It’s more essential now than ever to capture customers as they’re starting the car buying process, and the first impression is happening online. It’s time to make sure yours is the best it can be....

It’s more essential now than ever to capture customers as they’re starting the car buying process, and the first impression is happening online. It’s time to make sure yours is the best it can be.

IMAGE: Vladwel via

Online reputation management for dealerships is more important than ever as today’s car shoppers increasingly rely on consumer reviews when searching for a dealership they can trust. In fact, according to Cox Automotive, more than half of today’s shoppers think online reputation is the most important factor when choosing a dealership. As such, establishing a reputation online that captures interest and trust is the first step, and oftentimes a dealership’s first impression. 

That first impression is now happening online – It’s time to make sure yours is the best it can be.

To stay successful, let’s discuss some of the best practices to manage your dealership’s reputation, and why it’s important. 

  1. Reviews equal trust, and trust is valuable. We tend to trust our friends and their recommendations for a restaurant. If your friend recommends it, you’re much more likely to visit. That may seem obvious. But it doesn’t stop at friends. Consumers trust strangers’ recommendations about companies as well — and it shows. A Harvard Business School study looked at restaurant reviews and discovered that restaurants with a one-star increase in Yelp ratings earned 5-9% more income than their peers earning one less star. 

You might say, “Sure, but that’s a restaurant review. That’s not comparable to shopping for a car.” However, reviews and ratings directly impact propensity to visit a dealer website and propensity to convert to a lead. In fact, a study by DealerRater showed consumers were 90% more likely to click on a dealer’s website and 5.3 times more likely to convert to a lead if they had a 3.5-star rating or above. Talk about an important first impression.

  1. You should respond to all reviews — the good and the bad. Many dealerships don’t respond to reviews appropriately, and an overwhelming number of customers disregard a dealership that doesn’t respond to reviews, reports DealerRater. The occasional non-favorable review serves as valuable customer feedback and acting on them could actually lead to more positive reviews. Many of us have looked at a business on Google, clicked on the reviews section, and go straight to the one-star reviews. Are they one-off issues, or is there something systemic? Perhaps you’ve done this and noticed the company only responded to positive reviews. This makes the company appear as if it is trying to brush the bad reviews under the rug. In reality, potential customers want to see how you react to the good and the bad. 

There are a lot of ways to respond to a poor review, but it’s critical to reply in an authentic way that shows potential customers you care about service and their experience. When addressing the person leaving the review, you don’t even have to go into detail — often it’s better not to — but you have to acknowledge the issue. Oftentimes the right response to a bad review can turn the experience around and help you earn customer loyalty. The consumer might even remove their negative review. Plus, according to BrightLocal’s 2020 SEO Ranking Factors, reviews directly influence local search engine performance as they are the #2 ranking factor on Google. A review response is yet another opportunity to give search engines more content about your business.

  1. Keep your reviews current. About 73% of customers only look at reviews that were written in the last month, according to the 2020 Local Consumer Review survey by Bright Local. They want to know that the reviews are recent. How has service been, or has this 4.7-star business had a rash of one-star reviews lately? Recency can provide context to what a potential customer should expect today, and can even help overcome a lower rating, showing the customer the business is on the right path forward. 

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to encourage happy customers to leave good reviews. It involves a lot more than just putting a review form on your website. Yes, you should do that, but you want to make it as easy as possible for customers to leave great reviews. Dealerships that don’t encourage customers to leave positive reviews may put themselves at a disadvantage as people are more likely to complain than compliment a good experience. Let’s discuss some proactive ways you can solicit and share reviews:

  • Send automated or manual requests. Send customers an email or SMS text after completing a transaction, while the experience is still fresh in their minds. Texts tend to have nearly a 100% open rate. Just pick up your phone for proof. Sending reviews through text is great because the person doesn’t need a password, account, or app to leave the review. 
  • If negative, ask why. When you ask customers to leave a review, also mention that if they can’t give you a good review, to let you know why. Place importance on the fact that you want them to be satisfied with the dealership experience and give them a chance to get their issue resolved before they leave an unfavorable review. They may be so pleased with the follow up, they then leave a positive review. Customers—especially dissatisfied ones—need to feel like you are really listening to them. There is opportunity in every difficulty.
  • Use multiple review sites. You don’t have to just leave reviews on the one site where you collect them. Reviews can be shared to multiple platforms, which builds SEO content, so more customers will find them — and your business. This is especially vital as customers are not just sticking with their local dealerships. There are more seamless transactions happening across state lines or through various parts of the state, as people rely more on online car shopping. 

It’s more essential now than ever to capture customers as they’re starting the car buying process. In 2020, vehicle purchasers spent an hour less time on that purchase process than in 2019, and two hours less online doing their research, reports Cox Automotive. That’s because customers increasingly know the exact make and model they want. In light of these trends, dealership reputation can make all the difference. That first impression is now happening online. It’s time to make sure yours is the best it can be.

Kevin Regan is director of sales at

READ: Best Practice for Optimizing Service Absorption and Dealership Profitability

Originally posted on Auto Dealer Today