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In my opinion, and based on what most automotive consumer research is showing, the single most important category of information that appears online which will impact the revenue and profits of car dealers in North America in 2013 and 2014 is User Generated Content (UGC). This user published information is in the form of automotive consumer generated reviews, ratings and commentary published about car dealerships.
On Sunday I responded to several comments on a blog posted by Rick Mosca. After spending a few minutes creating and posting my comment, I realized that the topics I described and recommendations made would make for a good ADM Forum discussion. Why? Because I know there are enough ADM Members who disagree with my recommendations to dealers in regards to Reputation Management Strategy and Tactics that a discussion of this topic will have value to the ADM Community... So, let me share what those recommendations are and please do post your comments below either agreeing with, or refuting my recommendations that follow... or simply adding to this very important discussion.
Please take two minutes to watch the video embedded below from the Cobalt/ADP Team titled "Be Smart - Own Your own Stars". The second half of this video is the important part. Last Friday I featured this video on ADM because it is the first time I have seen an organization as strict about their research data based recommendations to car dealers as Cobalt/ADP is, make statements supportive of components within the Reputation Management strategy I have been using with dealers for several years. Admittedly, Cobalt/ADP is recommending that dealers include customer testimonials and reviews within their primary dealership website.
It is more than just intellectually satisfying to agree with the recommendations made in the Cobalt/ADP Reputation Management video regarding dealers taking ownership of the customer reviews that result from their proactive efforts at getting customers to create them... There is a lot of evidence that this is a better approach to a dealer's reputation management strategy that simply relying on Google or any other third party review site... As she says, proactively posting customer reviews solicited by a dealership on Google+ is like buying a house built on rented land!
For several years I have been using the tools provided by DealerRater when a dealer participates in their Certification Program to publish customer reviews within a dealer's website, Facebook Page, Ning Network, Blog sites and everywhere that will take either an RSS feed or the embedding widget supplied by DealerRater. In addition to the great tools that DealerRater provides its Certified Dealers, a recommendation that both myself and many other consultants make is to use an independent dealership review site specifically set up for dealers to collect reviews from their customer while the customer is at the dealership.
The most successful Reputation Management strategy used by many car dealers offers convenience and ease of use to car buyers and service customers. This strategy focuses on encouraging customers to write and post reviews. From an implementation perspective, these dealers make it as easy as possible for each sales and service customer to post their reviews to the review site they feel most comfortable with, are a registered and active user of, or have an affinity with... HOWEVER, the very best Reputation Management dealers have created a customer review and ratings site that the dealership has control over and licenses the dealership to enable customers posting reviews while they are at the dealership.
This video showcases an explanation of changing trends in reputation management and User Generated Content (UGC) on dealer owned sites by Mary-Kelly Gaebel from the Cobalt Social Media team and is featured on the Automotive Digital Marketing Professional Community
Many ADM members have seen me state on numerous occasions, and the experience on the part of many dealers validates that a dealership review strategy should be essentially segmented into two tactical implementations:
I have seen many ways a dealership makes it super easy for customers who are not at the dealership to respond to an email requesting that they provide a review of their experience at the store. One of the most effective I have seen is the concept of "You Have A Voice" where the dealer or group provides a landing page which explains why reviews are so important for dealership customers to post, and provides easy single click access to the specific review form for that dealership on several review site platforms. This allows the customer to select the icon they are familiar with, or feel an affinity for. It is a great way to get reviews from customers who are active Yelp Community members.
The Lou Fusz Ford Reviews landing page shown in the following screen capture image is a good example of this strategy for people not present at the dealership:
Since Google Reviews first appeared I have frequently said that the one thing we can always count on Google for is to change their algorithms, products, policies and guidelines... They have consistently, since 2000, changed the way anything that is shown to their search engine user appears over and over and over again.
For a dealer to rely on Google as the primary review site they recommend to customers is ludicrous! It has been and has not changed, just more and more people are finally waking up to the reality that Google, more than any other online customer review resource is likely to change the way they display, or do not display customer reviews as an ongoing continuous improvement process... And, Google is seeking improvements that are most certainly NOT intended for the car dealer, but rather these changes are intended to improve their search engine user's experience.
I enjoy using many Google products and find them to be highly useful and effective, but one thing I have learned since I started working with Google over ten years ago... If you are not paying for it (and sometimes even when you are) you do not want to create a process or strategy that is dependent upon Google NOT CHANGING that application or web based resource. Heck, in general, unless a dealer has a PAID LICENSE or some form of fee based ownership, you do not want to place high value assets (such as reviews) in that application as part of your marketing strategy.
