Automotive Digital Marketing

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How Online Customer Reviews Are Making Or Breaking You

What matters most to your car shoppers? Is it price? Depth of inventory? Maybe – but the Internet has nearly commoditized the auto business. Savvy customers will be able to find the car they want at the lowest price within a few seconds of searching. So where is the competitive edge that draws a buyer to one dealership but not another?


To find the answer, let’s try and think of how a shopper might search for a place to buy their next vehicle. Consumer psychology and common sense tells us that we are more likely to trust the reviews of other customers over a dealership’s Google ads, search result ranking, or any other marketing metric that we tend to emphasize. If I were looking for a great price on a Camry in Dallas, I might search “best toyota dealership texas.” And any search query containing “best” or similar comparative adjectives in it is almost invariably going to display a user rating site like Yelp or DealerRater.


Our evaluation of others’ experiences makes intuitive sense with any high-value purchase or costly service. For example, I recently needed to choose a new dentist. I initially considered using the one closest to my home, for convenience’s sake. However, a high volume of negative consumer reviews changed my mind, and I drove a little farther for a dentist that was highly recommended.


When faced with a choice between two roofing companies to repair a faulty chimney, I didn’t select the one with the most experience, or the one that appeared first in Google results, or even the one with the lowest price. I chose the one that other people with the same problem recommended. I cared about results, about what I knew would get the job done.


And why not trust user reviews? Unlike corporate marketing messages, these previous buyers have nothing to gain by leaving their opinion. They are unbiased, impartial, and – as far as I know – honest. Your shoppers are making the same judgments about your dealership. The simple sentence (and actual review), “AVOID dealership x AT ALL COSTS, THEY ARE LIARS” will do more to your online marketing than any email campaign or advertising effort.


How can you avoid this pitfall? The trick is to get your happy and satisfied customers talking. And Google and Yelp are making it harder for people to leave anonymous reviews. They’ll need accounts with those sites, and their submissions are valuated based on the amount and quality of reviews they’ve left before. But a positive review from a trusted Yelp user is a jackpot for your dealership.


Ask your customers to leave their feedback online. Perhaps you have a computer terminal in your store that customers can leave their opinions on. Consider hosting a service promotion for your buyers that leave reviews. This kind of crowd-marketing is becoming the predominant force behind major purchases – so building up your reviewer rating now will pay big dividends in the long run.


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Tags: DealerRater, customer, dealer reputation, dealer reviews, online, reputation management, reviews


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Comment by Dave Erickson on December 11, 2012 at 6:22pm


Great points! It would also be pretty cool to see reviews available on a staff page. My dream staff page would consist of reviews, status (available, test drive, sales meeting, lunch, etc.) with options depending on status for (chat, phone and email). Maybe even a high quality video clip instead of picture. 

Comment by Cathy Nesbit on December 11, 2012 at 2:09pm

Is the free oil change part of my great customer and you get it anyway or just a bribe?

We give free oil changes too. We just don't give free oil changes in exchange for a good review. We ask for a good review in exchange for great service. 

Ha! I can see your circle :) So, I go back to this: Treat the customer right and don't worry about the rest.

Comment by Yago De Artaza Paramo on December 11, 2012 at 1:59pm


I think that your suggestion is an ethical argument;


Is the free oil change part of my great customer and you get it anyway or just a bribe?


Defining bribe in these terms is very difficoult.


The answer to the questions will come only when a proper process has been accepted as the norm, for example:


No reviews from the store, period.


All reviews accepted.


The difference makes will probably be some type of "long term" personal digital ID that identifies a real person.


Comment by Cathy Nesbit on December 11, 2012 at 1:54pm


The question and ongoing argument is the definition of "ethical way" in this new enterprise.

To be specific as to the definition of ethical, I don't believe there are concrete accepted standards of conduct that have been written out to detail for us what is expected as an industry. I do think if someone requires a long detailed definition of ethical then they are probably looking for a loophole. Here are the synonyms of ethical: Synonyms: all right, decent, good, honest, honorable, just, moral, nice, right, righteous, right-minded, straight, true, upright, virtuous. If we do these things then we don't have to worry about people saying anything legitimately negative. There are always crazys out there that no one can please and everyone deals with those. There's Nothing anyone can do about that-I find that usually they speak enough craziness that they make themselves look foolish, which makes my job easier. There's no difference in how I think of doing business or just living my day to day life. If I do what's right all the time I don't have to spend any time looking over my shoulder. That's just personal opinion.

