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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:

  1. Dealership Reviews posted by customers who are not physically present at the dealership. This includes customers posting their reviews and ratings from mobile devices, at work and while at home.
     
  2. Dealership Reviews and customer experience surveys collected from customers while they are physically present at the dealership and the sales or service experience is fresh in their memory and top of mind.
     

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:

  • So... What do you recommend?
  • Do you agree with the concept that dealers should have control over the customer reviews they proactively seek from their customers?
  • Should dealers ask customers to answer a survey and review their experience while they are still at the dealership?
  • Should dealers send an email to customers with links to the major review sites and ask the customer to choose whichever review site they feel most comfortable using?

Tags: BusinessRater, Car Dealer, Customer Reviews, Customers, DealerRater, Dealers, Online Reputation, Provide, Reputation Management, Resources, More…Review, Time, Yelp

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Replies to This ADM Discussion

Ryan, you and I are in alignment on this part of your recommended strategy... I agree with the concept around "emphasize the positive" in what a dealer chooses to promote and market. I also agree that the interdependent review site, which is the source of the reviews selected, must be transparent and fully display all reviews, the good, the bad and the ugly, along with the dealer's response to both positive and negative reviews.  

In fact, as many dealers have heard me state, I am adamant about avoiding the situation where nothing except top box score reviews are visible on ANY web page! (Promoted or otherwise) As this eliminates any credibility the positive reviews may have... It is important to display customer criticism of their experience and negative reviews so as to validate the genuine and authentic positive reviews.

We have implemented an Ipad, Already loaded with the "google" review on it, To get the review at the point of sale.  We have gone from 0 to 11 in the last week.  All excellent.  I have to do all I can to compete with out the large advertising budget of mega dealers

Jim, I believe that the way a dealership handles reputation management is less constrained by budget or size of dealership than most other marketing related issues.  There is not much cost difference involved in handling customer reviews properly versus not doing so. At less than $100 a month for DealerRater Certification and less than $300 a month for a BusinessRater.com premium site, all of these options are affordable by even the smallest of dealerships when the impact they have is considered.

Ralph,

For the past few years we at SureCritic have been saying, "own your content or be at the mercy of those who do". If you've read any of my post, you know I have the utmost respect for Google and their model. Google uses data to make every decision, and they like their data to be as pure as possible. So, when businesses (not just dealerships as some have suggested, but many other verticals like spas and restaurants) get "proactive" with their Google reviews, Google sees that as outside the natural flow and tweaks their algorithm. That's where the "be at the mercy of those who do" comes in. That's also why I am troubled by many dealerships who've hired a 3rd party to respond to reviews. I suspect Google will see this as a contamination of THEIR data and take action as well. Just a hunch based on their past actions. You can't blame them. 

Google will do what Google will do. In our opinion, dealerships need a multi-site strategy. They need UGC they can count on to be there tomorrow. Additionally, prospects want multiple review sites for dealerships and do use them. We did a recent study using Google Insights and found that nearly 75% of respondents said they use more than 1 review site when making a decision about which dealership to  use. There is no ambiguity in those numbers. 

So, to answer your question, yes, dealerships need content they can count on. There also needs to be some assurance that 1) the reviews are from actual customers and 2) the good, the bad and the ugly are posted. Without that, it's just a testimonial site. Note that a testimonial site is not a bad thing. In fact all dealerships should have one. We allow our dealerships and independent repair shops to easily create a testimonial site to be added to their dealership site. Some people find them valuable. The same study I referenced earlier showed that 30% of the respondents liked testimonials. So, why not have them. Dealerships don't have to choose one or the other. They can and do have both.

At SureCritic, we verify customer status and the negative reviews don't get filtered and aren't deleted. The good news is that by in large, dealerships do a great job with customer. Well over 90% are happy. So there is little risk with posting all reviews. I know some people think that a review is something that should result from some unbelievably, consistently great experience such that it becomes and all consuming duty for the customer to go online, unprompted to say great things. Now, back to the real world where the Service Advisor is doing 20-25 RO's a day with a 10% carryover. The sales people are fighting over the next up before the ink dries on the last deal, and the customer barely has enough time to kiss their kids good night when they get home from their 1 hour commute. Now you know why happy people don't give reviews en-mass. 

So, there is nothing wrong with 1) asking them for a review and 2) making it easy for them to do so. In fact, you are doing them a favor. Of course they would like to say nice things about the dealership, but who has time to make a Google account (if you don't already have one) or a Yelp account? Pretty much no one. Make it easy  and they will do it. 

Impression marketing is impression marketing. At the end of the day, humans retain more visual than anything, so having a review site with rich snippets that shows up when someone searches your name is mandatory in my mind. I do caution against those sites that advertise your competition. I've said it before, it is tough enough to make a buck in this business without sending your customers to sites that advertise your closest competitor. Lose just one customer and the negative has just outweighed the positive. 

I'm sure this post might sound like a bit of an advertisement for our company (my apologies), but in reality it's really more of a belief that we've built our company around. Dealers need to either own or control at least some of their online UGC, or be at the mercy of those who do. Thanks for the post Ralph. Good topic for discussion. Perhaps a future topic should be the SEO value for doing so!

"I know some people think that a review is something that should result from some unbelievably, consistently great experience such that it becomes and all consuming duty for the customer to go online, unprompted to say great things."

David, care to clarify? Who are the "some people" you are referencing?

