The latest statistics and trends show that consumer expectations are forcing auto retailers to morph the traditional car-buying process into a hybrid of online and offline interactions. Improving, protecting and promoting your company’s online reputation is no longer just “something we should work on” but an integral part of modern automotive digital retailing.
Over the past decade, you’ve likely heard me urge retailers to be consistent in strengthening their online reputation. Now that the industry is moving toward online transactions, it’s essential to implement operational changes to reflect this new sales dynamic.
Online reviews are more important than ever.
- 80% of consumers say reviews are important when selecting a dealership
- 41% say they will read at least five reviews before visiting a dealership
If you want to increase sales (who doesn’t?) then you need a winning formula to capture your happy, loyal customers’ opinions.
More people read reviews as part of their pre-purchase research before buying and this has a direct effect on sales. Without a solid online presence, consumers are more likely to select another dealership for their purchase or service.
A recent online review study concluded that:
- 98% of people at least ‘occasionally’ read online reviews.
- 77% of consumers ‘always’ or ‘regularly’ read online reviews (up from 60% in 2020).
- The percentage of people ‘never’ reading reviews has fallen from 13% in 2020 to just 2% in 2021.
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Vehicle researching and purchase habits have changed.
A recent customer experience trends study found that, due to inventory shortages and lack of choices, 40% of consumers say they didn’t contact the dealership in their research process because the dealer didn’t include special offers in their marketing messaging. As someone who’s been in retail most of her life, this has dire consequences for future business. What will happen when inventories become normal again?
Reputation.com’s latest research indicates that consumer review volume in the automotive industry is higher than ever in 2021, and nearly 80% of automotive dealership customers say that reviews are important to their decision-making.
The evidence is clear that focusing resources on improving, protecting and promoting your company’s online reputation pays off.
This is super valuable info but how do I actually apply it?
I agree that it’s a struggle to make the connection from theory to application. I regularly see a huge breakdown in the internal process within each retailer and there are many factors that lead to this. Stay tuned because I have a formula for you to follow that will remedy this dilemma.
There’s another school of thought that says, “Great info but we have a vendor that does all that for us.”
There are many “solutions” that promise to clear up your online reviews and manage your reputation for you. Given that online reviews and your reputation play such a crucial role in business growth, is it prudent to hand off your brand to a 3rd party that doesn’t necessarily have their finger on the pulse of your business? (and certainly doesn’t make your company’s profits a priority?).
Nobody manages your online reputation like you do.
The shift in social marketing and online reputation management: taking it internal.
I’m seeing a big shift in how automotive retailers approach their marketing and online reputation. The shift to taking it internally is born out of a need to understand exactly how the process works and whether or not the company is getting a return on their investment.
I know my newer clients (mostly automotive retail companies) all reached out to me because they made the decision to take their power back and create a better online presence for themselves.
Many have hired a marketing manager or social media manager and/or a small team consisting of content creators, reputation managers, developers and designers. With the trend going to digital first, and the frustration I see with vendors who cannot deliver quality products timely, making the shift to internal marketing makes sense for a lot of companies.
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This 7-Step formula will give you the power to improve, protect and promote your online reputation.
No matter where your organization is in the process of digital marketing, the following 7-step formula, when executed well, will help your business build a solid online reputation and pave the way to increased sales.
Step 1: Create a Review Conversion Funnel
Systematically drive customers to one conversion funnel that routes them to the review sites you care about.
You’ll need software to create your review conversion funnel. At Kruse Control, we’ve had experience with and recommend Grade.us. I’m not a paid endorser, the software simply works well. Watch this short “how it works” video and see for yourself–> here.
There are a handful of other software options such as Reputation.com and Podium. As of this writing, I’ve found that Grade.us is priced more competitively. (You can probably tell that I spent most of my years in auto retail as a CFO – I’m always weighing all the data/features, including price!)
Step 2: Automatically ask, remind and guide happy customers through the funnel.
In a March 2022 study, 58%of consumers said the dealership they purchased from did not ask them to write an online review about their sales experience, while that percentage jumps to 71% for service. 30% of service customers said a dealership’s response is the “most important” part of a review. For consumers overall, a four or five star rating impacts their decision when selecting a dealership.
You’ll increase review volume and quality by establishing criteria and leveraging software to automatically guide happy customers through the process of completing a review.
Gauge their intent with one simple click. “I had a good experience” or “I had a bad experience”
Guide the happy customer to the review site(s) you care about so they can share their experience in a review.
Step 3: Recover unhappy customers before they vent online.
For those customers that chose “I had a bad experience,” get a second chance by guiding unhappy customers to a mobile-responsive recovery page. You can fix their problem and sometimes even turn a bad situation into a profitable one.
Step 4: Analyze results daily for actionable insights to improve upon.
Each review gives insight into your customer’s perceptions and an opportunity to improve. Another benefit to automation software is knowing exactly what’s being said about you in real time. My clients often call me with questions about how to respond to reviews. Positive or negative, every review deserves a response.
The software you use will typically provide a dashboard to monitor all of your reviews from one place. Reviewing these daily only takes a few minutes and ensures you’re responding timely, which is important for the reviewer and also for the audience of prospective customers looking at your reviews.
Step 5: Turn your reviews into stories to boost engagement.
Many retailers choose to feed their reviews into their websites. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that but they’re missing a big opportunity to elaborate on those stories.
Each review is a customer experience that can be revealed in a unique way. Not all will be the “story of the century” but, with a little storytelling skill, many of your customer’s experiences can be documented either by written word, audio or video on your site and social media.
Heck, in some cases, a Facebook or Instagram Live would be awesome. The main complaints I hear about social media marketing is not knowing what to post and/or not having enough ideas. There’s a goldmine in telling stories about your happy customers.
Step 6: Engage employees in the review process.
The bridge to documenting those stories is your employees. They’re the ones who are witness to the great experiences your customers have (often due to the employee’s help and support) and employees alone possess the ability to capture them.
Employees who are mentioned by name in online reviews give credibility to the company. “The employee is awesome therefore the company must be awesome.”
There’s another important benefit of being named in a review. Customers are Googling salespeople. Reviews show near the top in search results and thereby give you and your employee authority online.
Step 7: Motivate employees to ask for reviews with proper training, incentives and recognition.
Social selling and online reputation training programs (Kruse Control included) must always establish what’s in it for the employee. Let’s face it, the majority of your sales force will not necessarily see the value at first in building online reviews. There’s a learning curve and addressing it sooner rather than later is key.
Recognize, incentivize and reward those who are enthusiastic about getting verified reviews and very often, the stragglers will realize they’re missing out.
Put this online reputation building formula into action
While you can’t completely control everything customers are saying about you online, you can do a lot more than hoping and praying. It feels good to have control over your online reputation by using a proven formula…and peace of mind is invaluable, right?
Leveraging this proven formula to improve, protect and promote your online reputation will help your organization increase sales…and create an army of advocates that help prospective customers decide where they want to buy.
Need support with building and/or managing your online reputation? I can help. Get in touch with me HERE and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours.