What motivates your customers to write absolutely glowing reviews – those five-star shout-outs that attract more customers to your lot? At a time when eight out of 10 shoppers use online car reviews and car dealership reviews to inform their purchase, this is no small question. So, at DealerRater, we decided to find answers. The headline: your people make the difference.

We examined dealership and salesperson reviews written by customers on Cars.com and DealerRater in 2017 – which means we took a very deep dive, analyzing 1.4 million reviews. We uncovered some key themes by examining the most common words and phrases that appeared in both positive and negative reviews. Here’s what we uncovered:

1. You’re only as good as your people.

A helpful, responsive staff throughout the entire purchase and service process is key to making customers happy:

  • Phrases associated with being helpful appeared about 14,000 times in the best (five-star) reviews. Customers perceived a dealership to be especially helpful when its people helped customers with research. Phrases specifically related to helping find the right answer (“answered every question” or “helped find”) appeared more than 9,000 times in five-star reviews

  • Tone matters. Specific references to friendly, courteous, and professional staff appeared about 10,000 times. We found nearly 1,000 references specifically to a dealership’s people having a sense of humor.

These findings apply to the entire staff – in fact, the effectiveness of a dealership’s finance manager was a theme that appeared hundreds of times. The message is clear: dealerships win when they train everyone on the lot, from the salesperson to the receptionist, to act like a customer service ambassador.

2. Everything comes down to a complete experience

The ability to provide both a great buying and service experience is the single-most important factor influencing positive dealership reviews. Customers have high standards: the words “great customer experience” or “excellent customer service” occurred most often in positive dealership reviews, followed by variations of “best” or “great buying experience.”

In addition, speed and consistency of service throughout the entire buying process are essential. Phrases such as “buying process easy” cropped up often in our research, along with words such as “didn’t waste time.” Once customers are at the buying stage on the lot, they’re eager to act. They don’t want to wait around completing paperwork.

3. Great salespeople do more than sell cars

When we analyzed the data for attributes of strong salespeople, we found that the most liked salespeople act like service-oriented consultants. They distinguish themselves by being knowledgeable and taking time to ask questions and listen to customers to better understand what the customer really wants. The most popular words associated with strong salesperson reviews all centered around customer service – more than 6,000 times, followed by 5,500 words associated with a great buying experience (e.g., “made the buying experience easy”).

In addition, salespeople who take a low-pressure approach also rank well. Phrases such as “never felt pressured” appeared about 2,000 times in five-star reviews. The fact remains: buying a car can be stressful even under the most ideal circumstances. It’s one of the most expensive purchases a person will make in their lifetime. Customers want help making a decision, yes, but they also want to relieve the stress of making this decision. I believe that salespeople can relieve that stress by:

  • Giving the customer the time they need.

  • Reading each person on the lot and adjusting your approach accordingly. As we’ve noted in other research, not every person on the lot is motivated to buy. People who are doing initial research are not ready to talk price and do a test drive.

  • Making customers comfortable. Offer to clarify any questions they have. Listen to them carefully. And do little things such as offering amenities to make their stay comfortable.

To create connections and inspire the trust that builds enduring customer relationships, it’s essential that dealerships prepare all your employees to service customers (with a smile) before, during, and after the sale. And think of your salespeople as consultants partnering with customers to make one of the most important decisions of their lives. Your customers will not only thank you – they’ll review you.

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