Category Archives: The Internet Customer

What You Can Do About Disgruntled Bloggers

What can you do to counter anonymous or fictitious blogs and Websites attacking legitimate customer-driven dealerships like yours? One thing you do not want to do is stick your head in the sand. The latest studies show that 87-97 percent of customers do online research before visiting a dealership.
I am sure all of you have seen some or all of these recent statements and headlines:

– Consumer reviews and bloggers gain clout.

– Dealers must control disgruntled bloggers.

– Web reviews have more influence on auto dealer customers than location or previous customer loyalty.

– Forty-three percent of car and truck owners relied on reviews when choosing a company with whom to do business, and 21 percent of car and truck shoppers changed their dealership or repair shop preference selection after reading reviews.

And the worst one:

– Our dealership group is at the top of our factory’s CSI, but one Website shows us as the worst in their ratings.

What can you do to counter anonymous or fictitious blogs and Websites attacking legitimate customer-driven dealerships like yours? One thing you do not want to do is stick your head in the sand. The latest studies show that 87-97 percent of customers do online research before visiting a dealership.

So what can you do? Here are some important proactive actions that can help counteract the influence of negative blogs and reviews:

– Have your Website provider make or use a third-party, high-profile, professional Website for your customers to post their sales, service, and collision shop experiences.

– Make sure your customers are able to submit unlimited reviews as well as video clips for posting on this Website.

– The posting Website also needs to have the capability of posting printable custom coupons to be redeemed at your location for discounts as rewards for visiting your reviews or postings.

– This Website or page needs to show up under the following search terms which are the most commonly used on Google and other search engines: car dealership reviews, car dealer reviews, auto dealer reviews, car dealer ratings, car dealership ratings, auto dealers’ ratings, and auto dealership ratings.

– Exchange links with this Website.

– You need to be able to control and reserve the right to edit and review all postings.

– You need to keep a balance of favorable and mediocre postings.

– Any disgruntled reviews need to be forwarded to you and/or your managers for immediate action.

– Weekly, you need someone from your store to help guard your valuable reputation by bringing any unflattering postings from the following Websites to your attention: Google.com, Yahoo.com, Dealerrater.com, My3cents.com, Carfolks.com, Edmunds.com, and Ripoffreport.com.

In my next article I will have some great pointers from a prominent Web-savvy attorney on what you can do about disparaging blogs and postings on other Websites.
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Joe Henry is the founder of ACTautostaffing.com, MyInternetReputation.com, and CarDealershipreviews.us. He has served new and used dealers since 1998. He can be reached at 800-489-0536.

Whose Customer Is It?

The question of "whose customer is it?" can start hours of debate at most dealerships. When a customer walks on the lot with a printout from the Internet of one of your vehicles, whose customer is it? Most dealerships will say, if one of the floor salesman ups a customer who says they seen a car on the Internet, but did not contact the Internet Manager/Department, then it is the salesman’s customer and not the Internet Managers?

Even if the printout that the customer has contains the name of the Internet Manager, if the customer didn’t ask for the Internet Manager, then it is not the Internets deal. But dealerships that have this policy might want to look at it again. I am sure most salespeople are good at handling people, and would be able to overcome most objections. But what if a green pea, an old school salesperson or even your top salesperson approaches this customer, are they going to be able to answer the "Internet Questions"? A lot of floor salespeople have hardly been on their own dealerships website and know what it contains much less know what kbb.com contains, what nada.com contains, what Edmunds.com contains (especially their True Market Value).

I’m especially sure that most of the salespeople can give a good walkaround and have great product knowledge about the car they are selling or even be able to overcome objections about their trade-in. But are these salespeople able to educate the customer why nada.com is typically higher on trade-in value then kbb.com or your Black Book. And why nada.com typically has a $5000 – $7000 difference between trade-in and retail. Are they going to be able to explain, with no confrontation, why their trade-in does not fall under kbb.com "Excellent" condition and more like "Good" or even "Fair" condition.

Can they explain why your pre-owned vehicle might be listed higher then the "Suggested Retail Value" range that is listed in MSNautos.com. Also are they able to overcome objections of the customer getting "out of house" financing before they buy, like sites betthecarsalesman.com, carbuyingtips.com and any other car buying sites will tell them to do. Would they be able to explain why the invoice amount that you have and the one that the Internet gives is not the same (if your dealership has regional advertising). Will they be able to explain it to the customer that Edmunds.com says that 2% – 3% over dealers cost is a good deal and how does Edmunds explain how get to those numbers.

All of these questions, and plenty more, are your typical "Internet Questions". Who would you like to handle these customers? Would you rather roll the dice and hope that the person who handles the customer with the Internet printout can handle these typical "Internet Questions" or would you like to have these customers turned over to the Internet Manager that should be trained to handle these along with the other 25+ "Internet Questions"?

The Internet customer is a profitable market. Determining who would take this customer is worth your consideration.

The Click ‘N’ Order vs Click ‘N’ Brick vs Brick ‘N’ Mortar C

For the longest time, customers purchased items in one of two ways: either by walking into a store or mail ordering from a catalog. Well, in many cases, the store is still there, but the mail order catalog is slowly being replaced by the Internet. It’s less costly and can be updated more frequently by providing this information on the web, then having our poor mail carriers lug these heavy catalogs around, and reproduce them with the high cost of printing and stamps.

So, to help you understand where your customer future lies in relationship to the Internet, I’ve placed customers into three main categories, and attempted to provide a description of each.

