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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:
Mary-Kelly, It is refreshing to read your comment and see a more holistic approach to UGC that includes customer reviews... Also, thank you for the GREAT video and especially the comment about "Building a house on rented land..." which is a strikingly visual analogy to a concept I have struggled to explain in the past. I now use your phrase with dealers and they know exactly what I mean!
We've been doing this for a few years, and it's helped us to earn the most 4 & 5 star Google reviews of any dealer in Colorado. We don't incentivize, we don't gather them in-store, we simply ask for reviews and direct customers to this site: http://www.fisherautofanclub.com
Ralph, thanks for a great and insightful article. You know this is one of my favorite topics. And you know that I disagree with in-house reviews for many reasons but mostly because I believe they lessen the legitimacy of the reviews. This may have long-term and unforeseen consequences.
But I absolutely do believe in sending emails to customers with links to major review sites. We have been using the GM-Cobalt reputation management system for about a year and I am very satisfied with it. In fact I have written about the benefits of this program here on ADM.
I also recommend marketing your reputation along with your "brand within the brand", your people. I agree 100% with your statement, "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). "
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