Encouraging customers to post reviews while they are in your dealership is reasonable and practical if you are providing them with an easy to use means of posting their reviews to a site the dealership owns or licenses (controls). Asking customers to post reviews while completing a customer experience survey is a business best practice. When those reviews appear on a dealership's website, Facebook Page, Blog site, etc. then that is a great way to get them indexed by Google and ensure maximum eyeballs are on them. I like both PrestoReviews and BusinessRater as tools designed to provide dealership customers with a review site that is independent of the dealer's own website, but which the dealer has licensed and controls. Plus, both dealer review site suppliers encourage "Point Of Sales" Customer Reviews as being the most accurate and timely... Which they are.
The benefits of being able to resolve a customer concern issue before the customer leaves the dealership is, in fact, a competitive advantage for dealers who implement such a process over those that do not.
Why not ask customers to evaluate and document their experience while still fresh in their minds? All the research in this area shows that the highest percentage of reviews per customers served, and the most accurate reviews are when customers are encouraged and supplied with the means of posting them as soon as possible after the goods or services are received... Including new and used cars, as well as repairs and maintenance.
As for the way customers use the Google Search Engine, there is no doubt that Google is the primary tool used by car buyers to find information about car dealers and the vehicles they may be interested in buying... However, Customer Review sites other than Google appear prominently in the SERP for dealership branded search queries, as they should...
If a site is valuable to consumer users of Google's search engine, then Google will ensure prominent placement of that site in their SERP.
Last August my friends at Rick case Honda in Davie Florida started taking control of their reputation management and switched from encouraging customers to post reviews to DealerRater, Google and Yelp after they left the dealership, to asking customers to complete a customer survey and rate their experience at the dealership using the dealership's new BusinessRater.com review site and account.
The Rick Case Honda sales and service teams have since been able to get their customers to post well over a thousand reviews, The Google SERP results for "Rick Case Honda Reviews" for Davie, FL Google users are shown in this screen capture from earlier today:
1. I agree that dealers should take control with a personally owned site. As a small dealer, is BusinessRater.com the best for that? Or would it be good to create a independent landing page like Lou Fusz?
2.I am OK with customers in the dealership as long as they go to a site that is OK with it....DealerRater is not.
3. We do send a link to a blind page on our website with instructions to fill out the review. I have a template that works pretty good after some tweaking...including giving them permission to NOT do a review if they aren't interested. We encourage Gmail users to use Google+ if they are an active user and non-gmail users to use Dealer Rater.
Tom, first of all THANK YOU for numbering your questions... Here is my guidance:
1. Both, you should create a hosted Wordpress based page like the LouFuszReviews.com site and you should sign up for the most basic of BusinessRater dealer packages. The enhanced packages are what i use for most dealers, but a small volume dealer will benefit from a good ROI by using the basic BusinessRater package. The key is to actually get the reviews posted by your customers!
2. True Statement, that is why both BusinessRater.com and PrestoReviews.com are a far better choice to use for generating both customer survey responses and online reviews for all dealers, regardless of size.
3. I like the reference page you built, but would encourage you to add a couple more review site links, such as Cars.com, Edmunds or any other sites that currently have any reviews of your dealership on them. Also, I recommend you change the Yelp text to:
"If you are currently a Yelp registered member, we encourage you to use this link to Yelp and share your experience doing business at Hawkins with other Yelpers. Thank you."
One of the biggest eye openers for me over the past few years is that we have found that when a customer posts a review while they are at the dealership, they are 300% more likely to respond to the email sent to them asking for a review on a third party review site... It almost seems like since they already did a review, doing another one is easier, or maybe they just realize how important it is because we asked to do one at the dealership... I dunno what the psychological effect is, but i know that asking customers to do reviews while they are at the dealership creates far more customers who post additional content about the dealership online.
Thanks so much, Ralph.
1. For the in-house reviews, would it be good to have an iPad for them to use? I would guess that the wi-fi one is good enough for this purpose.
2. With the hosted WordPress account, how do you get them to post there? You set up the blog and have them post directly or does the businessrater.com push them there? Just curious. Lou Fusz is just a referral page like mine.
Excellent information Ralph. Thank you.
Ralph - as always, you cover a compelling topic with great detail. In an era that sees customers inundated with multiple contacts from the salesperson, dealership, manufacturer, and often third party, pestering them for a positive review should probably be handled with kid gloves.