Click ‘N’ Order Customers

Click ‘N’ Order customers usually purchase items based on price, information, and service. A dealership appealing to Click ‘N’ Order customers usually needs to provide all three or be so superior in one facet, like offering special internet pricing, that they don’t mind less concentration on the other two factors. In reality, many people don’t expect to necessarily save money by shopping online, especially by the time shipping costs are factored into the final price. They do expect value-added sellers, and they love buying from the comforts of their home. For example, auto dealerships that have online parts and accessory pages on their websites provide a great deal of information, selection, and customer service through their website, and this can appeal to many Click ‘N’ Order customers. Click ‘N’ Order customers expect their online experience to be fast and extensive, painless, with more options than Brick ‘N’ Mortar. If there are any problems with their online experience, they can immediately click away to another website. In a few words,Click ‘N’ Order customers expect speed, flexibility, and options; they are generally very savvy shoppers. Plus, they just have a lot of fun buying things in their pajamas and having them delivered directly to their front door in just a matter of days.

Click ‘N’ Brick Customers

The Click ‘N’ Brick customer is on the way to becoming a Click ‘N’ Order customer, but hasn’t reached the point of feeling comfortable doing financial transactions online. Though they find the Internet exciting and spend a lot of time surfing the web, they feel that putting a credit card online is unsafe. But they do love doing a lot of research to determine what and where to buy. The Click ‘N’ Brick customer will gather all the information on the vehicle of choice, print it out, and take it right to the dealership to begin the buying and negotiating process. It’s this fact alone that makes the Click ‘N’ Brick customer feel more special than the Brick ‘N’ Mortar Customer when they come into your dealership. They just know more and feel they have the upper hand when it comes to buying the vehicle. It used to be that salespeople hated to see these customers come into the dealership (like with their Consumer Reports) since they were more knowledgeable with facts and figures than the typical Brick ‘N’ Mortar customer. Sometimes they may even know more about the features of a vehicle and its competition than the salesperson (which isn’t a good thing!)

Brick ‘N’ Mortar Customer

Brick ‘N’ Mortar customers are a slightly different breed. They may not know how to search the internet, or may not even have a computer yet. If they do have a computer, they’re afraid to use it. They can and will take more time enjoying the “shopping experience.” A Brick ‘N’ Mortar customer is not as likely to leave an auto Dealership because there are a lot of customers in the showroom, as an Internet customer will click off your site if they don’t like the experience. A Brick ‘N’ Mortar customer at ABC Auto can’t search 10 other dealerships in 10 other states just to verify that ABC Auto has the lowest price while they are in the showroom. Once a Brick ‘N’ Mortar customer receives personalized attention, it is likely they will come back to the same place again. Brick ‘N’ Mortar customers like to “touch and feel” and are more likely to pick up parts and accessories they didn’t originally intend to purchase when they left home.

The descriptions for each might not be totally accurate with every customer, but I think you can see that there are differences with each, and they each have their own idea on how to shop. Since you already have a process in place for the Brick ‘N’ Mortar customer, it’s time to begin concentrating on the other two for increasing your future Internet sales.

The Customer Behind the Electronic-Up

What you need to know to close the deal

While using the Internet as part of the automotive buying process is at an all-time high, the percentage of new car shoppers who send an electronic lead remains low. In fact, two out of three online shoppers will never submit a quote request.1 Instead, most people will call or walk into the dealership to continue their shopping process. So what distinguishes a lead sender from the majority of online shoppers? What motivated them to send a lead? Knowing the answer to these questions will give you a better understanding of the customer behind the electronic-up, and may just be the information you need to close more business.

You’ve all been there. You get the email ding that lets you know you have a live one. A potential buyer is on the hook and has raised a hand to give your dealership the chance to sell a car. Like many salespeople, your natural inclination may be to assume the lead sender is ready to sign on the dotted line. You simply need to get them into your dealership, and you will be able to make the sale. You give them a quote and press hard for an appointment.

Here is where the sales process falls out of step with the experience the consumer expects. And when the process falls out of step, sales are left unclosed. In fact, nearly one in two car buyers who submit an Internet lead ultimately buy from a dealer other than those to which they submitted the lead.2

Having a better understanding of lead senders will help you to align your sales process and approach business on their terms. Knowing the prospect’s name, contact information and desired vehicle amounts to only part of the story. Understanding what customers expect after they submit a lead and incorporating this insight into your follow-up procedures will help you close the sales you may be inadvertently driving to competitors.

Winning over lead senders

A disproportionately high percentage of lead senders are time-intensive shoppers:

Automotive Internet Users (AIU) who submit a lead spend an average of 6.2 hours3 researching the vehicles they are considering vs. 4.4 hours4 for those AIUs who do not submit a lead. They also reach out earlier in the buying cycle with a simple goal: to eliminate options. Many of these shoppers are still doing their research and do not want to be rushed into an appointment; however, they are going to buy from someone once their information needs are met.

Winning strategy:

The most successful dealers begin their outreach within 30 minutes of receiving the lead, either online or, if possible, on the telephone. In working with the customer, they follow the three-step process that car shoppers experienced while submitting the lead. The Web �listens� to their needs, match-makes with appropriate services/products and offers a demonstration. By contrast, dealers often skip ahead to the final step. They ask the customer to visit the dealership to road test the vehicle and discuss purchase details without first establishing the comfort level car shoppers want. Handling this correctly from the start improves the odds you are the dealer they’ll sign with when they are ready.

