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Once again the automotive industry is buzzing about consumer reviews as Google Places has been morphed into Google+ Local. A new granular rating system has been introduced inspired by Zagat with a 30 point score representing the old five-star rating.
I wrote about changes planned for Google Places a full week before any national or local new media covered the story. So now what? The first step is not to panic.
If you haven't seen the tsunami of blog posts this week, Internet Reputation Management (IRM) specialists may be confusing the marketplace regarding this switch. Let me settle things down and get you back focused on the basics.
One thing is constant; Google is constantly changing how business will market to consumers online.
The changes that Google+ Local has introduced should inspire you to review your new Google+ Local page. Make any changes to the content and display media that is on the page. Photos are an immediate item to review. Matt O'Such wrote a detailed article on the changes that Google+ Local has introduced, so take a minute to read that today.
You can see how much the display format is changed from a local search here in Eatontown New Jersey:
If you haven't created a Google+ Page for your business, get started. You will first have to create a Google+ account for yourself, and then you can create a Google+ page for the business. Start here: www.google.com/+/business/
Once the dust settles on this change, hopefully Google+ Local will be stable and the myriad of problems that dealers have had with their Google Places pages will fade.
With that said, I was on the call with a dealership yesterday that still had two separate Google Places pages; they could only find one login. Compounding the problem was that login did NOT control the Google Places listing that was live online!
Tip #1 - Create a Reputation Marketing Plan For Your Store
All stores need a plan if they desire to increase their online review counts on Google+ Local and the top five review website destinations for car shoppers. The plan should outline how the store will be merchandized, how reviews will be collected in/outside the store, what technology will be used, and what word tracts will be followed to encourage compliance.
For example, a dealership IRM plan could include the introduction of an iPad Kiosks placed in three locations in the showroom. Pop-Up Banners could be positioned next to each kiosk encouraging customers to share their experiences on the Internet.
The dealer may decide that the delivery specialists and service advisors are the best staff member to request a review. A carefully worded script has been drafted to ensure that the review conversation is natural and not pushy. The iPad in the kiosk can contain icons for Google+, Yelp, Cars.com, and an in-store dealer owned portal like Presto Reviews.
A process must include documenting review increases each month to facilitate a discussion with the executive team. This is critical because without accountability built into the plan, progress will be minimal. Once reviews are increasing, discussions should include how to syndicate the reviews on dealership blogs and social media sites.
If you don't have a plan, send me an email. You can join my team for a free 90 minute webinar specifically focused on creating a Reputation Marketing Process Plan.
Send your contact information to: firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be invited to a free webinar that will empower your store for success.
Tip #2 - Do Not Create Google Accounts For Customers
It seems every week I get a call from a dealer who is panicking that Google wiped out a good percentage of their reviews. Aside from the temporary ups and downs in review counts that dealers have experienced with Google Places, permanent deletions are often a result of questionable review collection processes.
Your reputation marketing in-store script should include the question "Do you have a Google account?". If the consumer confirms that they have a Gmail or YouTube account, ask them to post a review on Google+ Local. They would click on the area shown below:
If they don't have a Google account, DO NOT CREATE ONE for them.
What happens is that Google sees new accounts being created that ONLY do one thing. They post a review for a single dealer and then go dormant. This is a clear indication to Google that the account was only created for one purpose. These reviews will get deleted so don't waste your time and potentially get your listing banned from Google.
Don't rush the process! About 15-20% of your customers in sales and service have Google accounts. If you ask every customer that walks into your dealership each day about their experience, you will find enough reviews to easily be the #1 leader in your market. Don't cheat.
Tip #3 - Encourage Customers To Share More Details
When a consumer agrees to publish a review on Google+ Local, coach them why it is important to be detailed. Everyone hates to see a list of reviews with short one sentence comments like "Great Place!", "Awesome Food!", etc. These types of reviews also trigger suspicion and devalues the opportunity to increase calls and website traffic from Google+ Local.
For starters, request that your customer mentions who helped them at the store. Tell your customers that by mentioning the sales or service advisor's name, it will help to increase referral business to that employee. Encourage them to share why they chose your dealership and what car they eventually purchased and why. The more details and passion in the review, the more believable it will be.
I know this because I post of TripAdvisor.com frequently and the reviews that get the most praise are the ones that I go into detail about the most important aspects of the hotel that business travelers want to know about.
So keep that in mind. What will local consumers want to know about buying a car at your dealership? Once you have that list, you can encourage your satisfied customers to touch on some of those points. With that said, DO NOT give your customers a fill-in-the-blanks script to use so that the reviews all look alike.
Tip #4 - Market Your Reviews & Use Them In Your Sales Process
Everyone can identify with a consumer that has told your sales team that they are not ready to purchase a car and that they want to check out a few other local dealers. Your customer reviews can help your dealership by clearly documenting what other consumers have had to say about doing business with your store.
A phone script rebuttal could include "Bob, I respect your desire to make an educated decision. I can't tell you what your experience will be at XYZ Nissan but I can show you want it is like doing business with me here at Happy Nissan. I'm going to send you an email with a link to the reviews I receive each month from savvy consumers just like you. I'll let you decide based on what you read which store will stand behind your purchase."
Your blogs, social media portals, website, and syndicated content should have links to your Google+ Local page if you have created an environment that reflects the positive outcomes residents achieve at your dealership. Don't worry that all reviews are not perfect 30/30. Consumers know that a store can not deliver 100% satisfaction to all customers. Be real and be proud.
Tip #5 - Online Reviews Impact Sales
Lastly, your store should have a documented Internet Reputation Management and Marketing plan because it will help you sell more cars and retain more customers. The increase in traffic that is observed when a dealer implements an IRM process and moves from average to excellent is breathtaking. It's worth every penny a dealer will spend on technology, merchandising, and training.
This is not an area of business operations that can be ignored, but less than 30% of car dealers have a documented reputation management and marketing plan. So, where do you stand? Are you ahead or behind on this process?
If you have questions, start by asking them here on ADM.
Brian Pasch, CEO