. First, to generate income, it would have to accept advertising without accepting dealers. That would be a problem, considering the IT and moderating manpower required. Edmunds is making nothing, perhaps losing money on the venture, but they don't mind because it's just a value-add to them for traffic. They are already considered "neutral" so they can do whatever they need to do to draw traffic.

********

Laura:
Great link. Nancy Miller (Wired Mag Editor) is someone whose opinion I respect.

********

Jeff:
I like your choices. I just hope you have the time or a budget. To make it work (which it definitely can and should) will require some planning, hard work, and babying for a while. Consider professionals (unless you are a pro-blogger, of course) or plan on at least a couple of hours a day, 5 days a week, just to do the bare minimum to get it built.

*********

Ryan:
You know I'm a supporter of your work. Keep it up!


J
Great FYI:
A must see Social Bookmarking Video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x66lV7GOcNU&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fmakemoneywithkassper%2Eblogspot%2Ecom%2F2007%2F08%2Fsocial%2Dbookmarking%2Din%2Dplain%2Denglish%5F13%2Ehtml

Joe
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Angry Buyer floggs retailer... and gets no where.
-or-
The best defense maybe a strong(er) offense.

An angry consumer Flogging you is not a problem until a NEW shopper looks for your name in a Search Engine and sees the moaning and groaning. But! Not all Flogging will make it to the front page.

You can battle flogging BEFORE it becomes a problem with SMART SEO. If you have a great Search Engine Guru in your camp, you're site is raked very well with search engines AND if your site is filled with lots of good information, you can defend yourself by "out ranking" the irate flogger... there by burying them into the lost (rarely viewed) pages of google.

G'Luck,
Joe


J
Nice video. Love the way it was formatted.

Social bookmarking is one of the services that we offer as part of our different packages. It can really work if done properly to help get websites ranked well.
J
Joe, you're right, but sometimes dealers need a shield of controlled blogs, reviews, websites, etc. Even outranked results can get noticed if they are somewhere on the front page. Unless you have a nice, inexpensive fleet of sites pushing it down (and sending you leads and traffic, of course) then it's still possible to lose customers through flogging.
J
Another Great FYI: RSS in Plain English

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0klgLsSxGsU&mode=related&search=

While I was working with the http://www.homenetinc.com/ Inventory system, I tried to get them to see the value in making their platform RSS ready.

See the video and see how nice it would be to establish a RSS channel to a shopper.

Nice!
Joe
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    Randy Cole
  • August 14, 2007
All good info.
All I can say at this point is that, as a newcomer to the Auto Industry, I am not overly impressed with the efforts I have seen (or not seen) made by dealership staff to really reach out to the customer with absolute top-notch customer care. But remember, now I am one of you and know I must take these things to heart as well as speak them.

In my almost 12 years now of managing web sites and internet marketing, I have yet to see any tool, method, philosophy, tricks, camoflauge, or anything else come even close to the power and clarity of good customer service - this includes honesty, respect, being forthright (that means aggressively transparent), caring and interested.

It does not matter what you sell, but to sell well and sell consistantly (which translates into longevity, or business "Building"), you must at all costs build a relationship with that other human being who is looking into trusting you with their time, their money and maybe even their future (will they be able to make the payments, will they turn into long time customers, etc.).

So many things are at stake above and beyond what someone says about us on a blog. When you reduce the effect that a blog statement made by one person, who probably is not going to become a customer anyway, has on our business, as compared with giving your full attention to those who are already customers, or who just walked in the door, then you'll start seeing things in perspective. And I know for a fact that your sales will go up.

Crap happens and there is nothing you can do about it! Oh wait, maybe there is... maybe going the extra mile, sending that extra email, making that extra call, showing real concern and warmth and putting the customer's concern above my sales numbers might even prevent that "flog" from happening in the first place!

I don't want to appear cynical here, so forgive me if I do. I simply want to make the point that if we give too much attention to the negative, it WILL hinder the positive.

Most of the online businesses who started posting customers comments, both good and bad, have seen sales INCREASE. Honesty is ALWAYS rewarded on the internet, because it's the one place people expect you to be real. If you are not, you are misusing their trust and they will have nothing to do with you, or any fake.


A
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