Because 90 percent of AIUs go online before visiting any seller, and those same shoppers go online on average two months before visiting a seller5, dealer conversations with customers must be meaningful and ongoing. Just like the old joke about Chicago elections, you should follow-up early and follow-up often.

Lead senders are somewhat more likely to be dealerphobes (i.e., they are afraid of dealers.):

While they are your hottest prospects, in many cases lead senders are also the shoppers most resistant to doing business with a dealership. One in three lead senders are self-described �dealerphobes,�6 compared to nearly one in four non-lead senders. In these cases, softly probing to determine and enhance the shopper’s comfort level makes more sense than insisting they come to the store for answers.

Winning strategy:

Building trust upfront is key to winning over the dealerphobe. In your first response, take time to get to know customers, understand their needs and help them to learn more about your dealership. Take a few steps back to the beginning of the sales process. After first addressing the obvious questions (i.e., Do you have the vehicle? What is your best price?), the salesperson then offers information about the dealership (e.g., location and reputation) and asks softly probing questions about the shopper’s requirements.

Dealerships that follow this approach develop a level of trust with their customers and bring the desired transparency to the transaction. In turn, they can win the sale and, many times, the service, parts and accessories business as well. Such franchises, in effect, have customers who are afraid of every other dealership but them.

Believe it or not, price is not every shopper’s most important consideration:

Many dealers perceive price as a car shopper’s primary concern, but only 28 percent of lead senders consider themselves �highly price sensitive� in a J.D. Power and Associates survey.7 This is only slightly higher than the 22 percent of AIU non-submitters who are highly price sensitive. The bottom line is that even among shoppers with similar shopping behavior, they all have information needs that are a bit unique. Although the Internet is helping meet more information needs for more shoppers than ever before, listening rather than profiling is the best tactic a salesperson can take.

Winning strategy:

With the average MSRP for a new vehicle topping $25,000,8 car shoppers, in particular the AIUs who submit leads, are looking for the dealer who can deliver the most value (i.e., service, information and price) in the least amount of time.

Trainer Tip
By Ralph Ebersole of Cars.com
What to say in your initial contact with a lead submitter

In response to an email lead for a white, 2006 Honda Accord LX, for example, a successful salesperson might follow this approach:

[list:bs9egy61]Hello, [Customer Name]. My name is [Salesperson Name,] and I am the [Job Title] at [Dealership Name,] which has served [Community Name] for more than [Number] years. I’ve worked here for [Number] years as the [Job Title], and we pride ourselves on [Attribute 1, 2 and 3]. We have the white, 2006 Honda Accord LX you requested in stock, with an MSRP of [price]. I wonder, though, if you could tell me more about how you plan to use the vehicle. For example, we also have in stock a white, 2006 Honda Accord EX with a fuel-efficient V-6 engine that may be more to your liking. I look forward to discussing this vehicle with you soon. Again, my name is [Name] and I can be reached at [Phone Number] or [Email Address]. [/list:u:bs9egy61]
Or, if the vehicle is not in stock:

[list:bs9egy61]Hello, [Customer Name]. My name is [Salesperson Name,] and I am the [Job Title] at [Dealership Name,] which has served [Community Name] for more than [Number] years. I’ve worked here for [Number] years as the [Job Title], and we pride ourselves on [Attribute 1, 2 and 3]. Unfortunately, we do not have the white, 2006 Honda Accord LX you requested in stock, but we can arrange for you to see and road test a 2006 model in another color that is now on our lot with an MSRP of [price]. Should you be interested in purchasing the vehicle, we would be able to obtain the white Accord you want within a day or two at the most, unless you find that you like one that is available for immediate delivery. I look forward to discussing this vehicle with you soon. Again, my name is [Name] and I can be reached at [Phone Number] or [Email Address]. [/list:u:bs9egy61]
1 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study
2 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study
3 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study
4 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study
5 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study
6 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study
7 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study
8 J.D. Power and Associates 2005 New AutoShopper.com Study
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Written by Dennis Galbraith, J.D. Power and Associates

What Car Buyers Want

Timely, Accurate Response to Internet Inquiries Helps Win the Sale

When you receive a new-car inquiry from an online prospect, do you provide a quick, quality response that addresses the customer’s request? Terrific. The problem for car buyers — and the opportunity for you — is that many of your competitors do not. A high percentage of new-car lead senders participating in a recent Cars.com survey reported dissatisfaction with dealer follow-through. In many cases, these consumers say they received no answer or a reply that contained inaccurate or incomplete information. As a result, these ready-to-buy shoppers tell us that they took their business elsewhere, rewarding it to dealers who invested the time to provide a quote and help them find the right car. We know that the majority of quote requestors will buy a vehicle from someone; that someone could be you.

Consider Customers’ Concerns
No response. No price. No follow-up. And, ultimately, no sale.

Time and again, we heard these complaints from car buyers about their experience submitting a new-car quote request online. Although they spent a fair amount of time configuring the car they wanted, the responding dealers often sent little more than an automated email with a phone number for the customer to call. In essence, the study revealed that while the process worked smoothly for many shoppers, a significant amount of business was being left on the table.

Representative comments include:

[list:13nnq0lz]“I never was contacted by a sales rep. Incredible.”[/list:u:13nnq0lz]
Dealers with the highest close rates tell us that they respond to internet inquiries within an hour of receiving them. This initial email typically acknowledges receipt of the shopper’s request, provides information about the relevant car and commits to a telephone follow-up within the next several minutes. The purpose of the call is to confirm the customer received the email and to quickly review the details of the vehicle in which the shopper is interested. Unless the prospect wants to proceed with a purchase at this point, the best approach is to focus on answering any questions the person has rather than attempting to move the merchandise.

