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An Open Letter to Google on Behalf of Automobile Dealerships

Dear Google:

You amaze and confound us daily.  You have created an infrastructure, tools and resources for accessing and organizing information that the majority of people and businesses all over the world rely on every day.  That is truly awe-inspiring.  You are pulling search, social and reviews together in envelope-pushing ways.

Nevertheless, change and innovation are rarely universally embraced as you have experienced first hand.   As the old saying goes – you can please come of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.   Most changes will benefit some of the people and disadvantage others.

That being said, the recent retirement of Google Places in favor of Google+ Local has been confusing and concerning for many automobile dealers.  Like many local businesses, automobile dealerships live and die by online visibility in search and consumer reviews (and many spend a significant amount of money on Google Ad Words and you would like them to spend even more money with you through the Google Cars lead generation product.   94% of online adults in the U.S. use search and 73% of all people in market to purchase a vehicle consult reviews written by other consumers online.  It is essential to dealerships’ bottom lines that their stores get found in search results and that they have a positive reputation on consumer review sites.

On behalf of our automobile dealer clients, I have a few observations and requests related to consumer reviews on Google+ Local and the impending combination of Google+ Local pages and Google+ business pages.

The Zagat Scoring System and the Three Categories for Automobile Dealerships

The Zagat guide and its 30-point rating system is familiar to many restaurant lovers and foodies, but therein lies the rub.  The immediate association for people in the know about Zagat is that it is for restaurants, not car dealerships, plumbers, hair stylists, nail shops, and all of the other local product and service providers that also rely on customer reviews.   This is one initial hurdle that businesses that are not restaurants will have to overcome.

On paper, the 30-point rating system has appeal.  Reviewers are asked to rate businesses on a scale of 0-3 in three separate categories.  The scores awarded in the three categories are then translated into an overall business score on the 30-point scale.   The intent of this modification of the rating system would presumably be to provide other consumers consulting review sites with a more precise score that takes into account the business’s performance in key areas that would be of importance to others conducting research.

The three categories for rating restaurants make perfect sense – food, décor and service.  In contrast, the three categories for reviews of automobile dealerships -- quality, appeal, and service – are not as easily applied.

I am not afraid to admit that I don’t understand what these categories mean with respect to an automobile dealership.   To me, these categories are inherently confusing and I suspect that I am not the only one who feels this way.  What does “quality” mean in this context?  The quality of the product?  The sales experience?  The facility?  What are consumers supposed to assess when assigning points for “appeal”?  Is this supposed to relate to the dealership facility?  My concern is that this could easily be confused with the “appeal” of the brand the dealership sells.  For Google+ Local reviews of dealerships, the category with the most potential for consumer confusion, in my opinion, is “service.”  Since car dealerships sell and service vehicles, and customers write reviews about both sales and service experiences, having a category for reviewing “service” could make customers wonder if a review of a purchase experience should include a score for service or not.  If the object of the “service” category is for customers who purchased a vehicle to rate the customer service their received from sales and finance during the process, then what are customers to assess for “quality”? 

I am not trying to be difficult or over-think the categories, but the fact of the matter is that if consumers have to spend too much time trying to figure out the rating system in order to post a review, the likelihood that they will elect not to complete a review and abandon the effort are higher, especially in the case of satisfied customers.  Customers that had a problem or an otherwise unsatisfactory experience tend to have more fortitude and will go through hell or high water to post an unflattering review.  It is challenging enough to harness happy customers to write reviews, we don’t need any additional barriers to entry. 

But you acquired Zagat, so you’re going to use it.  I get that.  I have a reasonable request.  Please create more appropriate categories for automobile dealerships.   

The Zagat categories for nightlife are: atmosphere, décor and service.  Golf courses and lodging are assessed on the following on Zagat: facilities, quality and service.  These categories are more intuitive and simply bear more of a relationship to each type of business.

Asking consumers to review automobile dealerships on categories such as: experience, facilities and customer service, would make far more sense than the current nonsensical categories.  At a bare minimum, the review screens should incorporate some guidance on what should be considered and assessed in connection with each of the categories.  I know that the enhancements you are making are ongoing, but these relatively minor changes would go a long way. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,

Kristen Judd

President, 3 Birds Marketing

via the July 2012 edition of the 3 Birds Marketing newsletter

Views: 96

Tags: +, 3, Birds, Judd, Kristen, Marketing, automotive, consumers, google, local, More…management, rating, reputation, reviews, scoring, zagat

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Comment by Kristen Judd on August 4, 2012 at 4:03pm

@Ric Thank you for the comment and the feedback.

@Jason Your observations are spot on.  It all has to start with the basics at the in-store level.  Genuine concern for customers and business integrity are core values that must be the focus.  Good things will tend to follow, but that doesn't mean that you don't need to monitor what is being said or that you don't need to have a process in place for asking customers to write reviews.  Thank you for the wise advice.

Comment by Jason Manning on August 3, 2012 at 8:56pm

There are so many online industries that are now a part of our automotive business world.  I've watched managers put a majority of their focus on those businesses over their own.  I liken that to a captain focusing on every wave that hits his boat, but forgets the iceberg clearly in view.  I believe we have to stay focused and grounded on The Basics and run our dealers with genuineness and integrity.  In our sea of online waves, we will stay safe if we focus on moving forward and doing it right.  Google will continue to hit our boats from all angles.  Stay focused on your local business and consumers will always find you.  Don't just do it.  Do it right.

Jason Manning

Comment by Ric McCoy on August 1, 2012 at 5:56pm

Well done & well said Kristen... Thanks for sharing.

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