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Leveraging Online Reviews

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Creating positive word-of-mouth advertising has always been a marketing cornerstone for successful tire dealers. Over the years, savvy dealers have fine-tuned their customer service efforts to maximize the potential for positive publicity from such brand ambassadors.negative-reviews-sidebar

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It’s the same in today’s digital age – just multiplied exponentially. Where a satisfied customer was once able to sing your shop’s praises to only family, friends and a handful of co-workers, today he or she can reach an infinite number of people through a single positive online review.

Conversely, a dissatisfied customer can create doubt about your business in the minds of thousands with the click of a mouse button or tap of a mobile screen.
Your customers are leaving online reviews – whether or not your shop is actively seeking and managing them. Rather than leave your online reputation to chance, consider creating a system to use this feedback to your advantage.

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As proof they are here to stay, a recent survey by BrightLocal found that more than 85% of consumers use online customer reviews to make purchasing decisions, according to John Taylor, president of Nashville-based JTMarCom, a marketing agency specializing in online marketing for the tire and auto service industries.

“Online reviews are unbiased opinions so consumers feel as if they can trust them,” adds Alpio Barbara, owner of Redwood General Tire, located in Redwood City, Calif. “That’s why online reviews weigh heavily on many consumers’ decisions when picking an auto shop for their vehicle.”

For Oahu, Hawaii-based Lex Brodie’s Tire Co., 39% of online leads come to the shop’s website from Yelp, according to president Scott Williams.

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“Even if folks go to Yelp simply for the maps and hours, they will see your Yelp star rating,” he adds. “If it’s poor, it’s bound to get them to think twice; if it’s four or higher, your company’s attractiveness is verified.”

Many Different Options

While Yelp and Google may be the most well known, there are other customer review sites to consider, Taylor notes.

Angie’s List includes reviews of tire and auto service companies. Because users have to pay for membership, the reviews on Angie’s List are typically well thought out. The reviews cannot be anonymous, and companies are allowed to respond to reviews posted about them.

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Mechanic Advisor (mechanicadvisor.com) aims to help consumers find the right mechanic through location information, reviews and ratings.

Similar to Google+ Local, Yahoo! Local lets users post reviews of businesses with a five-star rating system, Taylor says, adding, “Yahoo! still receives about 13.5% of search engine share, so obtaining some favorable reviews on Yahoo! couldn’t hurt.”

He notes that Insider Pages and Citysearch are two additional local user-generated review sites that operate on a five-star rating system. “Both sites’ results get indexed in the search engine results page, meaning a consumer may find a review of your business on one of these sites through organic search,” Taylor says.

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“There’s also a place on Facebook now for fans to leave recommendations of your business,” he adds. “While your entire timeline is really a place for consumers to leave reviews, the Facebook Recommendations tab can really stand out and showcase positive reviews.”

According to Williams, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) recently added a review format. “We value and have partnered with the BBB because they help resolve and mediate any issues. We feel Yelp is okay for smaller purchases, but for larger purchases – such as auto repairs and tire sales – customers are better served by checking a company out on their local BBB.”

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Among the most popular sites, Google offers a business more control when it comes to the content available online, according to Barbara.

“Through both search engine optimization and AdWord campaigns, a business can portray their business in any way they like,” he says, adding that Yelp is different because custo­mers control content. “This makes it harder to maintain a positive presence on Yelp. However, the advantage to this is that consumers know that Yelp is an unbiased source, so they trust the content more than they would, perhaps, a Google ad.”

Rack Up More Reviews

Because of the hefty influence that positive online reviews carry, collecting as many as possible can only benefit your business.

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“Our philosophy is that if we do good work and take good care of our customers, good reviews will follow,” Barbara says. “However, it never hurts to mention it to a customer who you know you’ve had a good experience with. Sometimes, as the customer is leaving and telling us how well we did, we will mention Yelp and ask them to leave a review if they have some free time.”

Lex Brodie’s takes a digital approach, sending customers thank you emails that ask recipients to rate the dealership’s services, Williams says.

“Don’t be bashful about asking your customers to leave a review – and make it easy for them to do so,” advises Taylor. “Just don’t ask them for a positive review or incentivize them for a review, which will definitely get you into trouble with Yelp and Google.”

