In the game of football, they say defense wins championships, but offense fills the seats. If you’re not filling seats you’re not selling cars. Am I right?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, most of us are aware that in business there’s this thing called online reputation. Because, you know, the relatively few complainers that visit your store go to the trouble of posting reviews to publicly air their grievances, but the happy customers do nothing. The result is the actual customer experience doesn’t match the perceived customer experience for the buying public.
To give you some level of control, Reputation Management was created to allow you to monitor and reply to those nasty reviews and somehow protect your business. Reputation management is like playing defense; but when it comes to your business, it’s not going to help you win any championships. Current reputation management strategies are reactive—like a cornerback that follows the eyes of the quarterback to jump the receiver’s route and make the interception or break up the pass. If he reacts late, it could be a costly mistake. The other team scores, your team loses the game.
If you miss the interception you could get benched or cut from the team. If you miss responding to a few negative reviews, it looks like your store or company has a terrible online reputation, regardless of whether it’s an accurate reflection of your company’s or dealership’s true customer experience. That low reputation score could cost you customers. You could get “cut” from consideration by a potential buyer because of a low and inaccurate review score.
The game has changed. Reputation Management had a good run, but he’s slower now, he’s lost a step. He can’t keep up with a changing business environment. He can’t fill the seats.
A New Star is Born: Reputation Marketing
What if we took the best features of Reputation Management, blended in a little social media services and video testimonials (VLOGs), added some automation, then stirred it up and promoted it online… You think you could score with that offense? You’re darn right you could.
This is a strategy we call Reputation Marketing. It’s something designed to score touchdowns, not just prevent the other guys from scoring. Reputation Marketing is proactive. You anticipate your customers’ behavior, then use a process to modify that behavior. Just like a pro quarterback who surveys the defense and calls an audible at the line of scrimmage. Knowing the difference between Reputation Marketing and Reputation Management, and doing something about it, can be a game changer for most dealerships.
Reputation Management does not generate revenue for your store. Sure, it may collect helpful “feedback” from your customers, maybe help you improve some internal processes or eliminate undesirable employees. It even may notify you whenever a consumer posts a good or bad review, but how does this make you money? It simply does not.
Reputation Marketing is the Pro Playbook
Let’s map out some of the X’s and O’s from the Reputation Marketing playbook. This is how you take advantage of your store’s tremendous customer experience and make it profitable. Reputation marketing is much more than just managing reputation. It’s about establishing and guarding that reputation online to become more competitive and profitable, then syndicating and promoting that review profile across the internet. It’s about taking control of your online reputation. Following are steps to implement a Reputation Marketing Plan in your store.
On a scale of one to five stars, what is your store’s current Google rating? You really should be aware of this number at all times. Google review stars, by the way, are like a quarterback rating. A high rating week after week, and you know you have a champion. An average or low ranking, well… you better hope you have a good defense.If your Google score is above 4 stars, congratulations! You’re in the red zone. This means you’ve done a great job of building a great reputation from the positive customer experiences that your organization provides. Now you must build and follow a strategic game plan to market this positive reputation to attract more customers.If your rating is 3 stars or lower, then you have some work to do. You’re pinned deep in your own end of the field and the clock is running down.You are probably losing business right now to a 4+ star competitor. Plain and simple. We call it the silent killer, because these prospects are simply never contacting your store. They don’t call you, they don’t email you and they certainly don’t walk in your door. Why is this so critical?
Because 91% of consumers now look at online reviews before making a purchasing decision.
If you were a consumer, and you could choose between two dealers, one with a 3.8 star rating and another with a 4.3 star rating, whom would you choose? Although it seems like a small difference, you know the answer: the higher rated store.
The first step to establish a positive review profile online is to generate 5-star reviews. Lots of them. You’ll need to quickly establish and implement a process to get more 5-star reviews from as many customers as possible to quickly raise that average above four stars. While Google is certainly not the only online review service, it’s the bellwether to your online reputation. Get your Google stars in line first.
Recruiting & Training Camp
It’s important to get everyone on the team to buy in to the concept and understand how important it is to offer an incredible customer experience. You do this with training and establishing processes to help them succeed.Training should contain an overview of how important reviews are to the success of your store, and how it benefits both the organization and the individual by attracting more customers. It should also include specific instructions on how to treat each and every person that walks through the door (with the utmost respect and courtesy); how to ask for feedback at different stages during the car buying process (or the service process); and how to ask for a review or testimonial at the end of every transaction.