That isn’t to say you can’t sell the appointment or promote the dealership. In fact, this initial conversation is an ideal time to ease the buyer’s transition from the internet to your store. Begin by explaining how your sales process works and outline the next logical steps — which ultimately should include a test drive. Conclude with an agreement on how you will communicate going forward.

Do not underestimate the importance of this outreach. Among car buyers, more than one-fourth* cited a timely response as a motivating factor in contacting the dealer in the first place.

[list:13nnq0lz]“They tried to sell me a car that did not meet what I asked for.”[/list:u:13nnq0lz]
This approach, as you might imagine, falls flat with customers. Among car buyers, 27 percent* say the availability of the "exact vehicle that I want" led them to submit a lead through an online configurator or price request form.

That isn’t to say you can’t be creative in merchandising your inventory. To increase the likelihood of a sale, successful dealers tell us they offer information on three cars: the new car in which the prospect is interested and a similar certified used and a used vehicle if they are available. Suggesting these alternatives establishes a basis for a conversation going forward and provides the customer with options should payments or financing unexpectedly become an issue. Presenting these choices also demonstrates to prospects that you are interested in helping them find the right car rather than landing a quick sale.

[list:13nnq0lz]“Several dealerships … refused to give quotes over the phone/online and will only give price information once you are in the store. This defeats the purpose of the online quote request process.”[/list:u:13nnq0lz]
Some dealers prefer not to include pricing in this email; others include MSRP or a price range for the model selected. Some dealers offer their bottom-line, out-the-door price to encourage prospects to buy now. While each tactic has its merits, you must provide a price if the customer doesn’t answer your response within 24 hours. Rather than preventing the prospect from shopping the competition, failing to provide a price often backfires and motivates the customer to find out what other dealers have to offer.

Dealers who utilize these strategies recognize that the sales process begins when a car buyer takes an interest in their listings. The customer has identified a vehicle he or she believes to be appropriate and is looking for professional guidance. By using online configuration and quote request tools, they’re signaling to you a fear of the process that you can easily address and then use to your advantage. While many dealers perceive that these shoppers are only looking for the lowest price, the shoppers themselves say they are simply looking for a dealer they can trust and who will offer them a fair price.

In other words, the dealer who appropriately responds to the inquiry and works with shoppers will likely land the sale. Not only do you establish the level of credibility against which your competitors are now judged, but the value you add to the process and the vehicle often translates into higher gross and a favorable consumer experience that opens the door to repeat and referral business.

* JupiterResearch, U.S. Automotive Consumer Survey, 2007
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Written by Cars.com

Online Word of Mouth

Managing Your Reputation

In the car business, we all know the power of word of mouth. We’re often put on the path to more sales by our best customers — the ones who share their positive experiences with others and put their friends and family in our trust. But word of mouth can be equally damaging, especially when a customer who has had a bad experience shares his or her perspective with friends, neighbors and co-workers. Today, word of mouth is gaining steam and having a greater impact than ever. With the rise of social media and consumer-generated content online, shoppers have a broad platform from which they can share opinions and influence others’ buying decisions. Do you know what they’re saying about your dealership? The answer could be impacting your business.Consumer reviews have gained prominence as a fixture on most shopping websites in recent years. From travel to electronics, consumers are weighing in with feedback on their buying experience and the products they purchase. Popular online retailers such as Amazon.com and BestBuy.com make it easy for shoppers to see what other consumers think before they take the plunge and buy on their sites.

There are also entire sites dedicated to consumer reviews of products and services. At Yelp.com, for example, visitors are encouraged to reveal honest insights on local businesses and services, commenting on everything from martinis to mechanics. TripAdvisor.com is a must-visit site for millions of travelers who consult the site’s reviews before booking a vacation. It’s no surprise that with a purchase as large as an automobile, there are sites dedicated to rating the car-buying experience, including DealerRater.com, which allows car buyers to evaluate their dealership sales and service experience.

Consumers now seek out and expect to find consumer reviews as part of their online research and shopping process. According to a recent study, three out of four shoppers stated that it was extremely or very important to read customer reviews before making a purchase. And while expert reviews are also important, these shoppers prefer peer reviews over expert reviews by a 6-to-1 margin. [1]

The importance these reviews play in shoppers’ decisions about where and when to buy, combined with the ease with which consumers can now make their voice heard to a wide audience, make it imperative for dealerships to monitor and manage their online reputation. Experiences that were once shared in the local barber shop are now shared across the web, and search engines grant easy access to all. What’s being said about your dealership can either drive sales or divert buyers to your competitors. Staying on top of the conversation and implementing steps to positively influence the dialogue can set you apart from competitors and steer online buyers your way.

Know What Your Customers are Saying

Managing your reputation online starts by listening to the internet conversation and learning if consumers are, in fact, sharing opinions about your store. Given the vast online world, you may not be able to track every online mention, but staying on top of key comments is neither as time-consuming nor as difficult as you might think. Here are a few places to start:

[list:3o5ocfd0]– Scan the search engines: How many times have you gone to Yahoo! or Google and entered your own name to see what comes up about you in the search engines? Do you do the same for your store? If not, we recommend a regular search engine scan. Type variations of your store’s name into the engines, a practice that can often point you to online comments about your store.

