alers 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:
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.
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?
ail that her company's newest VP (who came from True Car and worked directly for Scott Painter) sent to their internal team.
Zag model is still the core which is the affiliate model of becoming the provider for (USAA, AAA, AMEX, Costco, etc…)
The only way a dealer can get the leads for these customers is by partnering with TC
Sales Team of 8 outside (# as of last summer, most likely a lot more now) go out and build the affiliate network
Inside & Outside sales teams call on dealers to recruit for the program – 12 inside sales reps that handle a variety of duties
They similar to Direct sign up 3 dealers in a “market”
Dealers use an online tool to submit pricing, and won’t be picked as a match to a customer unless they have good pricing that is closing salesIt’s what goes into the algo that tell a consumer where there best dealer match is that drives the sales probability and is the call to action for the consumer
Waiting list of dealers in most markets
There is a sophisticated algorithm that looks at
dealer distance to consumer
price of vehicle submitted by dealer
what’s available on the dealers lot
how many deals the dealer has closed
Consumer is always presented 3 dealer options
Secret Sauce is how they present the dealer options to the consumer:
Based on their matching criteria they have data on close rates that will match a customer to a dealer who may not be priced the best or the closest, but the are the right choice based on what the algo spits out as best close rates by dealer
If your not closing sales as a dealer you will show up less often, and you get a visit from the TC rep and they may bring in another dealer
Dealers do end up competing to be one of the 3 dealers & then really working hard to try to close as many as possible
The more deals you close as a dealer the more business that comes your way
Thought it was $280/sale from the dealer invoiced to TC, but then thought it might just be flat $300
The key is the dealer has to give them DMS access to their sale data and they have a big team of folks analyzing that data to determine if a car sold:
Doesn’t have to be the car on the lead, dealer must pay if that customer (wife, son, daughter, they match the data) buys a car from the store
They boast a 99% success rate in determining if a TC customer bought a car there
5K – 8K dealers signed up – waiting list
They use the DMS data they are pulling (Don’t have AN DMS Data) to populate local pricing offered
TC runs at a net loss, Zag piece (affiliate programs) break even with the 2 combined – trying to get consumer mind share subsidizing TC with Zag profits
Getting the DMS data is giving them a bunch more data that their analytics team uses to fuel their dealer option algorithms, and set pricing. ALG acquisition helps on the data side as well.
New dealers for their Zag/Affiliate program
Dealers competing for that seat
Pricing drives down through competition, dealers submit pricing online
If a dealer low balls the price, the algo calcs the % of deals closed, how many times the price is presented, and with dealers waiting to earn the spot they manage themselves to stay honest to the model. If a dealer is playing games then they get a visit from a rep and dealers are removed.
The hope is customers bring in the quotes branded as TruCar, and with the TV & Radio offline ads they build a name where dealers feel like they have to be a part of the program. Dealers fight to be preferred dealers and they hope the feeling is they cant afford to not play
Inside c/s svc QA team does work on post sales with customer to see how their experience was, but there is no pre-sale consumer interaction
They QA the dealer, make sure sale went through, and dealers service was good
Inside Sales team calls dealers to train, work on pricing, and showing dealers how to submit competitive pricing
They have a big team doing data extracts like we do on ESP to make sure they know if a customer bought a car
They have an algorithm that automates a piece of this data extract as well – again 99% success rate quoted in matching sale data
THE SPECIAL SAUCE
Evidently they have done a ton of work to calculate the probability of sale to figure out which 3 dealers to present to the consumer and how exactly to present those choices to give the best chance of closing the sale – and it works!
The website will say:
Dealer ABC is 50 miles away, match, best price
Dealer XYZ is 10 miles away, ok match, 2nd best price
Dealer 123 is 15 miles away, perfect match between distance & price
The webpage drives the consumer decision, and all prices are within 3% generally
They close more sales by presenting the “right” alternative
Comes down to how you present the dealer options based mostly on: It may not be the biggest dealer in a market that is the best match, often it is not
They look at who performs the best also from their affiliate (Zag) dealer network and closing ratio’s there
Big issues – Consumers pissed that they got hosed on their trade-in (They are close to rolling out TrueTrade model) – not working with AN on it
Dealer not honoring price cert – Consumer gets switched at the store, and feels like price was bogus
www.clearbook.com is their used car channel http://clearbook.truecar.com/- truetrade built from this model
They are scraping the DMS systems of dealers to get data, aggregate the online listings like vAuto
Phase 1 – Here is where to price your trade
Phase 2 – CR – Condition Report – Use 3rd Party Inspection company (Data Scan, AiM, AutoVin/Adesa, EAA, others…)
Phase 3 – Cash offer for car (see my AutoNation notes on how they suggest to do it)
Newer COO/Pres Steve Hanson is a good operator
DMS extraction is key for them to get the data that drives their complicated algorithms
They are getting a ton of data from the DMS extractions and using it against the dealer to drive pricing down – this is a big risk for them, if dealers cut them off they are hosed.
Their customer matching process catches customers who change cars, names, address, phone #, email, etc… so they get paid on every customer they send to a dealer if a car is sold, any car is sold
They want to convince dealers to pull all of their 3rd party ad dollars back (Trader, cars, us, etc…), and use that money to help drive unit pricing down so they can drive volume to the stores
AutoNation just ended their relationship and cut TC off completely
Rxx Fxxx was an exec at Zag (CEO I think he said, or COO) – he knows the secret sauce and stated they would never agree to let TC have access to their DMS data – they do get their CRM data
Rxx is not a fan and thinks dealers are going to come around and not let TC have DMS access
Brought up trade-in value issues TC is having
Also brought up lack of control at the store to mitigate bait and switch
Select Affinity Partners (No-Haggle Auto Buying Program) – Zag traditional model – only premium dealers get these leads
American Automobile Association (AAA)
Bank of America
The Hartford Financial Services
National Education Association (NEA)
Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed)
United Services Automobile Association (USAA)
Distribution Partners (TrueCar Price Reports)
Car Buying Tips
Car Price Secrets
Motor Trend Magazine
The Car Connection
US News Rankings and Reviews
Why Pay Sticker
I am posting this to the ADM Forum section to generate discussions around the topics referenced in each section and the bullet points that follow... What is your opinion or insight on the listed sections shown?
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