@Ryan. Thanks for your questions. I am not referencing any specific person but obviously the folks at Google feel that way. The folks at Yelp feel that way too. I've talk to other people who feel that way both inside the auto space and out. I am sure you can think of a few too. 

The "some people" is not really that important in my book. What's important is that a large dealership will do as much transactional business in a day as a medium sized hotel (napkin math on my part but within a range of accuracy sufficient for this discussion); however, there is a huge disparity between review counts for hotels and review counts for dealerships. Why? It's probably because the travel sites and the hotels ask for them. Additionally, people want them. So, when a prospect goes to make a 30,40 or $50k plus buying decision, 8 reviews on Google+Local and 2 unfiltered reviews on Yelp just doesn't cut it. 

The bottom line is that most dealerships run customers through their business day in and day out without issue. Most customers are happy. I don't know how you can be doing cartwheels down the service lane after getting a 30K service. What can and does happen is that the customer was given great service and a fair value for their money. The customer got what they wanted and the dealership made a little money. Everyone is happy. Not cartwheel worthy, but certainly worth telling people that those folks are good and fair people. That's the message I think dealerships need to get out there. Prospects want to know that customers are satisfied and feel like they are getting value. It's what dealerships do everyday! They should not be ashamed to pat themselves on the back for it. 

From reading some of your post, we agree on many aspects of the business including dealerships not having editorial control over what gets posted. If you look at some of the studies from the etailing group, one of the biggest factors that reduces trust in reviews is no negative reviews. I certainly enjoy reading all the great post on the site and look forward to reading your insight in the future. Best Wishes.

I agree with much of what you stated in this comment but disagree with some of it... First of all, with the dramatically increased impact that customer reviews have that has been facilitated by UGC sites and the Internet as a whole, most customers are acutely aware of the power they have with the reviews they post.  I do not find it difficult or even a challenge to convince customers that their published opinions and review of their experience matter a lot to the dealership and the dealership's customers... they already know that.  As long as a dealership conducts itself in a morally responsible and ethical manner in the encouragement and collection of reviews, and is willing to post the bad along with the good, I believe consumers will respect such a process and reward those dealers who choose to showcase how much their customer's opinions matter to them.

Ralph, it's not often that we disagree, but this is an issue that is dear to my heart.  You state in the article, "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." 

I have to wonder who has decided these dealers are the best at Reputation Management.  What measurement was used?

I also have to wonder why the auto industry is the only industry asking people to write a review under the gaze of the enforcer (in-house).

What is wrong about dealers providing outstanding customer service and letting their customers choose to write about their experience... simply by asking for it?

That said, I do show reviews on each salesperson on our website.  They are linked to the actual reviews on the third-party site.  That makes them trust-worthy.  It is also good SEO.  It is also good branding of the people who gave the great customer service in the first place.

But I take issue with services that emphasize getting reviews in-house and posting them to your website as some kind of valuable service that one should pay for.  I wonder if this is Reputation Management or Refutation Management.....

This is the exact reason why I wanted to make www.lindseyshaker.com. This way it links directly to the sites. Actually. The sales peeps at shakers get paid on the online review as part of the pay plan!! :)

1. I completely agree that dealers should have control over customer reviews. Sometimes it makes it a bit difficult because of the way manufacturers can interfere and control messages that go out further complicating the customer's reaction to reviews and the number of survey's we have to take. The key is to really understand every message that goes out to your customers from your dealership AND the manufacturer before personalizing a message to go out so as not to duplicate a message. But more people that I have contact with in dealerships are taking control of their reviews and incorporating it into their sales process and follow-up plan.

Which bring me to...

2. ABSOLUTELY! I'm allll about being open with the customer from the beginning. People retain information better when you repeat it 3 times. I like to make sure the customer knows the whole process in email form and a couple times in the sales process so they know what is going to happen from the first step all the way to the review process after the sale.

3. I like sending out 3 reviews max and rotate them as needed. You want to give them options but not too many. This is the best way I get responses.

After reading recent article with auto dealer's frustration with Google + and other review resources I'd like to move forward in developing out autodealerratings.com - I've been sitting on this domain for some time, but would like to speak with auto industry pros interested in developing an auto dealer rating platform with the dealer's input for features, usability, and ease of use. If you are interested in discussing an auto dealer ratings platform with me at NADA Orlando PM me or let me know where we might meet 8th-10th. In addition, I'm looking to speak with folks interested in lead generation...See you at NADA Orlando

Ralph, I'm very flattered to have an industry expert such as yourself reference my video in your post – thank you. As you already know, I’m a huge proponent for dealerships taking charge of their online reputation. 3rd party review sites & additional tools such as Dealer Rater are still pieces of the reputation management puzzle, but they're only PART of a dealership's complete strategy. Whether it be sharing with customers verbally or nonverbally that you're a dealership who values online feedback and actively pointing them to 3rd party listings; or surveying customers to gather feedback; or posting user-generated content to a built-in review page owned by the dealership (that of course follows FTC guidelines)---  there are more pieces to consider than ever before. 

 

Hosting user-generated content on your dealership site gives that content the platform it deserves as well as a great deal of added SEO value – all without having to worry about algorithms being tweaked & reviews disappearing. 

 

I’m a firm believer that stars sell cars and therefore dealerships that leave review generation up to chance and do not take control of their online reputation will never see the results and rewards of the dealership that does.

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