Is asking OK but giving you an Ipad to add a review not? Is asking OK but using your own device OK? Etc.

I have no ethical objections for asking for reviews on site. My objections to getting a review on site are purely technical.

The reason I stated earlier that you should ask in an "ethical" way I was speaking to the fact that some business who ask for reviews have been known to offer a bribe of sorts in exchange for a good review. A free oil change etc. Oh, here's a good one, my mother in law wrote a bad review about a moving company-nightmare experience. They double charged her credit card and told her they would not reverse the charges unless she made her review positive! That's Jacked!

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 11, 2012 at 1:05pm

In regards to the comment by Dave Erickson - You aptly point out that the culture within a dealership is the most likely characteristic to be closely connected to that dealership's online reviews. And, that a dealership's culture, as well as how managers respond to customer concern issues will almost always flow from the top, down the org chart to the frontline people handling direct interaction with customers.  However, and this id not contrary to what you posted, there is a growing realization around the benefits of reviews sorted by the actual salesperson, service adviser, finance manager, etc.  These individual review pages which aggregate all the reviews which customers have identified that individual as having been the person they dealt with (I believe), will become a greater and greater factor around how individuals treat customers.  

In regards to salespeople moving around... Eventually, I believe many customer facing sales and service professionals will cultivate their own individual review sites as a means of enhancing their income, their career progression and making themselves more desirable to the dealers that employ them.  Think about it, a professional Volkswagen sales specialist in the LA area with 150 reviews from customers ranting and raving about how they will buy a car from wherever this person works because of the way they are treated and their best interests are represented.  DealerRater and CarFolks are two of the many customer review platforms that allow individual employees to display their own information and reviews from customers who identify them as being who took care of them.  Take a look at the screen capture below and think about a customer's perception of which salesperson they would prefer to deal with:

Comment by Yago De Artaza Paramo on December 11, 2012 at 12:12pm


The question and ongoing argument is the definition of "ethical way" in this new enterprise.


Is asking OK but giving you an Ipad to add a review not? Is asking OK but using your own device OK? Etc.



Comment by Dave Erickson on December 11, 2012 at 11:17am
I've been tracking Yelp reviews (review counts and ratings) of not only myself but also 17 of my VW competitors in the LA market since Feb. What's interesting is that since Feb is that every dealer's Yelp star rating is pretty much the same today as it was then (the biggest change is 1/2 star on a few dealers) and the lowest star rating dealers have added more reviews than many average rated (and much larger) dealers. 
It's really got me thinking that a dealer's reviews are more of a result of the culture within the dealer rather than the efforts of a sales and service advisors in collecting reviews. When potential problems are brought to a manager how they respond to the sales person or service advisor might have more to do with a dealer's reputation than I would expected. Maybe I'm wrong here, but my reasoning for it is that sales people come and go with a much greater frequency than managers. They were probably there before I started collecting this data and are still there now. Remember, not a single significant reputation change (good or bad) out of 17 dealers.  
Also, in thinking about the 2-star rated dealers that have added an above average amount of reviews, perhaps there is a good percentage of shoppers that don't read reviews prior to their visit because I don't think many people would have gone there to begin with if they read the reviews beforehand.  Still, there is good evidence that many do as the top rated 4-star dealer (with 102 reviews) has added the most since Feb of any other dealer (45 reviews added). 

Comment by Cathy Nesbit on December 11, 2012 at 11:14am

Well I believe aside from the technical difference there technically shouldn't be an issue as long as you are getting your reviews in an ethical way.

Comment by Yago De Artaza Paramo on December 11, 2012 at 10:55am


App or computer, the conversation is geared about whether the review is entered at the dealer or at home. My point is what is the difference between the customer entering the review at the dealer via their phone or via an Ipad owned by the dealer? I'm not asking about about the technical difference (IP) but on the ethical difference.

Comment by Cathy Nesbit on December 11, 2012 at 10:35am

@Ryan thanks! That is quite the compliment. Me n Socrates are homies lol.

@Scott You are so right on!

@Yago Yelp is an app and is not the same as using your computer system to go to review sites.

One bad thing about reviews is that we will rarelly have a compulsive good review but it is easy to get a compulsive bad one.

That's exactly why we must be asking for good ones! You never have to ask for a bad one do ya?!

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