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Customer review sites are quickly gaining prominence online.  I’m
sure most dealers are familiar with review sites, especially the ones that thrive on angry customers (Rip off Report, my3cents, and pissed consumer are a few big ones).  Unfortunately, these sites are getting more popular and see significant traffic.  Below is a report for an auto dealership (with the name removed) from along with the number of hits
the site claims it has received. 

The frustrating part for the dealership is that these sites make it almost impossible to engage the angry customer to resolve the issue.  The site owners make it even harder to get these reviews taken down (even if you can satisfy the particular customer).  I’ve seen numerous examples of Rip off reports from years prior that are still getting page one ranking in SERPs. 

How do you address customer review site postings.  Do you systematically run an internet search for your company to see what customers saying online?  How do you respond if you find a negative
review? Or are you even concerned about sites like these?

Tags: Customer, Management, Reputation, Reviews, User, generated, reviews, |

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Phil, Thank you for a great post that I wish I had read sooner! You bring up a very important issue that I believe all dealers are going to have to come to grips with, or it will cost them floor traffic... That's right, FLOOR TRAFFIC!

All the research I have seen and my own team's metrics tell us that negative reviews impact walk-in, drive-in, fly-in or whatever-in FLOOR TRAFFIC more than it impacts website traffic or lead volumes. Next to floor traffic, these review sites reduce phone calls to dealerships as well... Of course, the best solution would be to not get any negative reviews in the first place, but any of us who have ever sold cars knows that there are always a few people who can never be pleased with a vehicle purchase...

I can think of many customers over my years of selling cars that were not only always complaining, but they kept coming back to me and buying more cars every couple of years! How do you classify that situation? I know that others have experienced similar customers... The ones that complain all the time and keep coming back to buy more cars. Heck, I am willing to bet that more than one customer has trashed a dealer's reputation online and then gone back to the same dealership at a later date to buy another car!

When I was selling cars at Red McCombs Ford and Red McCombs Toyota in San Antonio a few years ago, I had a customer who I first met as a "Heat Case" who had filed a complaint with the BBB... I resolved her issues by unwinding the deal she originally purchased (Ford Ranger) and putting her into a Toyota Tacoma on a 42 month pseudo-lease, because in Texas in those days you did "Option Contracts" instead of leases due to tax implications (term was too long, but she deserved it). After about two months I got another letter from the BBB where she stated that we had not disclosed that her "purchase" was actually a lease (even though it was not a lease). The interesting thing was we were experimenting back in those days with video recording each F&I session to protect the dealership from such accusations. Even though we only used the video in F&I on rare occasions, I had recorded her session at the Toyota F&I office because she was a known problem. I brought the VHS tape to the San Antonio BBB office and two of their staff watched it with me as we witnessed me personally going to great lengths to explain clearly, while pointing out the relevant contract sections, that this was an "Option Contract" that "worked like a lease" except that she actually is the registered owner, and she had a balloon payment due at the end of the term... On the tape I clearly asked her how she intended to pay for the balloon payment due at the end of term if she decided to keep the Tacoma... It was a beautiful thing, watching the BBB people shake their heads while witnessing the customer basically showcasing the fact that she was a LIAR!

Unfortunately, we were novices at this sort of thing in those days and when the BBB asked if I had a signed release giving us permission to record the transaction on video, I did not... Her complaint stood and is probably still on the BBB San Antonio records to this day, along with our detailed response. But here's the real kick in the pants...

About 2 months later, or 4 months after we put this lady into the Toyota Tacoma, I get a phone call from a guy who says she works with the very same lady that complained in writing to the BBB... He says that she gave him my name and number, along with telling him that if he was going to buy a Ford F-150 then he "Had to buy it from Ralph or they could not work together any longer...". Can you imagine how shocked I was? Yes, I sold him his truck and he was a great customer, no complaints, top-box Ford Blue Oval survey scores, and he financed with us... But he also told me something that made me feel better... He explained that the woman who referred him and who complained to the BBB about me and the dealership was always filing complaints with the BBB on many different types of businesses. He explained that she was his boss and many times when he would go into her office to ask about something, she would be on the phone to any one of many different local retailers and businesses complaining about how dissatisfied she was with their service and products...