– Set a date with DealerRater.com: Given its specialization, we recommend that internet sales managers and general managers alike keep a routine watch on DealerRater.com for comments about your store.
Check-out eBay Buyer Feedback: eBay Motors encourages customers to leave dealer feedback that can be read by your prospects. If you use the online auction site even just a few times a year, you’ll want to stay informed about what’s being said.

– Visit local guides: There are a variety of local directories, many of which feature ratings tools for local businesses. In addition to Yelp.com, check out sites such as Yahoo! Local and CitySearch.com to see how consumers rate your service.

– Monitor comments on blogs: Google and other services make it easy to track what’s being said on blogs with new search tools specifically designed for the blogosphere. A few of our favorites include Google Blog Search, Technoratti.com and BlogPulse.com. Use these sites just like you would a search engine to monitor what’s being said about your store in blogs. [/list:u:3o5ocfd0]
Take Feedback to Heart

There’s a lot you can learn from your customers, especially when you take time to listen. Now that you know what’s being said, whether it’s good or bad, you’ll want to take the feedback to heart and turn it into action.

[list:3o5ocfd0]– Share the findings: Find a forum within the dealership to share comments. Perhaps take time at a weekly staff meeting to review remarks customers have posted online. When the remarks are good, staff will feel rewarded and praised for a job well done. You can take this a step further by posting positive comments in the dealership as a motivator for your staff. Negative feedback also presents an opportunity for communication and reflection. It can be used to discuss where there is room for improvement. In some cases, you’ll encounter a no-win customer, which serves to remind staff that you may not be able to please everyone.

Don’t get defensive: Seeing negative comments about your store posted online can be difficult, particularly if you pride yourself on matching customers with the right car and selling the vehicle at a fair price. Keep in mind that most shoppers will understand that they are reading a one-sided account and will cut you some slack if the general tone of the remaining comments is favorable. You may be tempted to set the record straight by sharing your account, but you also run the risk of: a) appearing defensive, b) engaging in a public argument if the customer refutes your version of events and c) giving a negative review more attention than it might otherwise receive. In nearly every instance, the best response is to avoid being defensive and not to refute the customer. After all, “the customer is always right.” Instead, a simple apology will go a long way. By taking ownership in your response, you may gain ground with the customer in question. You’ll also earn credibility with others reading the comments.

– Make necessary adjustments to your sales and service process: Persistent negative feedback may be a strong sign that there is a problem with your process or your people. Since we know most consumers are inclined to leave positive reviews, a pattern of negativity is a sign that you may need to take a new approach. [/list:u:3o5ocfd0]
Influence Your Online Reputation

While consumers control the online feedback mechanisms, that does not mean you need to sit idly back and wait for them to dictate your message. You can play an active role in managing and influencing your online reputation.

[list:3o5ocfd0]– Encourage online feedback: Just as you would encourage customers to positively contribute to your CSI, encourage customers to go online and share their honest opinions about their experience. Many customers will take you up on the offer, and we find that they usually have great things to say. Let them be your online ambassadors, fueling traffic to your store based on their remarks. At Cars.com, for example, we’ve found that consumers overwhelmingly post favorable reviews about the vehicles they own or have previously owned. In fact, 84 percent of the reviews rate the car in question with a four- or five-star rating – with an average of 4.4 stars.

– Leverage credibility on your website and in your listings: Use positive customer reviews to your advantage. Include “testimonials” from satisfied customers who appreciated their experience at your store, plan to buy from you again and recommend you to their friends/family/colleagues. If your site is properly optimized for search engines, links to these favorable comments about your dealership will appear high on the results pages seen by prospects. These remarks give buyers a reason to choose your dealership. In addition to calling out favorable reviews, testimonials and comments, you’ll want to tell car shoppers what makes your dealership special. Discuss your business philosophy, community reputation and industry recognition; provide information about your dedicated, talented sales and service staff.

– Don’t fake it: The last thing you want to do, though, is add to the conversation by posting false compliments about your store or false complaints about your competitors. Taking this route may feel good at the time, but the dealers who do so frequently regret it. Sites such as DealerRater.com take these violations seriously: Not only are the offenders “called out” on the site, but they are punished. For each confirmed violation, no favorable ratings about their store will be published for three months. [/list:u:3o5ocfd0]
No one knows better than you the value of your store’s brand and its role in helping you sell cars. In return for the time and effort you spend managing your online reputation, you’ll likely recoup on this investment in myriad ways: Not only will you be well regarded in your market, but you now have a built-in mechanism to help you continually review your sales processes and ensure they match the customer experience you promise and customers expect.

[1] 2007 Survey by Bazaarvoice and Vizu Answers: Effect of Consumer Reviews
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Written by Cars.com

People Are Talking About Your Dealership Right Now

You may have read about dealerships being attacked online and blog posts leveling charges against stores and their treatment of customers. An industry publication just wrote about two dealerships that bore the brunt of upset customers. One customer posted a note on a blog saying a Mid-West dealership wouldn’t sell him a car for the winning bid price on eBay Motors. Before the dealer could respond to accommodate the customer, there were over one hundred pages of blog posts and most of them were directed against the dealership.

In New Jersey, the daughter of a customer stormed into the store with her video camera rolling and lambasted the manager for delivering a vehicle to her mother and then asking for the car back since the mother was not approved for the loan. She posted the video on YouTube and it was viewed over 122,000 times. This dealer didn’t do anything wrong. He spotted the car and when no lender could approve the transaction, he asked the customer to bring back the vehicle. In both cases damage was done to the dealer’s reputation.

