As the tax season customer boom approaches, we retailers face several challenges. Consumers have more choices and more information than ever, and they are far less loyal. Manufacturers are also expanding their product offerings, delving into segments in which they never previously competed.
It isn’t difficult for customers to find out invoice prices, holdback and other incentives. The competition for their business is fierce, and they know it.

These informed prospects are not just hunting for the best price, they want the best dealer. If your online reputation isn’t up to snuff, your amazing price will just be honored by someone else.

We all strive to have satisfied customers, and I would venture to say that most car buyers do have a good experience. I just feel there is too much on the line for us to mistreat them with those old underhanded tactics for which our industry is known.

So why are there so many negative reviews about dealers on Google? Are those dealerships really that horrible? I’d say it’s highly unlikely. In most cases, those bad reviews are a reflection of dealers who don’t actively manage their online reputation through active engagement techniques and search engine optimization (SEO).

Maintaining a positive reputation takes work and customer participation. Consumers are inundated with businesses looking for their opinions. They may not participate in every survey, but they have been trained to give their opinion. And after making a large purchase, they are generally willing to give feedback.

But those manufacturer and initial-quality surveys have no effect on your store’s reputation. In the customer’s eyes, they have given the dealer feedback and there is no need to go any further. That’s why we have to coach them to share their positive experiences. While traditional follow-up can be successful in this regard, social media also can play an active role.

Dealers are aware of the importance of having a social media presence, but many still approach the medium with a heavy dose of skepticism. That’s because these sites don’t necessarily generate leads the way traditional websites do. That makes it difficult to measure results by the same standard.
If you are unsure of how to approach social media, seek out assistance. There are numerous vendors that do an excellent job at gaining followers and engaging them, but do not let it become a hands-off solution. In order to be successful, everyone in the dealership needs to be aware of the social media strategy and they need to encourage customers to get involved. And once you have a following, you have the ability to communicate and influence customers in a unique and ongoing way.

By communicating on social media, your message has a chance to go viral, which helps to optimize your search engine results. I personally like donation campaigns, in which a local charity will receive a donation that increases with participation. This type of campaign highlights the positive actions of the dealership to your customers, all their connections, and the charity’s existing network with a feel-good component for being involved. Remember not to limit these to just one social site such as Facebook. Use every available resource you have so that your work shows up whenever someone Googles your dealership.

The algorithms that Google uses to determine search results look at update frequency and the content you post, so be sure to include descriptive text, videos and active relevant links between all your online presences. By doing so, you will be able to dominate the first page with content you want potential customers to see.

Additionally, by having active social media connections, you can remind your customers how much you appreciate their positive reviews. Generally, it is recommended that you ask your customers to go to one particular site to register their reviews of your dealership. Doing this ensures the message is consistent.

There are providers that collect your reviews and give you the ability to “push” them to other sites. While this tactic is logical, be aware that each site has its own posting guidelines. Yelp, for instance, will hide reviews written by anyone who has not written several reviews with them, so “pushing” doesn’t always work. You also have to remember that customers tend to lean toward their favorite sites.

In the end, no matter how amazing you are as a dealer, you will have the occasional customer that can’t be pleased no matter what you do. Unfortunately, they also tend to be your most vocal opponents.

But the worst thing you can do is pretend that the bad reviews aren’t out there. By actively monitoring your reputation, you will know when it happens and you’ll be prepared to address the customer’s concerns, directly and for the benefit of the online community.

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