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He notes that many customers will give a positive review without being rewarded, but you need to make it easy – by sharing a link to your shop’s page on Google Places, Yelp and/or Facebook, for example.

“Other ideas include printing a link to your online review profiles on your sales receipts, or placing a banner at the exit of your store requesting an online review and providing an easy URL to remember,” Taylor says. “The URL could go to a special landing page with multiple links to your review sites.

Yelp’s Darnell Holloway, head of local business outreach, says that although it may seem counterintuitive, it’s best to let your customers know about your Yelp presence, but stop short of asking for a review.

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“There is an important difference between aggressively asking for reviews and driving awareness about your business on Yelp,” he explains. “For example, if you post a sign telling every customer to ‘review me on Yelp,’ or even go as far as offering financial incentives for reviews, which is against our terms of service, it can cause people to feel as if they’re being used as a promotional vehicle. This may leave some with a negative impression of your business.”

With that in mind, he offers some strategies designed to increase engagement without being overly solicitous:
•Use Yelp signage, like a “Find us on Yelp” image, on your shop’s website, or print it out for your front counter or window.
•Update your email signature and business cards to include a Yelp link and icon, respectively, with the words, “Find us on Yelp.”

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Holloway notes that in order to optimize your shop’s business page on Yelp, start by unlocking a free business account (at biz.yelp.com) and perform the following steps:
•Complete your profile by adding services offered, hours, a link to your shop’s website and photos.
•Post a check-in offer. When mobile Yelp users check-in, they can let their friends on Yelp see what business they’re patronizing. They also have the option of sharing their check-ins on Facebook and Twitter. A check-in offer is a great way to encourage your current customers to use this feature more often.
•Use the graphs in your business account to help monitor the customer leads that Yelp drives to your business and calculate the estimated revenue these leads can bring to you.

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Dealing With the Negative

As stellar as your dealership’s customer service may be, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. Even a simple misunderstanding or an incorrectly perceived action can lead to a negative review – therefore, it’s important to know how to respond.

First, don’t panic or lose your cool. “Most consumers nowadays are savvy enough to look at several reviews and not base their decision on one review. Fake reviews are possible and there are some people who just like to complain,” Taylor notes. “Your goal is to outweigh any negative reviews with a bunch of good ones.”

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He recommends taking a moment to calm down before responding, but to do so somewhat promptly.

“Instead of responding in anger, let the customer know that you take great pride in your customer service and want to make it right with them,” Taylor says.

“State your willingness to help the disgruntled customer online and then take the conversation offline to handle the details. Most consumers know that mistakes happen and will think highly of a company that quickly and correctly responds to a negative complaint – in fact, some of your most loyal and vocal customers may be ones that were disgruntled at first.”

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“If you find yourself getting too emotional over your reviews, you may not be the best person to res­pond,” advises Holloway. “Try appointing an office manager or employee you trust as the point person to manage your online reviews.”

Barbara says staff at Redwood General responds to every single Yelp review – privately thanking customers who leave positive reviews and publicly resolving negative reviews.

“We always urge the customer to reach out to us so we can find a solution to their issue, and in general this has helped us get a few negative reviews removed, or even re-written by the customer,” Barbara adds.

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Williams says Lex Brodie’s upgraded its Yelp status in order to add a call to action button that reads, “Not 100% happy? Contact president Scott to resolve.”

“This is designed to cut off upset customers by giving them the opportunity to go to the top to get frustration resolved,” he explains. “When folks go to Yelp to post a negative review, they are upset and emotional…they want to tell the world how upset they are right then. This button is there in the hope that customers will give us a chance to resolve their concern before they blast away.”

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When a negative review does get posted, “We are very sincere and apologetic and go above and beyond to offer a resolution or a way to turn their experience around,” Williams adds. “Hopefully we can turn them around, and also folks who are checking us out will see how we respond to customer feedback and see that we are a class act that can be trusted and relied on.”

Like all things in the digital realm, managing online reviews takes time and energy – but will pay dividends when it comes to defending your dealership’s online reputation.

Start by developing your response strategy and sign up for free accounts or business pages with some of the review sites mentioned above. When it comes down to it, managing online reviews is just an extension of your brick-and-mortar customer service – treat it as such, and you can’t go wrong.

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