Online reviews may be scaring traffic from your doors

“Horrible service.” “This place is a total joke.” “Absolutely horrid customer service.” If you heard these phrases spoken about your dealership, you’d likely be shocked and feel a call to action. Yet these comments are being made, and not in private, but online.

While Googling a dealership lately, I found it easily on a search page, but just before I clicked on its website, something else caught my eye — a two-star rating out of a possible five stars on its Google Places page. This blew my mind, so I clicked on the link that said the average of 11 reviews of the dealership brought the two-star assessment.

What I found on the page was shocking. Yes, there are two five-star reviews from long-time loyal customers. However, those voices are drowned out by nine one-star reviews. “Any reputable company that authorizes this place as a dealer has obviously not checked it out or has very low standards,” reads one review. Another says, “Service was horrible, I don’t recommend them at all.”

I’m not pointing this out to knock this specific dealer. In fact, I found an average 1.5-star rating and a two-star rating at two dealerships that I was pretty surprised to see them from. “If you like the used car salesman approach, you’ll like this place,” a review of one of the dealerships said. “I’m done with them, I wouldn’t buy a shoelace from them at this point,” read a scathing review of another.

These dealerships could have high-ranking customer service; they could be top local performers, however, people like to complain. It’s seldom that someone will be so fired up about a retailer that they’ll rush online to write a positive review. On the other hand, if they’re angered, it doesn’t take much to funnel that ire into a detailed one-star rant about their experience.

So what’s a dealer to do? First, Google your dealership and take ownership of your Google Places page. Any business can add its address, phone number, website, hours of operation, photos and videos free of charge. Then monitor the page. There’s a box under “Edit this place” that allows anyone from the dealership to receive email alerts of updated comments on each Places page. Third, encourage loyal customers to post positive reviews. As we learned in Neil Pascale’s column in our March issue, writing fake reviews is illegal and costly if caught, but giving a nudge to your twice-monthly shopper could encourage goodwill on your site.

Finally, be active in responding. It’s not hard to figure out who wrote some of the reviews. For example, an April 4 review of one dealership from a user named Tom mentioned what type of work the dealership had done and how much he spent. Most customers likely post their frustrations within days of their visits, and a quick search in the DMS or a chat with the service staff could probably narrow down the identity of the dissatisfied party. Once that’s discovered, work to reconcile the issue with the customer. I recently wrote a story about service recovery that can be read here. Any issues should be addressed, preferably off-line, by a call from a service writer or someone in upper management before it becomes a larger issue. To avoid mentioning the review, simply call to ask for a customer’s feedback, especially seeking opinions on what they deemed were problem areas.

Your reputation as a dealer is an integral part of staying in business, and once it gets tarnished, it can be hard to recover. Staying proactive might secure the future of your dealership.

Liz Hochstedler is the associate editor of Powersports Business, a trade magazine for the powersports industry. She reports on the powersports industry through Powersports Business’ varied media, including in the magazine and online. She assembles the brand’s twice-a-week e-news and handles a variety of assignments for the magazine. Powersports Business is known for its exclusive national dealer surveys, in-depth industry analysis and dealership conference, Profit Xcelerator.



  1. There’s a reality show on now called Hotel Impossible, and the host/consultant shows the owners of their negative reviews on review sites. I think your advice about owning up to them is very good. If it’s possible for the business to post an honest, helpful review/followup/rebuttal so that others can view it, that would go a long way.

  2. Great points, Liz…thank you for bringing attention to this topic as it affects the livelihoods of everyone in our industry when customers choose whether or not to do business with our dealers.

    I’ve done a couple of studies recently to analyze the status of dealer Places pages and found results that correlate with your commentary.

    For one particular OEM, the percentage of dealers that had verified their Places page was only 43%. (If I were the head of this OEM, I’d have an initiative to have this at 100% in a month). The ratio of positive to negative reviews was 15:16….so, there is a better chance than a coin-flip that everyone that depends on these dealers (including themselves) from OEM, distributor to Mfr. has the potential for lost sales based on dealer online reputation.