Are dealers treating customers worse today than in the past? Absolutely not! Industry research indicates that customer satisfaction continues to increase. The problem is the Internet makes it easy for consumers to vent their frustrations against dealers. For less than $30, a consumer can register a domain and host a Website attacking a dealership. To see an example of one of these Website attacks go to http://www.myrtlebeachvw.com. This unhappy customer had a warranty claim denied and posted this attack site.

Be active in protecting your reputation.

More customers are sharing negative experiences online and usually the sites where they complain do not allow dealer feedback. So you can’t even defend yourself. You need to monitor what is said about you online. I suggest you sign up for free Google Alerts on google.com. Create a free account at Google and under their product offerings you will see their “Alerts.” You can enter your dealership’s name and the names of your competitors and anytime the name is mentioned on a Website, blog, or posting you will get an email with a link to that content.

If possible reply to accusations, contact the customer, and fix the situation. If the comment is on a site that allows you to reply, please do so. If the situation described by the customer was true, do not try and put the blame on the customer, but share your side of the story. Do not call the customer a liar, reply in a calm and positive tone. You do not want to make the situation worse.

Monitor known sites where dealer feedback and complaints often surface, such as RipOffReport.com, Dealerrater.com, MyDealerReport.com, and Edmunds.com.

Tell the world your problem resolution policy.

The first step to avoiding these issues is to develop a clear, simple policy for customer complaints. Every complaint, comment, or suggestion should be directed to a manager and addressed in a timely fashion. You may also want to consider presenting a card to every customer in the business office that states your policy and invites them to share any issues with a specific person at the dealership. If you let customers know you care about them and that they have recourse for any issues, you will negate about 98 percent of online complaints. Of course providing a great buying experience will need to be part of your process too. This policy could be called your commitment to customer satisfaction.

Provide a place to vent where you are part of the conversation.

If a customer wants to complain online, you need to make sure it is on a channel where you can participate. This allows you to reply, fix the issue, and turn an unhappy customer into an evangelist for your store. One of the channels I have been recommending to my clients is CarFolks.com. They are dealer advocates that truly want to help dealers and they do it by working with dealers and inviting all your customers to come in and say good things about their experience.

When customers leave your dealership, whether they are happy or disappointed, they talk about their experience with family, friends, and co-workers. Most customers leave your store happy, if they didn’t, you wouldn’t be in business. CarFolks.com offers dealers a place to harness all the goodwill from their happy customers and essentially provides a powerful promotion tool—word-of-mouth advertising.

When a customer posts any negative comments, dealers can respond and fix the issues and by giving every sales person a free microsite they use user-generated content to provide search engines with positive content for your dealership.

Dealers can’t afford to be lax in protecting their online reputation. It is critical to be proactive and develop plans to promote all the positive activities and events that are supported by the dealership. Take steps now to protect your online reputation and leverage all the positive things you and your sales team do every day.
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Sean V. Bradley is the founder and CEO of Dealer Synergy Inc., an international automotive training and consulting agency that specializes in full business development, CRM, Internet sales, owner retention, phone sales, special finance, and advertising/marketing. He can be reached at seanb@dealersynergy.com.

Stay Ahead Of Customer Reviews With Auto Review Sites

If you’ve ever shopped or visited online retail sites such as Amazon.com, Hotels.com, or ePinions, you’re likely familiar with the type of content independent, third-party reviews from customers can provide. In recent years, a few auto review sites have surfaced which allow auto dealership customers to voice their opinions—positive or otherwise; however, not all dealers are “chomping at the bit.”

Many dealers fear that a disgruntled customer could wreak havoc to their reputation, which is a reasonable concern, yet according to DealerRater.com there are far more positives than negatives—and here’s why. A recent Trend Briefing (http://www.trendwatching.com) report confirms that consumer review sites are growing at a faster rate than many industries can keep up with. The summary suggests that, “transparent tyranny,” or leveraging third party content for all to see, is going to be one of the bigger trends to affect our lives—and businesses—in 2009.

According to the DealerRater.com model, customers rate their dealership experience on a five point scale, with five as the top grade, and post their unfiltered comments for others to see. The site has already racked up an impressive 60,000 reviews since its introduction in 2002, 12 times more than any other auto review site currently on the market, and is heavily used across the nation. The upside to a review site for dealers is obvious. As customers watch their purchasing power shrink, they will be more selective in the purchases they make. These cautious consumers are more likely to visit a dealer who has earned excellent reviews rather than visit a competitor with a blemished record. In short, better reviews mean additional profits for the dealership. Plus, dealers can use the site as a marketing tool and include their DealerRater page link with introductory emails or leverage the review page to appear when a consumer searches online for dealerships in their area.

While a positive post could mean winning a sale for a dealership, what does DealerRater do for dealers who receive negative feedback? According to the company, every dealership has the opportunity to reply publicly to a negative review, regardless of whether they are a DealerRater Certified Dealer or not. Membership does have its privileges, however. Certified dealers benefit from additional services that can help turn a negative into a positive. When a negative post about a Certified Dealer is submitted, an email alert is sent to the dealership. The dealer is then invited to begin a conversation with the disgruntled reviewer in a private dealer panel; the dealer then receives a grace period of two weeks to respond and turn the negative review into a positive experience before the review appears on the public site. How many times in life do we get a chance for a do over?

