Quality customer interactions aren’t limited to the show floor, but positive online reviews for F&I and fixed ops are few and far between.  
 -  Photo by kali9 via Getty Images

Quality customer interactions aren’t limited to the show floor, but positive online reviews for F&I and fixed ops are few and far between.

Photo by kali9 via Getty Images

The U.S. auto industry is forecast to sustain a slight downturn this year. This will make competition that much stiffer in an already ferocious market in which reliance on online reviews is growing. Customers are taking to online searches and social media to share their dealership experiences; in equal measure, they’re looking for the best dealerships with which to do business.

Given this environment, it’s especially important to do whatever you can to maintain a healthy online reputation that will continue to drive customers to your store for sales, financing, and service. Let’s review three best practices that will keep all three departments thriving.

1. Solicit Reviews on Google.

Google is the 1,000-pound gorilla of search. As of October 2018, Google led the market with 63.1% of all searches in the United States. That number jumped to 93% for Google mobile searches. If you search for “dealerships near me,” Google generates a map with the top three results, along with their respective star ratings.

How did those dealerships become part of the so-called “local pack”? Simply put, their sales consultants and managers get customer reviews — the latest, the greatest, and the most.

But reviews aren’t limited to the showroom. F&I can be a tricky business. However, with the increasing number of computer systems and sensors onboard today’s newest vehicles, auto insurance companies are faster to declare a car has been totaled. Garden-variety dings and dents can displace sensors and entire circuitry systems. Indemnifying a customer from being responsible for their loan after a fender bender that resulted in a total loss can result in unexpected positive reviews that lift the dealership in search rankings.

With a focus on joining the “local pack,” every department that has positive interactions with customers should ask them to leave reviews on Google — whether verbally or through an automated platform.

2. Monitor and Manage Reviews.

With reviews rolling in, the worst response is no response. Dealers should identify one person to consistently and expeditiously monitor and respond to both positive and negative reviews. This will show customers that the dealer is listening and sensitive to the customer’s experience.

Negative reviews should be acknowledged with an apology and assurance that the situation will be handled efficiently. But they shouldn’t be dismissed after the apology: Often, negative reviews will help a dealer identify big-picture issues that may go unnoticed on a day-to-day basis.

Positive reviews deserve acknowledgement as well. Happy customers will become your best advocates.

3. Ensure Your Business Listing Is Accurate.

The last thing you want to do is drive customers to the wrong address. Whether your dealership shows up on Google, Facebook, Cars.com, Edmunds, CarGurus, or all of the above, make sure that the information listed across these sites is accurate and working. That means:

• Links to your website are sound.

• Your “Service” phone number rings to your service department.

• Your hours of operation for both sales and service are correct.

• Your street address matches your dealership’s actual physical location.

Maintaining accurate business listings is a time-consuming project. Assign someone to the task or seek outside assistance.

Online reviews have the power to inflict a crushing blow in the competitive auto industry. But they can also present an opportunity. If monitored and managed properly, online reviews become a tool that give you new insights into your business, the chance to prove your commitment to customers, and the ability to improve your online and in-dealership experience and drive new and repeat business.

Ali Fawaz is senior director of automotive at Reputation.com. Email him at [email protected].