Foundational in almost every purchase decision, trust might just be the fundamental currency of our time. According to author and Oxford Fellow Rachel Botsman, trust is confidence in the unknown. In the case of a vehicle purchase, your dealership buying experience is “the unknown.”
The Demise of Institutional Trust
Since the birth of Wall Street in the early 1800s, trust in commercial activities had been built largely via institutions. The facade of success, profitability, a large headquarters, a global footprint or a nationally televised ad campaign acted as symbols of trust. Contracts and insurance served as guarantee mechanisms between strangers. Institutional trust is all about making confidence in the unknown possible at scale.
Before connected technologies like marketplaces, networks and platforms, institutional trust was effective and very much necessary, but many, very public and visible corporate failures have eroded institutional trust in the last ~10-20 years. Massively destructive oil spills, major emissions scandals, repetitive consumer data breaches, the housing bubble and subsequent stock market collapse and other headline-making incidents have all led to a slow, but steady degradation of institutional trust. According to Edelman, only one-third of consumers trust most of the brands they buy from. And that same sentiment is mirrored with trust in the news media.
The Resurrection of Peer-to-Peer Trust
In tandem with the decline in institutional trust, we’ve seen explosive growth in the adoption of marketplaces, platforms and related connected technologies. The internet and availability of information have both exponentially sped up the demise of institutional trust while also providing a more available and seemingly more trustworthy alternative — crowdsourced customer feedback. With a few clicks, consumers can find the unbiased, aggregate opinion of thousands of peers to help them make an informed buying decision. Consumers trust their peers. This is particularly relevant in automotive, given that large purchases on average get more reviews.
What the brand has to say is no longer the only voice in the market. Friends, family and review sites are trusted nearly three times more than advertising. With institutional trust on the outs, we now operate businesses in what Botsman calls a world of distributed trust. Even Google relies on reviews from Google Reviews, Facebook and other sites to power local search rankings — meaning peer review content is a primary indicator of popularity and quality Google uses to determine which businesses to recommend.
Deriving Power from Consumer Reviews
In today’s information-heavy environment, buyers need easy and reliable ways to make decisions quickly. Peer review content is that shortcut. As a dealership, you have a unique opportunity to become an early leader in the new distributed-trust economy. Here are three opportunities to capitalize:
- Capture the opinions of your customers. It’s no secret that customers are quick to leave a review from a bad experience but less likely to take the time to review a positive experience. But when given the convenient opportunity, consumers are far more willing to communicate their experience.
- Scale those reviews. As a dealership, you can’t just rely on customers taking the initiative, unprompted, to leave a review. With this strategy, unhappy customers who are naturally more motivated to leave feedback will create a public reputation mirage that is a poor representation of your dealership. You need to be dedicated to capturing reviews at scale to prevent negative reviews from tipping the scale. Not every customer is going to leave a glowing review, but if you’re a healthy, functioning dealership more than likely positive experiences outweigh the negatives. The key is to capture and distribute that positive sentiment where it helps attract more buyers.
- Distribute those opinions to potential customers. Do you already send out a performance survey following a sale asking about a customer’s experience? If yes, while self-serving to the OEM, the survey has limited impact on attracting new buyers. In order to shift buyers’ perspectives — replacing the fear of negative reviews with confidence of positive experiences — you have to add or shift your strategy to support public review content, and make those reviews available on your website, on your social media channels, in your advertisements and on review sites when possible.
In a world of distributed trust, consumers sell to each other. The dealership’s role is to facilitate and mold the discourse around the brand in order to drive positive outcomes and build trust. In the end, the more willing your prospects are to trust your business, the more of an edge you’ll have over your competitors.