DealerRater strongly believes that opening up the forum to all comments enables a dealership to objectively determine their strengths and weaknesses as a company, as well as improve their overall operations and customer service. By using the feedback to provide a better customer experience, dealerships are able to protect their reputation and expand their businesses. Word of mouth travels fast, but word over the Internet travels much faster—and farther. DealerRater.com helps consumers and dealers get the word out. For more information, please visit http://www.DealerRater.com.
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Written by Cameron Healey

Take a Walk on the Buyer’s Side

Seeing Your Store Through the Customers Eyes Drives Sales Success

The old adage about getting to know someone by walking a mile in his or her shoes holds true with car shoppers. If you want to understand how your online advertising and internet sales processes win business for your store — or drive it to your competitors — begin by taking a walk in your shoppers’ shoes. Read to learn more and then get online to see firsthand what online buyers see when they shop your store. < learn more

In the online world, your listings, your website and your online sales process all contribute to buyers’ impressions of your store. Online shoppers are often eliminating dealers from their consideration set based on the information they find and the responses they receive to inquiries. At a time when the nearest competitor is a quarter-inch away — and no longer only across the street or down the road — small details can make or break the deal. You can no longer afford to be out of step with what car buyers expect and what other stores are doing.

So what impression do buyers get when they shop your store online? Are you putting your best foot forward? To find out, we recommend taking a walk in your shoppers’ shoes to see your store from their view. You may be surprised by what you see.

First Things First: Examine Your Listings

Remember, from the customer’s perspective, it’s all about the car and finding the dealer who can help you find the right one. If the customer merely wanted your phone number and an invitation to call — during normal business hours, no less — he or she could simply look you up in the Yellow Pages.

What this advice means in practical terms is that your listings must accomplish two objectives: First, they should fully merchandise the vehicle. Second, they should sell the value of buying from your store.

In considering how effectively your store is positioning each vehicle, begin with the quality and quantity of the pictures included with the ad. Is the car shown from every angle so the shopper can determine its condition? Are interior photos included so the customer can both see the condition and confirm whether there is enough passenger and cargo capacity? Also, are you literally showing the car in its best light? For maximum impact, images should be taken from an area of your store that is well lit and free from visual distractions.

From there, you’ll want to be sure your contact information is accurate. Does the ad contain the correct address and phone number? Are emails being routed to the proper individuals or an employee who left your store six months ago? Perhaps I’m asking the obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many times we see fixes to this area alone resolve concerns we’ve heard dealers express about the quantity and quality of inquiries they receive.

What about your sell copy? When customers look at your listings, they want to read more about the vehicle than a repeat of the vehicle identification number decoder. Particularly with used vehicles, shoppers want to know what is unique or noteworthy about the vehicle. They also are looking for direction on why they should buy from your store.

To add some appeal to your seller’s notes, consider the following questions and include these details as appropriate.

[list:342f7wlc]- Is it equipped with an aftermarket audio or suspension system?
– Has the engine and/or transmission been rebuilt or modified for added performance?
– Was the vehicle properly maintained? Do you have all of the service records?
– Is it a one-owner car?
– What is your business philosophy (e.g., “service after the sale” or “area’s largest selection”)? What kind of industry recognition has the store received; what is your community reputation? [/list:u:342f7wlc]
Last, but certainly not least: Consider the quality of the ad itself. Carefully read the listing to be sure that grammar, punctuation and spelling are correct. Details matter to car buyers, and you can just as easily lose a sale for failing to present a professional image as you can for any other reason.

Is the Price Right?

There’s no denying that price plays an important part in any transaction, especially with a big-ticket item such as a car. What is critical to remember, though, is that car buyers are more concerned with paying a competitive price than with paying the lowest price or , of course, the highest price. In fact, the No. 1 priority for most consumers today is finding the right car; they understand the depreciation cost far exceeds the benefit of saving a few hundred dollars but purchasing the wrong vehicle.

The reason car buyers ask about price is that we’ve conditioned them to ask about price. In thinking about this question, put on your own consumer hat for a moment. When you ask a vendor whether you’re getting the best price on a product you’re considering, aren’t you really checking to be sure you’re getting a fair deal?

If your store’s prices are in line with the competition, say so. If your store’s prices are higher than the competition, explain why.

Whether it’s a showroom sale or an internet sale, your ability to maintain gross reflects your confidence in the vehicle’s price, your ability to sell the value of buying that car from your store and your understanding of how and why your price truly is both competitive and the best.

Many dealers, for example, offer an extended warranty with used cars or include two years of free scheduled maintenance for new cars but fail to mention these programs in their ads. If you offer these incentives, be sure they’re included in everything the prospect sees and touches.

How do you determine where you are with your pricing? In the old days, we would have taken after-hours walks of our competitors’ lots — a chore eliminated by the internet. On automotive shopping sites such as Cars.com, you can easily learn how your pricing stacks up by searching your area for the vehicles you have in stock and ranking the results based on price. You also can access market-based reports that compare the price on your vehicle to the market average for that make/trim level combination.

Mystery Shop Your Store

Other businesses — restaurants and hotels, especially — frequently hire other companies to provide undercover shoppers who a buy a meal or an overnight stay, for example, and report on the experience. These findings are then sent to the management team with an eye toward customer satisfaction and ongoing improvement.

Even if your store doesn’t have money in the budget to work with an outside firm or isn’t open to this approach, you can mystery shop your store. Simply visit your dealership’s website or a third-party automotive shopping site it uses to advertise listings and submit an online request for information. Regardless of whether you work at a franchise or an independent dealership, this tactic is sure to provide a wealth of data.

[list:342f7wlc]- How much time passed before you received a response?

