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If negative online reviews are plaguing your dealership, customer service issues could be to blame.

Your best salesperson is wrapping things up with a satisfied buyer, and you can’t help but overhear their conversation.

“Thank you so much! I’m really happy with the service here. I’m glad I didn’t pay attention to the negative online reviews,” says the buyer.

“Negative reviews? Where’d you see those?” your surprised salesperson inquires.

“Oh, there were quite a few. I think I saw the reviews on Yelp and Cars.com,” she replies.

Your heart sinks. You’ve been so busy at the dealership that you haven’t been keeping up with your online reputation. You just assumed everything was fine and didn’t think to check any online review websites. Could they be contributing to the slow couple of months your dealership has been having?

According to recent statistics, 86 percent of people will hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative online reviews. That’s a huge amount of people. And it doesn’t require a ton of negative reviews, either. Just one deeply negative review in a sea of good reviews could be enough to make potential shoppers go somewhere else.  Now that you’re aware of the problem with your dealership’s online reputation and the pattern of poor reviews, you need to figure out how to nip it in the bud as soon as possible — and the primary solution may lie with your dealership customer service.

Identify your problem areas when it comes to dealership customer service

01-how-to-improve-dealership-customer-service-after-a-series-of-bad-reviews-01First, visit every online review site you can think of that could contain reviews for your dealership. Popular sites include Yelp, Google Local, Cars.com, BBB, and even your dealership’s Facebook page. Read every single review, and then read them again. Take notes, and write down the major issues mentioned in each post. When you’re done, review your notes and look for reoccurring themes.

  • Do the customers complain about your service department and how the employees never explain why certain repairs need to be done?
  • Is your sales team frequently condemned for being too pushy and inauthentic?
  • Are buyers frustrated with poor response time and zero follow up from customer service or sales?

List all of the complaints and rank them in order of priority. Your top priorities should be issues that are mentioned the most, or complaints that have the potential to harm your business (like those that could result in legal action). You can’t solve all your problems at once, but you can certainly identify, prioritize, and create an action plan.

How to apologize to unhappy reviewers

02-how-to-improve-dealership-customer-service-after-a-series-of-bad-reviews-01While you begin to address your dealership’s shortcomings internally, you should also take the time to apologize to each reviewer individually, if you feel it’s appropriate. Read each review and talk to the members of your staff who were specifically named or may have been involved. Get their sides of the story to understand the full scope of what you’re dealing with.

After a little investigation, you could determine that the problem was not your dealership’s fault. You don’t want to say it that way, though. You want the customer to feel validated, but you don’t want to throw your business under the bus completely if it doesn’t deserve to be there (remember, other potential customers will be reading your answer). Usually, the beginning of your response will go one of two ways:

“I’m sorry we messed up.” = Yes, we made a mistake.

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” = Your feelings are valid, but we don’t necessarily feel the same.

Go on to explain your side of the story in a friendly, non-confrontational manner. Tell the customer you’d love to make it up to them — it could be something as simple as offering them a free oil change. The goal is to clear the air, make your customers feel heard and appreciated, and try to turn things around.

Your dealership customer service should be memorable — in a good way

03-how-to-improve-dealership-customer-service-after-a-series-of-bad-reviews-01All types of customers write reviews, but usually, you’ll find the most posted by those individuals who are really happy or really disappointed. That means if your dealership customer service is generally pretty good, it’s probably not enough to get glowing reviews. You don’t want pretty good — you want outstanding.

Take your bad online reviews as a lesson and completely overhaul how your dealership handles customer service in all departments. Put yourself in the customers’ shoes, study local dealerships that get the best reviews, and get input from your employees. Create and establish new policies that ensure your customers are getting the absolute best customer service possible.

Remember, it’s not just about the “big stuff”; it’s in the details, too. For example, when your customer buys a car, take a picture of them with it. When you mail them a thank you note (yes, a real thank you note — not an e-mail), include a print of the picture for them to keep. It’s a nice gesture that’s simple to execute and can go a long way with your clientele.

You can’t take back past failures, but you can move forward in a positive way, earn better reviews, and hopefully begin to balance out those negative ones.