Take Extra Care To Manage Your Dealership’s Customer Reputation On Facebook

Reputation On Facebook

The friends-and-family aspect of that platform means you want the domino effect to be positive, if possible. BY DAVID KAIN

We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets their eye poked out.” I think the auto industry’s current relationship with social media is like that. Right now, it’s mostly fun and games as dealers get their feet wet with social media, but just wait until an angry customer trashes their store in the digital world.

Dealerships need to be particularly sensitive about negative reviews on Facebook. People have come to expect businesses to get panned as often as they are praised on sites like Yelp, but a bad experience stands out more on Facebook, where the overall atmosphere is positive and community centric. Also, that community aspect means an irritated customer may well try to draw friends and family into discussing this particular business, which is another different aspect of Facebook.

All of us are tempted from time to time to respond with strong emotion, even in a business situation. Dealership managers don’t have that luxury, but our customers don’t have to live by the same rules.

At my family’s dealership, we used to say that guests who don’t buy cars don’t fill out surveys. But that was bad advice then and it’s really bad advice now. All day long, your showroom and service department visitors are posting “live updates” about their experiences on dealership social media platforms. In this article, I will discuss how the mother of one of my client’s customers took the dealership to task about how her daughter and son-in-law were treated – in real time, on the store’s Facebook page. In one day, this established dealership with a pristine reputation online and offline went from hero to zero (almost literally the case, considering how many one-star reviews resulted), all because a mother felt her child was treated poorly.

Controlling Bad Reviews Is Difficult

Most dealerships have a strategy in place to recruit online reviews from happy guests, and that approach works well to build a four- or five-star reputation on Google, Cars.com, Yelp, DealerRater, etc. This was a lot more difficult in the early days of review sites, but with practice dealers have become proficient and acknowledge their team members for a job well done in encouraging satisfied customers to praise the store online.

Unfortunately, they are not as adept in controlling the situation when a dissatisfied customer takes them to task on social media. Bad reviews on search engines like Google and review sites like Yelp tend only to be noticed by active shoppers for vehicles, car repairs, and other products and services. So, those online environments are somewhat static. However, Facebook is a dynamic environment in that someone doesn’t need to be shopping at all to be waylaid by someone else’s negative review. With users checking Facebook multiple times each day, the review probably will appear on their feed without their seeking it out.

Early Intervention Is Needed

My dealership client now recognizes it could have averted a big headache if it would have launched the same rapid escalation process it uses to tackle major business emergencies. The problem escalated here because an after-market vendor performed an upgrade and did some minor damage to the new vehicle in the process. A dealership employee went outside of his own body shop to save money, but the repair didn’t meet the customer’s expectations and after three weeks, the GM was playing catch-up.

Before that GM could handle the problem, the customer’s mother posted a one-star review (only because zero wasn’t available) and insisted her daughter and son-in-law had been wronged. She commented that the dealership didn’t seem to understand the power of social media and recruited hundreds of online friends to take aim at the business. Believe me, they did.

I bet you can guess how this played out. Family, friends and then casual observers quickly sided with the customer. Post after post slammed the dealership, and then several one-star reviews were written on the dealership’s Facebook page. Within 48 hours, the original poster had created a hash tag and a community site to collect reviews on the dealership as well as on any other local businesses that were not performing up to expectations.

It was crowd-sourcing at it most organic level. I would imagine that Angie’s List was started under similar circumstances.

The Effectiveness Of ‘We’re Sorry’

Meanwhile, the dealer was blindsided and quickly gathered his leadership team to work toward a solution. He posted on the dealership’s Facebook page saying how sorry he was, that he understood why the customer was upset and that he would work diligently to resolve the problem to the customer’s satisfaction.

His acknowledgement of the customer’s side of the story and immediate use of the word “sorry” rather than the typical “I apologize if this offended …” seemed to work well. Customers who were pleased with the dealership’s work were inspired to come to the dealer’s defense and gave positive reviews, which slowed the tide of criticism even though it seemed to motivate the mother to recruit more anti-viewpoints.

Ironically, the dealership discovered (on Facebook) that its body shop manager’s daughter knew the customer. Management used this connection to calm the situation and finally was able to arrange a resolution that satisfied the customer. The mother ended up posting that the dealership had handled the situation, and the social storm ended.

However, a painful lesson was learned: Any customer who feels mistreated by a dealership employee can and probably will complain about the experience online, and if that customer uses Facebook, the ramifications can be serious.

Lessons For All Dealerships

It is not an overreaction to suggest that every dealership should receive ongoing social media sensitivity training. Mitch Gallant, the assistant GM for the Capital Auto Group in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, recommends quick engagement before a social blow-up can occur. He teaches his team to alert management immediately if a customer expresses a concern to them personally.

If the complaint does end up on social media, Gallant recommends an immediate “We’re sorry” be posted to that platform to express empathy, and an invitation to the customer to a phone or in-person conversation to settle the problem. He has found this approach works well because irritated customers tend to behave better in person than behind a computer screen, and more inclined to work things out.

Once the problem has been resolved, Gallant says, a dealership should politely mention that it would appreciate the customer amending his or her online complaint.

It also is imperative for dealerships to foster a culture of vigilant customer awareness at all times, he says, and insist on its team talking professionally and courteously in every interaction.

To conclude, here is my checklist for preserving a positive reputation on social media:

  • Sustain a 24/7/365 customer satisfaction culture
  • Orient your team to the impact of social media reviews with live digital “field trips,” like gathering around a computer running Facebook
  • Encourage happy customers to review your dealership on your social media sites (Facebook in particular)
  • Teach employees how to recognize the signs of customer dissatisfaction, and to involve managers quickly
  • Teach every department manager how to effectively resolve customer concerns quickly