– What was the quality of the response? Did you receive an autoresponder acknowledging the request you sent or a personalized email that answered your questions and provided information on the store? Were the spelling, grammar and punctuation correct in the message? Did it enhance or undermine the dealership’s professional image?

– What kind of follow-up attention did you receive? Did the salesperson include in the initial email a promise to call you — and then follow through? How many days passed before attempts to make contact with you stopped? [/list:u:342f7wlc]
Keep asking yourself: If I were an in-market shopper receiving this email, or this series of emails, am I getting the information needed to make an informed buying decision? Would I want to buy this car from this dealership, or would I be inclined to give the competition a try? Very often, what we’re not doing to try to win the customer’s business costs us the sale.

Consider the Competition

What does your competition do or have that you don’t? You won’t know until you check.

Just as it’s no longer enough to advertise your listings on the internet, it’s no longer enough to do what everybody else is doing on the internet. As with your offline advertising, winning more than your fair share of deals hinges on how well you stand out from your competitors.

Points to consider include:

[list:342f7wlc]· Pictures. If your competitors show only one or a few images of each vehicle, you can show more. Sites such as Cars.com allow you to include up to 32 photos that help you merchandise the vehicle and demonstrate its condition and capabilities. It’s one thing to say the engine has low miles and another thing to include a picture that shows how pristine it is.

· Video. If a picture tells a thousand words, video tells the full story. Not only does video add visual interest to your ad, but it also allows you to include a voiceover to discuss the vehicle and highlight its special features. Many stores strengthen the impact of their videos by incorporating a brief segment at the beginning and ending of each clip to market the dealership and outline its business philosophy.

· Bridge the gap: Recognizing that the sales process begins online with internet advertising, some stores are looking to ease the transition from the web to the store. To do so, they’re including pictures of their managers, sales staff, service personnel and finance team as a point of introduction. Customers typically then feel more comfortable making contact with you to get the information they need and more at ease when they visit.[/list:u:342f7wlc]
Revisit Your Website

Of course, no journey in the shopper’s shoes can be complete without a stop at your own store’s site. Once you’ve determined how you fare on automotive shopping sites, it’s time for a good look in the proverbial mirror. In addition to all the points outlined above, be sure to take your website for a full test drive that puts it through all of its paces. Don’t be shy about comparing it alongside the competition.

Begin with the design itself. As with a dashboard in a vehicle, are the controls sensibly placed and intuitive to use? Do they work? A “Specials” link that leads you to an out-of-date, nonexistent or perpetually “under construction” page, for example, shapes buyers’ impression of your store and their interest in doing business with you.

In a similar vein, are your store’s address and phone numbers (e.g., sales, service and finance) easy to find — on each of your site’s pages — and current? Do you include maps and directions to your store? Are your business hours listed? If you feature your full inventory, are you including multiple photographs, video and descriptive sell copy with each listing? Is your inventory up to date? Can shoppers find your specials?

Dealers frequently tell us they generate their highest-quality leads from their websites. For stores looking to improve their performance, just being sure you’re getting the basics right on your own site can yield worthwhile results.

In the past few years alone, internet advertising has evolved from a nice-to-have to a must-have tactic that allows you to promote your store, merchandise your listings and connect with in-market shoppers on a 24/7 basis. As we’ve seen, capitalizing on this investment requires ongoing care, attention to detail and mindfulness of how well customers’ expectations for your online listings and store’s website match their experience. The rub is that most buyers will express their dissatisfaction not with a phone call or an email indicating the problem, but with a purchase from your competitor. Only by seeing what customers see — ideally before they would have seen it — can you be sure they see your store at its best.
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Written by Cars.com

Taking Control of the Internet Customer

As we all know the Internet Customer seems to be the hardest ones to control. There is so much information out there for them to gather and the more purchase requests they submit the more options they have. The dealer is at the mercy of the Internet Consumer.

But here is a way to get a little more control of them.
YOUR website. There have been many discussions on what information to put on your website, price or no price, MSRP and/or invoice, flash or no flash, pop-ups or no pop-ups, the list is never ending. But here is a question for you, what is the customer looking for? Where do the customers go when they are looking for information, price, MSRP, invoice, comparisons, reviews and specs?

They visit all of these 3rd party lead providers, get the information they are looking for and then submit a lead that, guess what, you pay for. So why do dealerships fight to put this information on their websites. We know the customer is going to get this information but we don’t know what information they are getting. Is MSNautos, Edmunds, AutoTrader, Autobytel, Cars.com, so on and so on, giving our customers the accurate information? Or is our customer visiting sites like beatthecarsalesman.com or buyingtips.com and getting more information then they were looking for and more then we care for them to have?

Here is how you can get control.
If you can get the customer to visit your website first and you are able to provide all the information they are looking for they will not leave your site and submit a lead on the 3rd party website. Plus you have control on what the customer sees.

Direct link your customers into informative sites that YOU trust. Companies like Chrome, Intelliprice, TestDrive.com, Kelly Blue Book and even Edmunds T.M.V. (for new and used), all provide pretty accurate information. What I mean by pretty accurate is they are not going to be 100% but they are accurate enough to get by with, either way if you let your customers look around on the web for answers these are sites they are most likely to come across so why fight it.

When I first started selling on the internet in 1995, internet customers were buying pretty quick because they already kicked the tires and butted heads with the salesperson (the Internet was limited with accurate information) and they were just looking for a good deal. Now everyone gets pretty accurate information online so customers are "kicking their mouse" before tires and are taking more time to purchase. So make sure you have enough information on your website to keep them coming back for more.