I think that was when I really KNEW that there are a few people out there who buy things for many reasons, including the "right" to complain about them! Bottom line is this... These customers who file complaints about car dealers on sites like Rip-Off Report and others actually get pleasure from trashing a car dealer's reputation. Not a lot different from people who work in car dealerships that I have met who like to rant and rave negative and derogatory statements about suppliers... Yeesh, get a life and go work someplace that doesn't use the suppliers you hate!

So what should you do about it? This is something that me and my team get paid by dealers to solve and we work diligently at it... I am not saying that you should necessarily use the ADP/BZ Social Media Reputation Management services, I am saying this work makes me qualified to comment on what to do because we have had a lot of VERY SMART people research and test ways to minimize the damage to dealership reputations from these negative online reports, reviews, ratings and comments. Here is what we have found:

1. Respond to negative posts immediately and with an apology and offer to resolve the issues for the customer. The goal is to use the site's response or comments section as a means of ensuring that when other customers see the negative post, they also see the dealership responding with an apology and offer to fix the problem. Make sure your post repeats back enough that people know it is not a canned or template apology, and include POC information on the manager or dealer to show you are not afraid of direct contact (as opposed to digital graffiti). Use various alert services to get notified every time anybody posts anything on the web that contains the dealership name... Google Alerts is the most commonly used tool, but there are many others which will notify you of posts that Google Alerts never sees. We use Radian6 as well as direct alerts from all the indexed review sites in addition to Google Alerts and have been surprised how much negative content does not show up in Google Alerts.

2. Develop a systematic and Proactive set of processes to get your satisfied customers to go online and post positive reviews, ratings and references for your dealership. I have yet to find a dealership that does not have far more VERY happy and satisfied clients than they do pissed off customers! Although my team works directly with DealerRater and find them to be an excellent and credible dealer review and ratings site, I do recommend a strategy of getting enough positive reviews on different consumer ratings sites that they result in a good overall score on all of them. Using multiple sites also increases the number of positive review listings in the dealer's name SERP.

3. Get the many friends, relatives and in-laws that employees of the dealership have brought in and leveraged their employee status to get preferential treatment, to write and post blogs about their experience of buying from the dealership, why they chose the vehicle they chose and use anchor text to link back to relevant sections of the dealer's website. Do not pay these people! Otherwise, they must disclose it in the blog per new Federal regulations that impose steep fines. How do you get them to do it? Tell the in-laws that you will post photos of them being drunk and acting like fools while they tried to grope underage nephews and nieces at the last wedding or holiday gathering you were both at. Blackmail is a lot harder to prove than bribed blogging!

4. Create user accounts and profiles for your dealership on as many social media and consumer review and rating sites as you can... be sure to use the dealership name as the "User Name" so the sub domain URL created has the dealership name in it... Post photos, images and copies of emails and letters from happy customers that you would normally use for an in-store "Evidence Manual". Create the online equivalent of an evidence manual on as many as HUNDREDS of these social media sites and the listing and indexing of these account profiles will drown out the negative reviews and reports. Usually, we have been able to get the crap pushed down into the second or third SERP, but even if the crap still shows in the first page, you have effectively neutralized it with an overwhelming show of positive statements that are a lot more believable than the usually anonymous negative attack reviews. My team sets up 106 different social media account profiles when we first start servicing a dealer, and then we add at least 10 more every month. You can do the same thing on your own without using an outside supplier, and I believe it to be well worth the many hours it takes... After all, how much is your dealership's reputation worth? Ask the dealer principal (owner) that question!