To your questions...
BIG *BUT* - dealers had better have a customer-centric mentality from the top down for EVERY interaction in the store to earn the right to ask. Even with my extensive experience at a top CSI store, we still made many mistakes in sales and service, but HOW we handled them - and trained AND empowered our people to both recognize and correct them made a world of difference and often earned more loyalty than just a great experience.
I have experienced so many dealerships paying hollow lip service to genuine guest care and using underpaid and burned out staff to serve high prices with a sub-par experience that none of these review strategies could even dent.
I could not agree with you more... This goes back to the old sales training guidance that it is not what you say, as much as how and when you say it. Asking customers for a review of their experience is something that as an industry we should be doing a much better job of. For example, when I ask a customer for a review, it is with a sincere sense of humble service and accompanied by words along the lines of:
"Mrs. Rodriguez, thank you so very much for your business and congratulations on your new car. As we have mentioned several times during your visit today, the entire team here at Rick Case Honda is very focused on ensuring that we treat people well and are able to be your choice for a car dealership for many years to come. One of the tools we use which is so important to our efforts at always improving our customer service is a fairly short survey and a customer review system. I would like to ask you to take a few minutes to rate your experience today, while I get the documents prepared with our Business Manager so we can complete the process. You can use this iPad and I will leave you alone so you can feel free to answer all the questions as truthfully as possible. Our General Manager, my boss, will be reviewing your answers and comments so he can use your input in our continuous improvement mission. Thank you so very much, I will go get the paperwork prepared and if you have any questions about the survey or the review of your experience here today, you can ask Richard right over there at the manager desk. Thank you again for doing this, it really does help us give you better service."
I bet you already know where I'm going to disagree with you, but I want to say THANK YOU for continuing the discussion.
Last year at this time, the newly minted Reputation Management Experts, Ninjas and Gurus were all worked up over collecting as many Google Reviews as possible through any means necessary. Review Stations and Ipad collection strategies were touted as Best Practices. Some went so far as to literally buy reviews from a plethora of boosting companies that were here for a quick buck. The end result of implementing process to control the outcome was Aug of 2012 when those efforts earned the industry a black eye as Google singled out the automotive vertical for "Spammy Reviews." Fast forward to Jan. 2013... and we are still trying to control the consumer's behavior instead of creating experiences they can't help but share?
Do you agree with the concept that dealers should have control over the customer reviews they proactively seek from their customers?
Let me be as blunt as possible. I think in Jan of 2014, if not a whole lot sooner, we'll be talking about how bad of an idea it was to try to pass content filtered through editorial privilege off as equivalent to a 3rd party review.
Let me try to close this long post.
This isn't an advertisement or defense for DealerRater, I genuinely hope it isn't taken that way. Your recommendation from the post is more than sufficient street cred around here ;)
The key to Good Reviews will always be GREAT Service! In the end any process focused on an artificial result will fail. If they aren't as happy a week after the sale as they were before going into finance then I personally think you're fighting a losing battle for your reputation.
Ryan, I respect your opinion, but you already know that... The fact that we disagree on this issue of in-dealership executed reviews is a valid enough reason for dealers to consider both methodologies. If you are right about the future, I will stand corrected, but in the meantime the dealers that i see generating the most effective UGC enhanced reputation management results are, in fact, those dealers which have a customer centric perspective that showcases their process in obtaining the customer's perspective in the form of a survey and review of their experience at the dealership WHILE THE CUSTOMER IS PHYSICALLY PRESENT AT THE DEALERSHIP LOCATION. I am not ignorant of the potential for abuse or the requirement for proper execution, but when done correctly and in addition to the offsite reputation management tactics, such as using DealerRater, this combination is effective in generating business results and constructive, valid and relevant feedback to the dealership management team on the first day it is executed. Let's face reality, we work in a business vertical that has little patience for strategies or process that requires longer than 30 days for the ROI to be measurable.
In 1998 I experienced an overwhelming response to dealership reviews by using DealerRater Certification at Ford of Kirkland in WA... At the time, there were less than 100 total DealerRater Certified dealerships in North America. Today, I believe your certified dealerships are in the thousands. There is no doubt in my mind that DealerRater Certification should be part of a dealership's overall reputation management strategy. But, there are now more and more dealers, marketing practitioners and service providers (such as Cobalt) that have jumped on board the recommendation I have been making for several years... Dealers should OWN A WEBSITE WHERE THEIR REVIEWS AND TESTIMONIALS ARE WIDELY AVAILABLE AND CONTROLLED BY THE DEALERSHIP that I believe my recommendations around incorporating the review generation processes within the dealership's onsite engagement with customers will become more and more widely used over time. Why? Because it works!