    This and other digital opportunities can be addressed very easily:

    1. The OEMs must get involved. The days of “we have a web site, so we are good” were gone a couple of years ago. OEMs can easily turn their field reps loose to help their dealers secure their Places page on their dealer visits.

    2. Continued online reputation management is just as important, and there are companies that specialize in it for dealers such as Duo Web Solutions.

    3. All of us need to pay attention to what’s going on outside our industry. Let’s face it, we aren’t at the forefront of many technologies since we aren’t as large. However, it is very easy to look over the shoulders of the very-well funded ones including automotive & big box retail to see what’s new and observe consumer shopping behaviors.

    This and other digital opportunities are here for us today, and dealers need our help. They have the toughest job out of any of us.

    I challenge everyone that collects a paycheck from this industry to make a commitment of doing whatever they can to help out dealers.

    Thanks again,


  3. Thanks for the comment, Don.

    I just found this article today that says 70 percent of global customers trust online reviews.

    Liz Hochstedler
    Associate Editor

  4. I could not agree more, Liz. I’ve spoken to a few of our own accounts about this very topic after doing as you said and reading their google or manta reviews. They’re venomous!

    Strangely enough, most of the folks I’ve spoken to have an “oh well” attitude about it or “at least folks are talking about us.” I can’t understand this thinking. While there’s no need to get into an argument with some anonymous hater on the web, because that will certainly backfire, I would have to respond, were the review about my dealership.

    You are 100% right though. People see those consumer reviews and they make a difference when deciding whom to give their business to.

  5. There is still some apprehension for many dealers (and OEMs) to crack this nut. They think that one negative review is going to somehow torpedo their business and so they often look the other way and deny that anything bad ever happens in their company. No business is perfect and mistakes will happen because businesses are largely run by humans. Ignoring issues is not going to make them magically go away.

    The worst part of this whole scenario is not the guy that posted a bad review. It’s the other 80% of customers that had a problem and just went away without making a peep. At least the guy that tooted his horn gave you an opportunity to (publicly) address and fix the issue.

    Back when i was working for a large automotive group I witnessed that they thought CSI was everything. Many dealers artificially pumped up their scores by incentivizing customers with gimmicks- some as blatant as stapling a couple dollar bills to the surveys. Today the internet has educated the buyer and forced transparency among businesses. As Liz points out, measures have been put in place to dissuade business from artificially filling the balloon with all positive reviews. Customers can see through that anyhow.

    Lastly, Craig’s point is poignant- OEMs can help dealers with claiming their Google Places pages. I’ve said it to many companies before and will continue to say it- PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT YOU ANYWAY. YOU MIGHT AS WELL PARTICIPATE IN THE CONVERSATION!


  6. Hi Liz: I am very pleased to read your article drawing attention to online reputation, I agree with your recommended approach on all points. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Warren Buffett;

    “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

    A few notes to add:
    1) The only way to have a review removed from Google Places or any of the other review sites (ie Yelp, Yahoo Local, Bing) is if the reviewer does not utilize a valid email address when they post the review. If this happens, report it to Google and/or review site provider and it will be removed.

    2) Posting fake reviews will get your banned by Google — forever. Given that 75% of an average dealers traffic, this would be a major problem. Do not even think about this route.

    3) Bad reviews aren’t bad. What I mean by this is all reviews give you insight to your business — be honest with yourself about the validity of the statements — do you have areas to improve upon? Plus the broad platform of the web actually gives dealers an opportunity to respond in their own voice when they do get an unfair, unbalanced “bad” review. People are reasonable, they can see when a reviewer is being driven by emotion and/or their own self interest. When the owner of a dealership responds to a review like this publically, in a calm, customer-focused way, generally the result is positive.

    4) Dealers always ask “How do I get customer reviews?” A-S-K. If I was a dealer, I would invest in a few affordable laptops for my sales and finance team. When a customer has just purchased their shiny new toy hit them up for a review when they are flying high! No brainer!

    Heather Blessington
    CEO , Duo Web Solutions

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