5. Register multiple easy to remember "short-cut domains" such as which we use for the Automotive Avenues dealership in Denver, CO. This makes it easy to get your customers to the dealership review page while speaking with them on the phone during a follow-up call. If there is any secret sauce in my team's ability to get 30 to 60 positive reviews from a dealership's customer base in the first 60 days, this is it... Easy to use and remember short domains that point to the dealer's review sites. You could even rotate the review sites these domains point to so that you get adequate volume on each of them over time.

Lastly, let me just say that I have learned a lot about Internet Reputation Management or what some people call Online Reputation Management and Automotive Reputation Management in general over the past 30 years of dealing with it, and it has always been a very democratic process. Whether online or offline, the general volume of word of mouth commentary about your dealership needs to contain far more positive than negative. In the case of Web Brand Management and Internet Reputation Management, getting the positive reviews and reports online means asking your customers to do something that feels a lot like work...

TYPING A REVIEW is a pain in the ass and a lot of work for a customer! This does not happen by chance... YOU must work more diligently at getting happy customers to post their stories of complete satisfaction online by making it super easy... Also, do not ask customers to complete online reviews while at your dealership using a dealership PC. These review sites all track IP addresses and if more than one review is posted from the same IP address for your dealership, they will label you as a dealer who is cheating by posting fraudulent reviews, which is worse than getting a negative review!

And, if you just do not have time or simply do not want to be bothered with all the extra work, my team at ADP/BZ Social Media Reputation Management has recently moved into our new operations center in Scottsdale, AZ as part of our "SkySong" partnership with Arizona State University (ASU). In addition to the automotive professionals we already had on our team, we have recently hired 7 formally educated professionals with real world experience and extensive training, including Bachelors Degrees and Masters Degrees from ASU (and Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communications) in Business Communications, Public Relations, Marketing, Internet Marketing and other relevant areas. This team of professionals includes professional writers with over 20 years of experience writing new stories and magazine articles, who we assign to creating at least ten articles per month per dealer enrolled in our "Pro Pack" Social Media Reputation Management system...

Is this a blatant pitch? Damn right it is! I am very proud of this team and especially of our association with ASU, including hiring the best and brightest from their alumni to serve our dealer clients. So forgive me for bragging a bit, but these people do exceptional work for our dealers, and try as you might to do it yourself... I know my team at ADP can do it better than you can do it yourself, because this is what we get paid to do and we have studied the daylight out of this area and know what to do to make sure people in a dealer's market area know what a great place your dealership is to do business.

In fact, if we think that your dealership is NOT A GOOD PLACE TO DO BUSINESS, we will refuse your money and recommend you use one of our competitors... We only represent actually great dealerships who care about their customers enough to let us resolve disputes and satisfy customers when we feel it is necessary. So, if you want to REALLY get a handle on the issue of Automotive Reputation Management, you can assign your own internal resources and we will even help you train them (for a fee). Or, you can hire my team at ADP/BZ Social Media Reputation Management based out of Scottsdale, AZ and we will become an extension of your dealership's staff by being your diligent watch dogs patrolling the web and representing your dealership in a professional and competent manner.

Great post and super info. Near and dear to my heart - reviews. You are so right about it being hard for people to take the time and to actually do it. I love to do a great job for a customer and then sincerely ask them to tell it like it is. Reciprocity is the strongest and sure fire way to make it happen for getting reviews. Thanks for additional info and look forward to hearing how this progresses for you and your team Ralph!
Thanks for the kudo Ralph. I noticed this post was getting no attention and wondered if dealers cared about customer reviews. I personally use them for everything.

For example: I was really excited about KFC's double down chicken sandwich and thought it looked so good on the commercial. One day I was on and saw a customer review giving it two thumbs down... to this day, I still haven't gotten around to trying it. For mee, 1 negative review kept me away from a $5 purchase.

Looking at the number of views these reviews have gained (the most being 1,500), I'm betting at least a portion of those were in the market for a car. Also I'm betting that none of them went to this dealership.

The really scary part here is that this report was found on the first page of google search rankings when I searched for "Dealership" auto group. Also on that page was a rip off report as well. Not only are these reviews out there, but they're searching really well without even having to look for them.


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