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Sealing the Cracks Customers Fall Through

It might be easy to think that what is said online won’t impact your bottom line, but smart dealers know that reputation management connects with every other piece of their strategy to catch and keep customers.

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There’s a political cartoon I saw once with an image that’s always stuck with me: Napoleon standing astride the prow of a boat, staring fearlessly at a horizon he was headed to conquer. But, the boat was halfway submerged, riddled with holes and sinking, apparently without its captain’s knowledge.

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It’s a funny, ironic image that also makes a good point: Leaders who aren’t looking out for cracks in their operation can be blindsided.

You can see where I’m going with this. If your dealership is the ship you’re steering with a steady hand, then it’s critical to be on the lookout for the cracks customers may fall through.

There’s one area that can help you identify whatever those cracks in your operation might be more than any other: your digital reputation.

How important is a good online reputation? The days of simply watching a television commercial, maybe asking family or friends for opinions and then driving off to visit the dealership are over. The truth is, people are more likely to believe an online reviewer they’ve never met than take your word for it. There’s an inherent trust deficit between consumers and businesses these days — a challenge that’s especially prevalent in the auto industry.

It might be easy to think that what is said online won’t impact your bottom line, but smart dealers know that reputation management connects with every other piece of their strategy to catch and keep customers.

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Influence the Conversation About You

Something else that’s stuck with me in the years since I first saw it: a line from a 17th century poet that reads “No man is an island.”

The gist is that attempting to isolate yourself is both foolish and counterproductive, and the same applies to your digital reputation. Try to ignore it and your dealership might as well be an island, because one way or another there will be an ongoing conversation about your business and, without your input, it will probably skew negative.

There are three steps to take here:

First, set up monitoring of review sites, forums, blogs and social sites, preferably with a service that gives daily feedback. Knowing what the general sentiment is surrounding your dealership, and the reasons behind that, is how you best learn what is being said online about your dealership and identify the cracks in your operation.

Second, take the necessary steps to seal the cracks. If you’re getting consistent customer complaints about one particular aspect of your dealership, be it sales, service or F&I, take it seriously.

Each customer’s opinion matters to the next customer. And every single interaction — positive or negative, inside or outside your dealership — influences their experience.

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Studies have found that on surveys measuring customer satisfaction on a scale of one to five, allowing that score to fall by one point is equivalent to a loss of $4.2 million in annual revenue for the average dealer.

That’s the bottom-line impact I was talking about.

If you identify a recurring problem, look closely at what is happening and see if you can determine a root cause of the problem. Is it people? Process? Technology? Once you know the root cause, you can get to the hard work of correcting the issue and eliminating future online complaints.

Third, you’ll also want to communicate the efforts you’re taking to improve your business to your customers, both current and potential.

Your customers need to feel like you know them, hear them and are in business to serve them. Consider a partnership with a vendor who provides a dedicated reputation specialist to investigate negative reviews, write and post personalized responses to all reviews with approval and push on-site reviews to dealership social media.

Show That You Care

This is how you directly influence the conversation about you for the better: by acknowledging customer feedback and being transparent about your ongoing work to improve your customers’ experience. People are impressed most by those businesses who demonstrate that customer satisfaction really does mean something to them.

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Don’t ignore consistent customer complaints about certain aspects of your dealership; they are performing you a service by pointing out where the cracks in your operation are.

Take the steps now to seal the cracks and steer your dealership to greater success.

Chris Walsh

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