To say that dealerships are not ethical enough or prudent enough to be responsible for in dealership review generation processes feels very insulting to me and I am sure to people who work in this business. The fact is that car dealerships are exactly the opposite of public perception. They are far more likely to do "the right thing" regardless of legal requirements and operate far more ethically than most retail business operations. The customer will be the ones to determine whether reviews collected at a dealership are valid or worthy of consideration, not you, me or anyone else on this side of the retail divide.
What I love about disagreeing with you Ralph is that it is always so cordial. You are the consummate professional...
We will again agree to disagree on this one. I do think it is worth mentioning that dealers should fully read and comply with any 3rd party review site's TOS that they choose to target. For DealerRater to insure the authenticity of our content it is necessary to restrict the location. Please don't see that as a distrust of dealers, it actually has more to do with protecting the data from a single content contributor, whether negative or positive, that would skew the ratings. Often times that doesn't come up, but the policy serves to protect dealers from a single "crazy person" loading lots of negative content from a single location too. We don't delete any reviews that meet our TOS, never have, but that forces us to enforce our TOS reliably.
This may deserve its own post, but speaks to the idea of monitoring changes in TOS. Mike Blumenthal observed yet another change to Google's TOS today that prohibits contests and drawings as a means of review collection.
Here is the link (well worth the time to read) below is his synopsis of the changes:
Here is a history or the guideline as it changed over time (relevant sentence in bold italics).
Original Guideline: Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. Even if well-intentioned, a conflict of interest can undermine the trust in a review. In addition, we do not accept reviews written for money or other incentives. Please also do not post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.
February of 2011 change: Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. Even if well-intentioned, a conflict of interest can undermine the trust in a review. For instance, do not offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor. Please also do not post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.
Current guideline (date of change unsure but possibly at the same time as the review station prohibition): Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews. As a reviewer, you should not accept money or product from a business to write a review about them. Additionally, don’t feel compelled to review a certain way just because an employee of that business asked you to do so. Finally, don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.
Ralph, this is a great article and I applaud you for encouraging dealers to be proactive on a subject that is so important. I love almost everything I see in this post except one. Like Ryan Leslie, I do not agree that dealers should have or should want to have control over their reviews.
I agree with Ryan that control turns the reviews into advertising rather than an objective third-party review customers are seeking. It erodes the trust we are attempting to build.
Numbers of reviews are important but only to a point. What's equally or more important are relevancy and whether your reviews are current. According to the Cobalt report you quoted, customers tend to stick to reviews that are less than 6 months old. And the want to read real stories about a customers experience.
iPads, in-house reviews... I won't go on because Ryan stated it very well on his own.
Tom, I understand your perspective and the point you are making... That is why i like BusinessRater.com because the amount of control a dealer has over the review moderation process is tempered and balanced by their automated processes which only allow a dealer a limited amount of "raising objections" to a negative review... Dealerships with a high percentage of negative reviews will not be able to prevent them from going live. This in turn provides the kind of credibility and incentive for dealers with systemic problems to fix those problems while allowing for the dealer to block the employee's ex-spouse, disgruntled former employees, the odd ball nut case that we all wish we had never sold a car to, etc.
I am not saying that such a process is perfect or that there is not room for improvement. I am certain there may be better ways to "won your own reviews", but I do agree with the idea that a dealer-focused 3rd party review site provider like PrestoReviews or BusinessRater is a great alternative to purely posting reviews that the dealer selects to appear on that dealer's website. Heck, even DealerRater filters which reviews go live on their widget application for display on the dealer's facebook page and websites to prevent negative reviews from appearing. So, unless that has changed, it seems somewhat disingenuous for anyone from DealerRater to object in principle to the concept of filtering reviews which appear on a dealer's owned websites.
DealerRater filters which reviews go live on their widget application for display on the dealer's facebook page and websites to prevent negative reviews from appearing. So, unless that has changed, it seems somewhat disingenuous for anyone from DealerRater to object in principle to the concept of filtering reviews which appear on a dealer's owned websites.
Agreed Ralph. What you market should be a relatively small portion of your total history of review content. We actually go a bit further than that, you need to be selective of the positive reviews you display through that feed too.Put your best foot forward.
...but when the customer chooses to dive deeper than just that small selection of reviews you are marketing on the source site they will expect to find more than just marketing.