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How Better Controlling Your Keys Helps You Manage Your Reputation

By creating a positive customer experience that starts with proper key control, you can help influence how people perceive your dealership online and prevent unflattering reviews from driving away future customers.

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When car buyers research their next vehicle purchase online, over half (59%) look at reviews to help them select a dealership. Purchasing a vehicle is a big investment, and they want to know that they’re working with a place they can trust. The same goes for when they’re searching for somewhere to service the vehicle they’ve purchased.

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Will what customers discover about your dealership online encourage them to pick up the phone and make an appointment, or will they decide to move on?

You may think, “What’s one bad review?” The truth is, even one negative comment about your dealership can have far-reaching repercussions. You’ve not only lost the business of the reviewer themselves but also a percentage of the other people who see that review. In fact, if you want to undo the effects of a single bad review, you’ll need to get 40 positive reviews.

The Link Between Key Control and Reputation Management

There’s a lot that goes into online reputation management, including monitoring and responding to reviews. However, people don’t leave a review until after they’ve already interacted with your dealership. If they have a negative experience related to a process issue, you can’t go back and change what’s already happened — you’re dealing with damage control at that point.

So how can your dealership be proactive in this area? An online reputation management strategy is essential, but it has to be combined with the customer experience offline.

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One common process issue that shows up in reviews might surprise you: key control. The way you manage keys — both in sales and service — isn’t just something that happens behind the scenes. Customers notice. Check out the following snippets from actual reviews:

Sales

  • I found the SUV I wanted to test drive … She couldn’t even locate the vehicle on the lot.
  • He left me out in the sales yard for about 30 minutes looking for keys for the F-150 and then said he couldn’t find them and told me to come back the next day. (Although this review could have earned the dealership a 1-star rating, the reviewer came back the next day and worked with a salesperson who found the keys right away and pulled the car around. Thanks to the second salesperson’s ability to create a better customer experience, the customer ultimately left a 4-star review.)
  • No effort was made to show the vehicle off, he knew nothing about the car, he didn’t know how many he had in stock, he took us up to the second floor to show us the other car and when we got there he realized that the car was actually downstairs, he never asked if we wanted to test  drive it but the kicker was when we asked to drive it, it took him 20 minutes to find the keys [while] my friend and I were left standing in the rain.
  • Pathetic excuse for a dealership. My buddies and I were there looking at a Maserati for sale in their showroom. The sorry excuse for a dealership couldn’t locate the keys … really??

Service

  • Unfortunately, I was very unhappy that my keys were misplaced/lost. After I paid for my service for my vehicle, my keys were nowhere to be found.
  • I arrived at the dealership at 6 p.m. to pick up my vehicle just to see that it was still parked out on the street where I had left it, and my keys in the drop box that was also unlocked! Very, very disappointed in this dealership!
  • The porter in the service department LOST MY KEYS. New keys had to be made, which delayed the technician looking at my vehicle for a day.

These (likely now-lost) customers made it clear that mismanaged keys affect the customer experience, and now their words will affect future customers’ impressions of each dealership. Even if a prospect isn’t seeking out reviews, they can’t help but notice these less than flattering anecdotes, because several of them were automatically embedded on the dealerships’ homepages! 

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Avoiding Negative Reviews with Better Key Control

While it’s true that there were a few different training and procedural issues contributing to these negative customer experiences, many of these reviews could have turned out quite differently if the dealership had had better key control processes. If your key management protocol could use some improvement, how exactly do you go about that? Start with these three tips:

1. Secure your keys.

One reviewer mentioned a solution right in their review: “Here is an idea, get your act together and designate a cabinet with keys for inventory on your lot.”

By securing keys in both sales and service, you can help salespeople and technicians keep track of keys, get customers in vehicles for test drives faster and protect customers’ property when they drop their vehicles off for service.

However, more effective than a metal file cabinet or lockbox is an electronic system designed specifically for key control. With such a system in place, you can take advantage of reports, alerts when keys aren’t returned, the ability to check stock availability and key reservations.

With manual processes, you still run into a lot of the same issues you’d see with no key control at all. For example, if someone removes a key from a cabinet and doesn’t return it, it might go unnoticed until the next person needs the key.

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2. Train your employees.

If you look at the negative reviews above, there are a lot of training opportunities, from what to do when a vehicle goes missing while a customer is waiting for a test drive to handling customer keys with care.

In addition to training your employees on best practices for customer service and sales, educate them on key control best practices.

For example, if a key can’t be located for a test drive, instruct your salespeople to retrieve the keys to a similar vehicle and offer to let the customers test drive that vehicle. Once the salesperson is done with the customer, they should check to see who removed the key last and follow up with that person to determine the key’s location.

3. Monitor online mentions for complaints about key control.

Routinely monitor social media, as well as popular review sites like Yelp, Google and DealerRater, for comments that mention key control issues. If you detect any process deficiencies or employee training needs, be sure to respond to the review promptly to resolve the customer’s complaints. Then, be sure to correct any problems internally to avoid similar gripes from customers in the future.

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When it comes to your dealership’s success, a good online reputation is key — literally. By creating a positive customer experience that starts with proper key control, you can help influence how people perceive your dealership online and prevent unflattering reviews from driving away future customers.

Steve Robinson

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