The Reviews Are In – Are They Talking About Your Store?

The talking cars that starred in the Cars.com Super Bowl ad this year gather round to hear what’s being said about them. “Hey guys… The reviews are in,” they exclaim. They can’t wait to find out what shoppers have to say.

Perhaps their enthusiasm is because they know just how important these reviews are becoming to the car shopping process.  Whether it is for the vehicle itself or the dealership experience, consumers are increasingly seeking out the opinions of other shoppers, making it essential for dealers to actively drive review activity of their stores.

“More than 73% of car shoppers now consult online dealership reviews, making reviews an important tool to distinguish your store and set yourself apart from the competition,” said Cars.com training manager, Jack Simmons.  “Now more than ever, dealers need to take charge of their review volume. Given the growing prominence of reviews in search engines and on shopping sites, it is not enough to stand back and wait for shoppers to review your store. You need to make the ask. You can’t afford not to have shoppers talking about you online.”

For stores looking to boost review volume, Simmons offers these tips.

Ten Tips to Drive More Online Reviews

1. Launch a Kick-Off Campaign: If you are just getting started with online reputation management and don’t yet have many reviews of your store online, a great way to get the ball rolling is with a kick-off campaign. Using your CRM system, identify loyal customers and ask for their help in getting your review presence off the ground. A simple email outreach with a link to the review sites where you want to drive volume can be a powerful tool.

2. Just Ask: The most important factor in driving volume is making the ask. Like anything, shoppers will feel more inclined to participate if they build a personal connection with the sales or service manager and are contributing to the process on that person’s behalf. By ending each customer interaction by asking how their experience was and then making a direct call to action to review the store, dealerships can drive significant volume. We recommend that stores make it part of their closing process with the customer. Tell shoppers that your feedback is important to them, an act that in and of itself increases the positive nature of their experience. Ask them to be a part of the process.

3. Use a Customer Experience Survey to Your Advantage: Some of the most successful stores make driving review volume part of a customer experience survey. Following any transaction with the store, send the customer a follow-up survey asking them to rate their experience with the store. A simple rating scale and a question asking whether or not they would recommend the dealership to a friend is a good indicator if they would be likely to contribute to building your reputation online. For those shoppers who positively rate their experience and would recommend your store, follow-up with a direct call to action to review the store online. Use negative responses to fix potential problems before they can have a damaging impact on your reputation. Reach out to these shoppers to resolve any outstanding issues. Often times, this act of resolution can create raving loyal fans of your store. Shoppers may be so impressed that you listened to their experience and that you worked to make it right, that they will then take time out to share that experience with others.  

4. Use Campaign Materials from Cars.com: Many review sites like Cars.com will offer tools to help you drive review volume. From signage to hang in your store to pieces to give to customers such as postcards that remind shoppers to go back and review their dealership, these make it easy to ask for feedback. They also are a powerful tool to prominently showcase your store’s commitment to delivering a positive customer experience.

5. Don’t Forget Service Reviews: Service reviews are a great way to boost confidence and visits to your service department, but they are also a great way to drive vehicle sales.91% of new car shoppers want to see service reviews before purchasing a car, acknowledging that they want to buy a car where they will service that vehicle. In addition to making reviews part of your sales follow-up process, don’t forget to ask each and every service customer for feedback as well. Service customers may also be some of your most loyal customers, making them a prime target for excellent review feedback.

6. Make it Part of Your Follow-up Process: Chances are that you have a process in place to check-in with customers after every sale and service visit.  Take advantage of systems like this that are already in place and use them as an opportunity to drive review volume, without any heavy-lifting or additional effort on your end. Within these emails, remind customers that you appreciate their business and let them know their feedback is important to delivering the best possible experience. Provide links to review sites like Cars.com where they can submit a review of their experience. Cars.com offers email templates you can use as a guide as well as an electronic widget you can embed in your emails to drive shoppers directly to the review submission page for your dealership.

7. Prominently Showcase Reviews of Your Store at all Stages of the Sales Process: Not only does sharing reviews of your store with potential buyers help on the road to a sale, it can also boost review volume. We know that shoppers who read reviews are more likely to go back and leave a review about their own experience with your store.  We recommend that dealerships expose reviews at many touch points throughout the process. In addition to natural locations such n your website, look for other forms of communications as an opportunity to get shoppers reading your reviews. Include links to reviews of your store in any email communications with potential buyers, asking them to check out what other shoppers have to say. Print out reviews and leave them as part of a why-buy book that customers can read in their store. Expose reviews in your advertising both online and off. In addition to driving more volume, this can also increase the performance and ROI of your ads.

8. Ask for Reviews on Your Website or Create a Dedicated Site for Reviews and Testimonials: Many stores are creating a hub on their websites or as a separate microsite to feature review content and as an easy destination for shoppers to share their own experience. This is a great way to contribute to SEO efforts and can also be a powerful sales tool. This is an easy place to point customers when asking for review feedback. From there you can point them to various review sites to leave their feedback. Cars.com offers widgets you can use on your website or microsite to direct shoppers directly to your dealerships reviews on the site.

9. Give Your Staff Incentive to Drive Reviews: Like anything in the store, the success of your reputation management program will largely depend on how motivated your team is and how engaged they are in the process. To make review generation a success, it needs to be more than a one-time effort and every employee should understand the critical role they play in delivering a great experience and getting consumers to tell others about it. Depending on your store philosophy, there are a number of ways you can go about driving this engagement and making reputation management part of your store culture. The most basic is to start putting emphasis on reviews. During daily and weekly meetings, read new reviews both good and bad. Showcase the number of reviews your store has and your stores overall rating across sites. Beyond giving reviews more visibility and importance with your staff, some stores also attach recognition to the process. This does not need to be financial. Some stores have implemented awards for top review-getters or give praise to staff that get called out in an online review for delivering excellent service. Others give these individuals prime billing on their websites, a move that is great for motivating individuals by helping to build their personal brands. If financial incentives are a part of your culture you could also develop a SPIF program related to reviews. 

10. Don’t Fake It: There are many companies cropping-up looking to take advantage of the burgeoning review marketplace. Some will offer to write reviews on behalf of your dealership to boost both volume and overall ranking. Tempting as this might be, resist the urge to fabricate reviews. Whether you are paying a service on your behalf, or enlisting employees, friends or family to prop up your online reputation, chances are good these efforts will backfire. Most review sites have excellent moderation systems in place to prevent this activity and many even penalize those caught trying to game the system. For those fake reviews that make their way to publications, consumers typically sniff them out. They know whether something is genuine and can typically identify fraudulent reviews. While it may seem like a quick fix to boost your reputation, it can be far more damaging in the long-run.  

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