After you get your staff on board, the next step is to create processes to help them win. If you have a champion quarterback, a great offensive line, and a thoroughbred running back, you want to give them a superior playbook. Processes include:
- Asking for feedback at different stages during their visit, such as immediately after a test drive, after you’ve completed price negotiations, and/or at delivery. Specific language could include, “Mr. Customer, do you feel like you’ve been treated fairly and positively during this process so far?”
- Signage in your store, asking customers to leave a review when they’re finished with their visit. The posters should include a QR code, a shortened URL (like a bit.ly or goo.gl) and the face of a happy customer smiling back at them. A QR code will allow the techy millennials to scan with their mobile and go to a review site of your choice; the shortened URL lets even the most tech-challenged customer type in a short web address to visit the review site.
- Equip your staff with printed review cards with the same information, asking them to hand the cards out at the end of a transaction (after delivery of a vehicle, completion of a service appointment, or purchase of parts). And train your staff to ASK for the review. Every time.
- Automated email or an SMS text message sent to the customer after the transaction, again requesting they leave online feedback. Include language that says “If you’ve already left a review, please disregard this email” and thank them for their business. Most dealership CRMs allow you to easily do this.
- Sales and service contests can reward your staff for participating in the review acquisition process. One of our clients tracks the number of reviews each of his salespeople get during each month and awards them a cash bonus in the form of a VISA gift card.
- A method to filter reviews before they are made public. You can add a simple form to your website asking whether the customer’s experience was positive or negative; if positive, you send them to a public review site like Google or Facebook after they submit. If it was negative, you send them to a Thank You page with a form for additional feedback, then have management follow up with that customer to resolve the issue.
Next step is managing the feedback. Your customer feedback can be invaluable as a management tool, as it puts you in complete touch with the customer’s experience in your store. Negative feedback, as long as it stays internal, can actually be good for your business because it gives you an opportunity to be better the next time around.
Hire a dedicated Customer Experience Manager to focus on your customers and their experiences within your store. This ensures that you are delivering the best customer experience possible for your clients. Have them track the numbers and report back to management each month. If you don’t measure, you can’t manage!
First and Goal to Go
Now comes the fun part: using those 4- and 5-star reviews to promote your dealership online.
Syndicating your customer experiences with social media posts is the real game changer in the automotive industry. The top dealerships in the country are doing it with great success. Why is this so important? Because 84% of consumers now TRUST online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Referrals have always been a favorite lead source among car dealers for a single reason: they close at a high rate, because people trust referrals. If that many consumers trust online reviews as much as personal referrals, we can use online reviews to transfer that trust to the online shopper. It says that you are the organization to do business with. Here’s how to accomplish that:
- You MUST have a Customer Reviews page on your website, and be sure to get your SEO team to backlink to that reviews page. Don’t bury the reviews page in your site; promote it on the home page and be sure it’s visible from the main menu so everyone who visits the site can readily access the reviews. Be sure the reviews that appear are from legitimate third party review sites, not some cheesy internal testimonials page that fools nobody.
- Broadcast your online reviews out to search engines and your social media channels. Have your Customer Experience Manager copy and paste reviews manually from a review site like Google or Edmunds to a Facebook post, a Tweet, or Google Plus account.
On Facebook, for example, the average friend count is 40. When your post shows in the timeline of one of your followers, that means it will appear in their friends’ timelines as well, multiplying the effectiveness by a factor of 40! That’s some major guerrilla marketing my friends.
- Shoot video testimonials. Nothing communicates trust better than your customers living, breathing video testimonial stating that you are a great company to do business with. Remember those old-time detergent TV spots that appear to be an interview of a housewife, bragging about how white and bright her clothes were? Those were obviously staged but consumers bought into that advertising big time. Video shows your prospects the face of a real person, bragging on your store.
I’m betting that every one of your salespeople has a smartphone with an HD quality video camera. At the very least, they should shoot a selfie with their customers and post it to their social media, and tag their customers.
A Championship Season
Once you put this game plan in place, you’ll be well on your way to establish your team as the champions, THE dealership to do business with. Reputation Marketing is a proven, cost-effective method to help grow your store’s business by developing and marketing your solid online reputation.