In business, a great reputation for customer service and satisfaction can be the difference between financial success and lackluster sales figures. Automotive dealerships often are located within a few miles of their competition; when competitors exist in close proximity, the reputation of a dealership can give it a decisive edge, help drive in more customers, and, ideally, increase leads, too.
Proactive automotive reputation management encourages dealerships to be mindful of their culture and how the dealership is perceived by customers. A good reputation can lead to increased customer loyalty, more leads and maybe even more sales. Here’s how dealerships can improve their reputation and be renowned for their five-star culture.
Why Reputation is Important to Car Dealerships
For some buyers, shopping for a car is a dreaded process. Specifically, many buyers dread the in-person dealership experiences. They might not like the process of haggling over price or a trade-in; some customers might feel that they are going to get a raw deal because they don’t know what to expect. Other buyers simply have an unfair and stereotyped perception of the entire process and the dealership environment.
As the pandemic shifted buying and shopping trends, online commerce was inherent to survival across many industry sectors—including automotive. While the car buying experience was, in the past, an in-person process, the pandemic made more buyers comfortable with virtual shopping. In fact, Jalopnik reported that, according to Cox Automotive, 90 percent of electric car buyers and 73 percent of internal-combustion engine buyers were open to a fully online buying process.
The dealership sales process matters to the customer. Overly pushy sales team members could leave a negative perception in the minds of the customer. In contrast, dealerships who focus the process on answering the buyer’s questions, helping them find what they want and even going the extra mile in other phases of the process could help to create more trust with the buyer and lead to an overall positive shopping experience.
When a customer feels that they can trust their sales person and that their customer service needs were met or even exceeded, that customer will be more likely to refer a friend or a family member. They might leave a positive review for the dealership and represent a potential repeat customer, too.
A dealership with a solid reputation creates trust and rapport, but those with a negative customer service reputation might be avoided by customers.
Be Proactive with Reputation Management
If a positive reputation can increase leads, foot traffic, repeat business and sales, a bad reputation might lead to slower sales and poor leads. After all, who will recommend a dealership that might be pushy, disinterested or maybe even argumentative?
Customer distrust could put the brakes on a car purchase. Many customers are open to buying a car online, and some prefer to avoid the car dealership altogether. If a dealership wants to preserve the standard in-person experience, they need to be on their A-game related to customer service, attentiveness and building trust with those who walk in the door or set foot on the lot.
A dealership is a business, and profit is the bottom line for any business, but mutual respect and ‘the customer is always right’ mentality still wins. Customers don’t want to feel that they are being misguided or treated poorly.
To improve the in-person customer experience, the dealership’s culture might drive the direction and directives of the shopping process. Some dealerships have a fun and unique culture and treat the customer like a friend that has walked into their home. Other dealerships are focused on a business professional atmosphere; they may be driven to procure whatever their customer wants or demands (this is particularly true in the luxury or couture car segment).
Dealerships might find, though, that their reputation is lagging. Their sales might be lackluster, customer reviews could be poor, and the overall attitude of the sales team might be dismal. When dealerships realize that their reputation is taking a nosedive, it’s time to take control and get behind the wheel to turn the culture around.
How does a dealership know that their reputation is contributing to poor sales figures? Customer reviews could be a guide to determining the overall reputation as perceived by the customer. Reviews and their content are extremely important, because nearly 90 percent of consumers consult reviews before they finalize their purchase. If online reviews for the dealership are primarily negative, customers might look elsewhere.
Use These Best Practices for Managing Online Reputation
Dealerships might assume their reputation is rock solid; maybe the sales numbers are fine. However, regardless of perception, all dealerships can benefit from managing their online reputation to understand the overall experiences of customers.
Customers can leave reviews on sites like Yelp, social media apps like Facebook or even via a company’s Google Business Profile. Businesses can regularly read these reviews to better understand the experiences of their customers.
While reading these reviews can give businesses a better understanding about experiences and what is working and what isn’t working at the dealership, these reviews also should include a follow-up from the dealership. Respond proactively to the comments and reviews; if a review is negative, let the customer know how to reach out to the dealership to discuss their experience. When businesses fail to respond to customer complaints, it could give the impression of poor customer service and some customers could assume that the business simply doesn’t care about responding.
When a review is harshly worded, it might make the team feel defensive. Again, remain proactive and in customer service mode. Reach out and let the customer know how to contact the team to further discuss the situation.
Positive reviews are an indication that the customer was impacted by their experience to such a degree that they took the time to write about their great service. Some businesses highlight these reviews at the bottom of their website to illustrate their reputation.
If dealerships are active on Facebook, their account page also could give customers the option to leave a review. Again, respond proactively to all reviews. In addition, customers also could leave details about their experiences in the comments sections of posts. For this reason, dealerships should regularly monitor and stay active on their social media channels; if a customer leaves a review or comments about their experience beneath a post, be proactive with a response.
Impact of a Positive Reputation on Brand Image and Customer Loyalty
To successfully manage their online reputation, dealerships need to be prepared to engage with customers more often online and learn how to effectively respond to negative and/or extremely critical reviews as well as positive notes from satisfied customers.
Online reputation management requires dealerships to monitor reviews on their Google Business Profile, Yelp, social media apps and other sites, too. Businesses that fail to respond to their customers online might appear to be disengaged or even indifferent to criticism.
By effectively communicating with and responding to customers online, dealerships show that they are vested in the customer experience and that they value the feedback of their customers. While a negative review could be difficult to digest, businesses need to step back and handle the response proactively to better understand how they could improve that individual’s experience and ensure that the issue doesn’t happen again.
However, sometimes a negative review is unable to be remediated; perhaps the dealership was given a one-star review simply because they didn’t offer the vehicle they customer wanted. Dealerships can still take the time to write a thoughtful and kind response to the customer. During times of low inventory, customers could feel frustrated; they also might not understand that the dealership cannot always restock inventory quickly—especially if a vehicle model is popular.
Is There a Guide to a Five-Star Reputation?
Dealerships that consistently earn five-star reviews from their customers are checking off all the customer service boxes. Attentiveness, good communication and an overall positive shopping experience can drive these reviews. Dealerships that thrive might have learned long ago that a happy customer is a repeat customer; in addition, a customer’s positive experience might not go unnoticed by their friends and family. Happy customers also could drive referrals and highlight their great experiences in positive reviews, too.
There isn’t one simple formula to become that ‘five-star dealership’ everyone loves. However, dealerships need to maintain and manage their online reputation to better understand how they are perceived by their customers. Read the reviews, and respond; show customers that their opinions matter.
In addition, managers and owners can assess the overall culture of the dealership. Are the team members happy? Is the team a team or is it a cutthroat environment? Customers can feel a negative culture, and for those customers who are already uncomfortable with the in-person dealership experience, a poor dealership culture could move them elsewhere or push them towards an online-dominant car buying experience. Take control of reputation management and strive to be the dealership on the block that customers rave about, recommend and come back to for every car purchase.