‘No Silver Bullet’ for Car Dealers Aiming at Awesome Reviews

DealerRater.com CEO Gary Tucker tells how to get good online reviews and how to get bad ones.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

April 20, 2015

5 Min Read
Lauded dealers provide great customer experiences Tucker says
Lauded dealers provide great customer experiences, Tucker says.

Some things aren’t going away. Like gravity. And customers’ online dealership reviews. Those are here to stay, says DealerRater.com CEO Gary Tucker.

When such reviews started cropping up, they horrified many dealers. Some still bridle at the prospects of an unreasonable customer getting an open platform to air complaints that might otherwise carry little weight.

Yet, most dealership reviews are positive. Many of those that aren’t offer dealers a chance to spot an operational deficiency and address it, says Tucker.

Each month, about 40,000 new- and used-car buyers in the U.S. and Canada post DealerRater assessments. The website has tallied more than 1.7 million consumer reviews. Many shoppers use them as third-party sources.

WardsAuto talks to Tucker about how to get good and bad reviews, the power of storytelling in reviews and how a growing number of customer evaluations now focus on individual dealership employees. Here’s an edited version of the Q&A.      

WardsAuto: What’s a new trend in dealership reviews?

Tucker: We are seeing a connection at the person level with a strong number of reviews of individual salespeople and service writers. It’s moving from product to price to place to person.

An AutoTrader survey said 73% of people polled indicated a willingness to driver farther for a great salesperson. People are coming in asking for salespeople by name because of a DealerRater review.

WardsAuto: Presumably if someone is asking for a particular salesperson, it increases the chances of closing a deal.

Tucker: A dealer was telling me about a young salesperson who’s getting great reviews and posting great sales numbers.

WardsAuto: If dealers are trying to brand their store, would they not dislike ratings that focus on individual employees rather than the facility itself?

Tucker: A lot of dealers are concerned. They don’t want the individuals outshining the store. But you can still brand your store and have reviews of individuals. Especially if that sells more cars.

WardsAuto: Wouldn’t other salespeople resent customers asking for a co-worker by name? Doesn’t that cut into their action?

Tucker: In the case of the young salesman I mentioned, other employees were motivated to get customers posting online reviews about themselves, too.

WardsAuto: What happens when a lauded salesperson quits and goes to work at another dealership?

Tucker: There are ways to protect the dealer. If a salesperson leaves, the reviews don’t go with him. The reviews stay on the dealer’s listings. Auto dealerships have always relied on referrals. In the old days, it was an over-the-fence conversation between neighbors. Today, it’s online and scalable.   

WardsAuto: How do you get a good review? Is there a formula of doing this, this and that, and bingo, you’ve got yourself a 5-star rating?

Tucker: There’s no silver bullet. But dealers who get good reviews do a good job taking care of the customer. Transparency benefits them. For other dealers not up to speed, transparency can cause pressure. Like it or not, transparency is here. Trying to hold it back is like trying to hold back gravity.

How to Get Bad Reviews

WardsAuto: How do you get a bad review?

Tucker: Generally by mistreating people.

WardsAuto: So either way, it’s about treatment?

Tucker: Dealerships with good reviews provide great experiences, show the product well, help with the financing, expedite the trade-in and engage with the customer. They are ready when the customer arrives. They know where the customer is in the buying process, and work from there.

We stress dealers can learn from reviews. They can find out what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong, and fix that. We offer a resolution process that allows a dealer to work with an unhappy customer.

WardsAuto: One sure way to get a wonderful review is to give the store away, but obviously that’s not a recommended business model.

Tucker: For generations, some dealers have tried to buy customers, but taking care of them is more effective.

A survey said price was not a major consideration for a majority of car shoppers. It was a consideration – as a dealer, you have to be competitive – but it wasn’t the top consideration. People are more concerned with being treated well and fairly. Some people definitely are price-centric. They are a vocal minority that gets a lot of attention.

WardsAuto: You encourage reviewers to do more than just give star ratings. You want them to write something, right?

Tucker: Yes, it’s storytelling. We have a 25 word minimum. That gets the customer telling a story beyond, “Nice dealership.” They get chugging along. The average review is 104 words.

WardsAuto: Is there a maximum?

Tucker: No.

WardsAuto: What’s the longest review on record?

Tucker: That’s a good question. We’ve never determined that. But every so often, you’ll see a manifesto. Overall, thoughtful reviews that describe an experience offer more valuable content.

WardsAuto: Are automakers getting more involved in helping their dealers get good ratings?

Tucker: In general, OEMs are coming on board. Historically, they have focused on their own consumer satisfaction indexes, but those have limitations.

WardsAuto: Their customer-satisfaction surveys largely are numerical ratings but that data is easier to crunch. How do you do a data analysis of storytelling?

Tucker: Free-form text is different, but there are search-word tools that spot negative and positive words. Interestingly, “highly recommended” must be qualified, because it can be in either a positive or negative context, as in “I highly recommend this dealership” opposed to “I highly recommend not buying from this dealership.”

And some people in the same review give multiple-star ratings yet poor write-ups.

WardsAuto: Dale Carnegie said: “The thing you must remember about humans is they’re not creatures of logic.” This seems like an example of that.

Tucker: People are people.

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