Think about the last time you bought anything online. What did you do first? You probably started with Google (as we all do) or maybe to the website of the product or service you are deciding on. 

For a car dealer, especially the F&I department, online reviews can be a tricky minefield to navigate. When a dissatisfied car shopper voices everything they think is wrong with the process to buy a car there, the reach is enormous. Auto dealership reviews influence a staggering 65% of consumers making it the 3rd most affected industry when it comes to the power of online reviews.

F&I already has to constantly overcome the often unfair poor reputation it has dealt with for decades but the advent of online review adds another fire to be ready to put out.

Here are a couple of quick tips for the F&I department and dealership in general to use to manage this issue before it does irreparable harm…  

Get the Right Person to Respond

Consider having a dedicated online ‘reputation manager’ hired to monitor social media channels where the store has a presence and the direct Google reviews. Have this person trained up to tackle these reviews and/or posts within 24 hours or less. Studies have shown that the quicker you respond to a negative review, the less affect it will have on the consumers that are considering your product or service.

Call them whatever you want but empower them to speak for the dealership in a consistent and empathetic voice.   

Master Empathy

A person who feels compelled to post a negative online review, most of the time, really does feel strongly about their personal experience with your dealership. In an era where people can actually be sued in some states for posting a bad review with no grounds to back it up, consumers know they are taking a chance and willing to do it anyway.

If someone says something negative about their experience within the F&I department, have your reputation manager approach it first with empathy. Even if a little research uncovers that some or all of the points brought up in the review are lacking or false, never give a negative response or accuse the reviewer of making it all up.

Assume their concerns are accurate and respond with kindness and grace. Own up to the situation, explain how it can be fixed by the dealership, and offer a direct conversation to help make the issue better. This approach will almost certainly yield a positive result, an amended review, or they could remove it altogether. It’s all about letting them know you hear them.  

Ask Your Happy Customers for Help

This should go without saying but too many dealerships are not actively doing this. Simply ask the customers who you know are insanely happy with their buying experience (and F&I experience) to post a review stating just that. Shout it from the rooftops! Tell the world how awesome we are! Ok, maybe not with that kind of over-the-top enthusiasm but think about how a good a customer may feel being asked to share their experience online. Chances are they will be happy to do it.

Seeing more positive reviews will balance the ‘optics’ out for the few bad reviews that will pop up. If there are more positive F&I mentions, too, that will help balance things as well. F&I tends to get hammered but if some customers say their experience in F&I was easy, efficient, and overall enjoyable, that’s golden.  

Be Active on Social, Too

Even though 6 in 10 average consumers check Google first for reviews, don’t ignore the social platforms your dealership has a presence on. Make sure your reputation manager is active there, too.

Since most consumers have Facebook or Twitter profiles, it would make sense they would go there to ding your reputation as well. Monitor those channels and watch not only for the general post but look in the comments section as other users may weigh in with their own opinions and experiences. Reply to them with the same empathy and positive attitude and their influence should be blunted.

When 85% of consumers say they ‘trust’ online reviews, it’s important not to ignore the bad ones. Always remember that a good response to a bad review can be your dealership’s moment to shine.

Did you enjoy this article from Kristine Cain? Read other articles from her here.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date or catch-up on all of our podcasts on demand.

While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for all the latest auto industry news from CBT News.