Blowing Off Bad Online Reviews: A Strategy You Can’t Afford

bad online reviews

Customers may volunteer to change them once a problem is fixed, but if they don’t, dealerships must be assertive. BY MARY WELCH

When dealing with haters on social media, dealerships should not take pop star Taylor Swift’s advice and simply “shake it off.” It is critical to reach out to that unhappy customer and try to make things right and then get a negative online review rewritten – even if you have to come out and directly ask for that favor.

“My name is on the business,” said Jim Arrigo, owner of Arrigo Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram in West Palm Beach, Fla. “You can say negative reviews are just part of business, but let me tell you, it’s personal. We’re family owned. It’s a reflection of my business, me, my father, the rest of my family and my people.”

“With so many dealerships fighting for smaller and smaller profit margins, one of the key differentiators is the powerful customer experience,” added Aaron Wirtz, marketing and media manager for the Ride Auto Group in Wichita, Kan. “Handling a bad review properly can turn an angry customer into a lifelong customer, and we have that power.”

Investigate The Problem Before You React

While the prospect of asking a customer to pull or rewrite a bad review may unsettle some dealership professionals, the ones we spoke with recently find it no more ticklish than asking a potential buyer what it will take to close the sale – especially if they already reached out to the unhappy customer, listened to him or her and fixed the situation.

Before even discussing a bad review on Yelp, Angie’s List or other site with the dissatisfied customer, dealerships must investigate the source of unhappiness. “We make sure that all upper-level management knows about the review and then we go to the people involved, whether it was a technician, receptionist, salesperson, whoever and show them the post and get their side of the story,” said Andy DiFeo, general manager of Hyundai of St. Augustine (Fla.). The person who ultimately gets in touch with the customer needs to have decision-making authority.

More often than not, the customer just wants to vent, according to Jason Stum, digital marketing manager at LaFontaine Automotive Group in Highland, Mich. “They’re just blowing off steam and they feel a bit sheepish talking about it afterward to someone who cares and wants to fix it and make it better.”

Be that as it may, going the extra mile is important at this stage. If a customer is upset over the length of time needed for an oil change, “I’ll tell them that the next time they come in for an oil change, we’ll do a complimentary full car detail,” said Jordan Knettles, social media director for Steve Rayman Chevrolet in Smyrna, Ga.

Customer’s Anger May Not Be That Deep

Arrigo has found most inflammatory online reviews arise from a genuine misunderstanding between what the dealership said and the customer heard, and the Internet as it so often does encourages strident complaining. After a call from the dealership, that seemingly irate customer may be quite happy – but that negative review is still online for everyone to see.

 The goal should be for the now-satisfied customer to voluntarily change the review, and several dealerships said they find that goal very attainable – indeed, a natural result of their efforts to cure the problem.

Although every situation is different, Wirtz said he usually brings up the negative review after the discussion in hopes the customer will be the one to suggest he or she should change it. “We never … say that we’ll fix the car if you give us a good review. Sometimes, a customer will just refuse to do it. Sometimes we can get a one-star review up to a three-star, and we realize that’s as good as it’s going to get.”

Does The Review Still Reflect Their Mood?

Knettles routinely asks whether customers are now completely satisfied; if they answer yes, then he will ask if the negative post still reflects their opinion. “Usually they’ll say no and say they’ll post a new one. “If they don’t [volunteer], we’ll pursue it a bit more and say that thousands of people go on that site, and we’ll ask them to either take it down or write something new. We’ve never had anyone refuse.”

If a customer doesn’t volunteer to write a revised review for Arrigo, he will at least “ask them to put it on the post that Mr. Arrigo reached out and fixed the problem.”

 And, if a customer won’t be mollified or refuses to amend his or her post, then dealerships should consider posting their own side on the site’s comment section, as long as investigation leads them to believe they acted reasonably.

At Some Point, Go Public Yourself

“First off, it shows anyone reading the negative post that I’m passionate about customer service,” DiFeo explained. Plus, having a few negative reviews is not all bad anyway. “If all our reviews are positive, people may not believe it because, logically, stuff goes wrong. I think people are less swayed by a negative review as long as they can read that the problem was resolved or the dealership tried to make it right.”

Review sites have differing rules about how they deal with negative reviews and how the vendor can respond to them, so dealership marketing specialists must stay current on the policies for the most widely followed sites. Wirtz starts his day perusing various review sites. Other dealerships use services like Prime Response that send e-mail alerts when the dealership is mentioned online. Plus, Facebook, Yelp and Google are among media sites that will notify a business directly.

“We get a range of reviews and one of the biggest challenges is to figure out which platform you want to concentrate on,” Wirtz added. “Every city, every location has a different personality. “In Wichita, some [customers] use Yelp but not nearly in the amount that it’s used in other cities.”

Some sites, like, notify the dealership about a negative post and extend a two-week grace reconciliation period that starts when a negative comment is submitted and ends when it is actually posted. “A lot of times in those two weeks, we can fix the issue before the review goes live. I wish more review platforms were like that,” he said.