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From the Trenches - The Unfortunate Truth About Dealer Reviews

One of the pioneers of gathering user input to utilize reputation as a selling tool for its members online was eBay. It was intended to steer the user away from sellers who might have given former buyers a bad or poor experience. It worked. Amazon institutionalized the idea. I loved it! I purchase from Amazon regularly and never purchase from anyone with less than a 5-star rating. I loved it … as a consumer.

I remember one day I saw an article by Ralph Paglia, one of my online heroes,  pointing to a Google search of a dealer with many bad reviews. He speculated that the dealer was completely unaware that his reputation was being ruined online. What a wake-up call that was for me!

I guess it’s human nature that when we see something like that happening to us, that we immediately think about how we can get rid of the negative comment or at least hide it behind positive comments. So, Reputation Management was born. Whole companies sprang up to help you create positive reviews that would swamp your negative reviews and, hopefully, make them less believable. I’m a buyer for that idea, or at least a partial buyer.

But not long ago, I was reading page after page of bad reviews for a dealer and the bad reviews were uncomfortably consistent… “Sleazy, dishonest, couldn’t wait to get out of there…” And then, all of a sudden, a light shown through from the heavens and the reviews became 100% positive. Amazingly enough, they sounded almost like advertisements for the company. “[Dealer’s name], why buy anywhere else?”

Problem solved. Or is it?

I’m a consumer. Does that make me dense? I think not. What was obvious to me is obvious, I’m sure, to you.

I asked a dealer recently what he planned to do about his overwhelmingly bad reviews. He told me they were going to provide their sales staff with iPads so they could get (coerce) their customers to give good reviews before they left the dealership. What will happen when the customer goes on line to print a retraction of his most excellent review, stating that he felt coerced or his vote was bought and paid for?

Here is the uncomfortable truth about dealer reviews. You can’t fake them and you can’t buy them. You must earn them. Now I know there are many, many great dealerships that DO earn the satisfaction of their customers everyday. Reputation Management is perfect for them. But for those who EARN bad reviews, it’s time to wake up and repent. The Internet has changed the environment in which you do business. You cannot run; you cannot hide. Time to face the music and take a good hard look in the mirror.

So what to do, if you are in that position? Take a good look at your sales process, your managers and employees and their practices, make it clear that you are cleaning house. Then start to resolve problems as they occur, even if it costs you money. Reputation Management means MANAGING YOUR REPUTATION, not MANAGING YOUR REVIEWS.

I am now hearing word about Reputation Marketing. You can’t market what you don’t have. The first steps to Reputation Management, and eventually to Reputation Marketing begins by looking in the mirror. That is the unfortunate truth about Dealer Reviews.

Views: 642

Tags: dealer, facebook, management, marketing, media, reputation, reviews, social


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Comment by Tom Gorham on December 5, 2011 at 6:07am

Thank you Silia.. In the meantime, you might enjoy the ongoing comments in this blog,

Comment by Silia J. Hatzi on December 4, 2011 at 7:21pm

Ha! You know, Tom, one of my personal philosophies is that "the fastest way out of something is THROUGH it", as opposed to, for example, around it. I'm always suspect of the "fast", or "easy" way out. I believe the axiom of "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is not true" and heed my gut accordingly. It's inspiring to see a positive, accountable approach such as yours in business, and forgive my being direct with this truth, especially in a man.  In my 30 years of working I've sometimes had the epithet "Pollyanna" bestowed upon my person, meant as a derision. The irony of course is that those who bestow it derisorily have never read the book. I smile and say "thank you!" ;-) 

Comment by Tom Gorham on December 3, 2011 at 8:07pm

Silia, I appreciate your comments.  I saw a young man in Vegas named Rory Vaden, a self-discipline strategist, who really impressed me with his philosopy,"Take the Stairs".  The basis of this idea is not to look for short-cuts, but do the hard work required for success.

Too often, dealers try to look for an easy way out.  Want good reviews?  Buy an iPad and ask (coerce) your customers into giving them in-house, even prior to going into Finance.  Hire someone to help bury the bad reviews.

I just believe that if you earn them, they will not only sound and feel more real to potential customers, you also benefit from good customer retention and true loyalty.  Gaming the system, taking the escalator instead of the stairs, eventually backfires and can even have dire consequences that will cost you more in the end. Cheers to you and good luck with your research!

Comment by Silia J. Hatzi on December 3, 2011 at 7:31pm

I'm researching the subject of Google Places and Reviews in depth for a blog article I'm planning for the blog because as you can imagine ever since Google tweaked Google Places last September more & more dealers are looking for comprehensive info on what to do. Overall, what appeals to me most about your post (and your overall approach to business from the comments you've posted in other areas) is your evident focus on personal accountability. Cheers, Tom.

Comment by Tom Gorham on November 28, 2011 at 8:17pm

Thank you Silia.  It's important for consumers to believe that the business they are reading about has real people who care about their experience and will attemp to make it right if they can.  Great story!

Comment by Silia J. Hatzi on November 28, 2011 at 5:40pm

You hit the nail on the head, in my opinion, Tom. I've an consumer story.

Last December I was looking to book a hotel in LA. I was pretty much set on booking The Shutters in Santa Monica. On a whim, I started reading reviews on Trip Advisor. Both Shutters & The Erwin in Venice Beach had a mix of reviews but most were positive. At the Erwin reviews, however, the General Manager had responded to every single review. Each message was short & different & had that "ring of truth" which cannot be bought. He thanked all guests for staying at the hotel regardless of the review & welcomed all of them back. If a review was negative, he detailed how & when he had looked into the matter & addressed each issue truthfully, sometimes apologizing, others being baffled because he could not trace the incident occurring & others still citing the other side of the story graciously & without blame. More than anything, he communicated transparency and genuine intent to do a good job. Naturally, I booked there.


I cited the story not because of the happy (for me) ending but because it illustrated a real person doing what you suggested: "managing his reviews" in the one place in the Internet which probably affects his business the most. 

Comment by Keith Shetterly on October 4, 2011 at 12:50pm
Smart a**!  :)
Comment by Ryan Leslie on October 4, 2011 at 12:13pm

One man's accusation of a Red Herring is another's Burning Strawman... ;)



Comment by Keith Shetterly on October 4, 2011 at 11:45am

Sigh.  The size of the leak is very, very important; banner ads on top of a review are very different from a hyperlink at the end of a page, for example.  Anyway, I'm sure you knew that already, as I'm sure all of DR does, as you CLEARLY know the value of screen ad space.  
Really, it's okay.  DR does what DR does.  We can choose to use it or not.  It it's current incarnation, I will support it only when I'm forced to.  And I'll raise that flag you mentioned until DR chooses to address the meat of what I (and others in this thread) wrote about instead of all the herring I'm getting.  I wouldn't mind at all a public panel seat to discuss this in front of dealers, in fact, if that can ever be arranged.

Anyway, good luck,


Comment by Ryan Leslie on October 4, 2011 at 11:25am

So far, Google gives me the opportunity to dominate my own reviews on Google Places with minimal ads, even less than AutoTrader.  I think that model is most fair to dealers of any so far.


There are 10 links away from a place page... 6 of them are links to a competing store's place page.


How is it that 10 total leaks, 6 of which are local competitors on a review page is the "most fair to dealers of any so far"?

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