The first step in the car-buying journey today is not a physical one, but a digital one. Customers typically spend the bulk of the process online, and the first place they turn to almost always is review sites. The reality of the connected consumer is that they value the opinions of others and trust third-party information over the word of a manufacturer or seller.

For dealerships, this means that digital reputation is critical to ensure that eventually, the footprint customers leave is a real one on your lot. On top of that, reviews can serve as helpful feedback, letting you know what your dealership is doing successfully and what needs to be improved. When appropriately managed, reviews also allow you one more opportunity to interact meaningfully with customers.

With these benefits in mind, here are some tips for maintaining a meaningful online reputation. 

Accumulating Effective Reviews

Owning Your Reputation

The first step to gathering reviews is to make sure there is a place for customers to leave them. Many websites, like Google, automatically create pages for businesses and allow people to add reviews. Check platforms to see if your dealership is already represented and if it is, begin the process to “claim” it. This will allow you to manage and respond to reviews. 

Additionally, be sure to set up and keep up with your social media business pages, such as on Facebook, which also allows for reviews and feedback.  

Scoring Helpful Reviewsnegative reviews

Theoretically, the best reviews are organic ones; that is, reviews customers leave unprompted. However, most shoppers only take to the internet to post a review if they were wildly happy or wildly unhappy with a dealership and its services. This creates a skewed impression online, with prospective customers trying to decide if they believe the five or one-star reviews, with nothing in between for balance.

Try to implement a system that lightly reminds customers to leave a review after any interaction. This can be in the form of a friendly verbal request as they’re leaving, an automatic text message at the end of an exchange, or an email signature.

Beware of trying to hard to actively solicit feedback, especially by giving customers canned statements to post. Most platforms have strict rules about fake reviews. Feedback flagged as overtly sought could be deleted, and a dealership’s overall rating might get lowered as a result.

Responding Effectively to Reviews

Once your dealership starts getting reviewed, it’s essential to be active in responding to them–all of them. Clever review interaction could help change negative reviews, and even net you even more positive ones. 

Answering Every Review

It’s tempting to write long, conciliatory responses to negative reviews while being brief or ignoring positive ones. However, both need attention if you want to build a truly positive online image. Part of what drives people to leave reviews is the desire to be recognized for their opinions, so make sure you let them know they’re heard. 

Create a Persona

One way to garner future reviews without actively soliciting them is to respond through a creative, engaging persona. Many startups today have embraced this ethos, responding to every comment with memes or witty catchphrases. Making your responses interesting can charm new customers, letting you stand out from other dealerships they’re checking out online. They can also compel them to leave reviews because they can’t wait to see how you’ll respond to them. 

Remove Fake Reviews

Negative reviews are important opportunities. They show dealerships what needs improvement and are second chances for positive interaction. However, in today’s digital climate, there are occasionally unscrupulous reviewers who leave troll reviews or who write negative messages to bring down the competition. These should be flagged or removed whenever possible.

When you think you’ve discovered a fake review, check the name against customer records. If they don’t show up, it might be a fake. Additionally, check the reviewer’s history to see if they’ve written similar reviews of other dealerships. Finally, see if there’s inaccurate information in the review. This could mean they left feedback on the wrong dealership site or that they copied and pasted from somewhere else.

Again, asking a platform to remove a review – or deleting one yourself – should be almost exclusively for fake reviews. Negative reviews are a source of valuable information and opportunity, just like positive ones.

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