How To Win Dealer Of The Year | Dealership Reputation Management

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Rich Harig

Business Development

How To Win Dealer Of The Year

The Key Habits Of Winning Dealerships

No one would give the past year a 5-star review, but the challenges of the pandemic did showcase the resiliency of dealerships and the power of their local reputations.

At DealerRater, we saw a significant acceleration in dealership reviews that led to us breaking a major milestone of generating 10 MILLION REVIEWS(!) sooner than expected. In fact, March 2021 marked the highest volume ever of new reviews on the platform ever, with nearly 140,000 reviews posted in a single month.1

Reviews have always been important, with 97% of shoppers relying on them to choose their dealership2, but COVID-19 has led 38% of consumers to report that they’re reading even more reviews before they make a decision3. That makes sense as shoppers continue looking for only one dealer to engage with, instead of browsing multiple showrooms, in order to limit in-person exposure and (as always) save time.

This winter we announced our Dealer of the Year and Consumer Satisfaction Award Winners, which was especially meaningful given the challenges dealers have been facing over the past year. These partners not only earned a high volume of positive ratings — they earned richly written reviews that told their story of safety, digital convenience, and thoughtful customer service. That’s the power of DealerRater reviews, which have the personal touch of photos and tagged employees, and are written with 44% more content than Google reviews.4

Congratulations and thank you all for representing our industry!

1. and DealerRater Internal Data, Volume of Dealership Reviews, April 2021
2. BrightLocal 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey, December 2019
3. DealerRater Consumer Survey April 21-23, 2021; 1,036 respondents
4. DealerRater analysis of a sampling of 259,537 Google reviews over a six-month period ending Feb 21, 2021.

While reviews have always been a core element of a dealership’s digital playbook, never have they been more essential than they are now, positioning our winners for success well beyond our podium. Consider this:

  • Stay-at-home shoppers depend on reviews to differentiate: As buyers stayed at home instead of visiting multiple showrooms, online reputation became even more important as a competitive differentiator. More than ⅓ of shoppers relied even more heavily on reviews this past year to guide their decisions as a result of the pandemic5.  
  • Consumers turned to reviews to see how dealers adapted: 2020 accelerated the digital-first transformation of the auto industry, challenging dealers to adapt, innovate, and redefine what it meant to be “customer-first”.  Consumers turned to reviews to build trust in safety protocols and to understand the digital shopping experience. Top-reviewed dealers prioritized digital-first services and COVID-19 safety protocols (more on that below).
  • Reviews are essential to counter the anti-dealer narrative: Despite the fact that dealers deliver a far more convenient and confident consumer experience, anti-dealer ads are dominating the airwaves and playing on a dated and false narrative of our industry. It’s more important than ever to prove your dealership is the best way to buy and service a car, and there is no better way to showcase that experience than reviews.

So, what can you start doing today to build a winning reputation and put yourself in position to win the next Dealer of the Year award? Let’s see how this year’s winners are doing it.

1Respond to Reviews

Winning dealers do more than just secure reviews, they also respond to customer feedback. In fact, 80% of Dealer of the Year winners respond to new customer reviews, compared to just 40% of dealers on average6.
Responding to reviews can no longer be seen as an optional practice. 96% of shoppers read businesses’ responses to reviews7, so it is critical that dealerships take the time to respond to the feedback they receive. A personalized response is a good indication to potential customers that you’ll follow up and stay engaged with them even after the sale.

5. DealerRater Survey, January 2021
6. DealerRater Analysis, January 2021
7. BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey Dec. 2020

Your quick response also matters to customers who take time out of their day to leave feedback. 70% of consumers say they’re more likely to use a business that has responded to their existing reviews, making the time investment to respond well worth the effort8.

In addition to responding to all reviews in a timely manner, our award-winning dealers set their responses apart by personalizing every message. They mirror back words the customer used in their review to show they are listening, and tailor their message to the unique experience shared. They also sign each response with their name and title. These small touches go a long way to show future customers the kind of experience and attention they can expect when choosing your dealership to buy or service their vehicle.

I know this isn’t easy. Your whole team has their hands full at the dealership and it can be a struggle to find time and trained staff to respond like this day in and day out. That challenge is why we invested in our AutoResponse™ team, who generate personalized responses on your behalf for all reviews on Google, Facebook,, and DealerRater.

8. BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey Dec. 2020

2Make Reviews A Team Sport

Building an award-winning reputation for your business can’t be done by one Marketing Manager or a QR code on your desks. It’s a team sport that comes from the 1:1 interactions between your individual employees and their customers.

Dealers whose employees have their own staff pages earned 10X more reviews in 2020 compared to other dealers.9

9. DealerRater Analysis, January 2021

“Since showcasing our team members’ reviews, they have become more invested in the process,” said Jack Weinzierl, Vice President of Marketing at Boardwalk Auto Group. “Knowing that they are effectively building their personal brand, referrals, and business through the process, directly influences our team members to focus on delivering excellence, and asking for reviews, one client at a time.” 

While there is no doubt featuring employee reviews boosts review generation and staff engagement, it also directly boosts shopper engagement. Shoppers want to see who they will be doing business with. Salesperson Connect™ features your best salespeople on your, Dealer Inspire, and DealerRater® inventory, making it easy for shoppers to schedule appointments directly. Feedback from other shoppers helps them feel confident they will be well taken care of, creating higher quality leads.

*Survey of 17,981 car buyers on, October 2018
**Based on VDP lead submissions between January 2019 – February 2020

3Show You Take Safety Seriously

With anxiety about COVID escalating throughout 2020, it’s not surprising shoppers are turning to reviews to see how businesses are managing safety precautions. Beyond reading about safety measures on your website, they want to hear directly from other consumers to understand if safety is being prioritized.   
Point in fact: 67% of consumers say they wouldn’t use a business if reviews said it didn’t have COVID-19 health and safety measures in place10.

That’s why we made COVID protocols front-and-center on your DealerRater® profiles, and we were proud to see that dealerships across the country took quick action to implement and showcase their safety precautions. We know it paid off, because when shoppers mentioned COVID related terms such as masking and social distancing in reviews, the positive comments outnumbered the negative by 30 to 1.

10. BrightLocal Consumer Reviews Survey, December 2020



Every one of our award-winning dealers was recognized in reviews by their shoppers for the safety protocols they put in place. Not only did they do a great job of implementing protocols, but many took steps to ensure shoppers would talk about these measures in their reviews. For all customers that buy or service their vehicle with you, encourage them to specifically mention how you helped during this time. 

It’s likely COVID measures will be in place for much of 2021, so making shoppers aware of how you are going above and beyond to keep them safe will continue to be a differentiator for the foreseeable future.

4Promote Your Digital-First Convenience

2020 also accelerated the need to bring more of the shopping and buying process online, and our award-winning dealerships were able to accommodate that experience. Walk-in traffic to dealership showrooms is still down 10.3% YOY from January 2020 nationwide11, largely replaced by digital visits as consumers prefer to stay home and shop from afar. Much like safety protocols, consumers are turning to reviews to understand the digital-first options your store may provide, like live video chat, digital retailing, and home delivery.

 11. Internal Metrics, January 2021

Digital shifts brought about by the pandemic are driving new consumer expectations that dealers must be prepared to meet. More than 70% of consumers now want to conduct at least some parts of the purchase online12. The ability to transact online and do business without coming into your showroom will directly influence how satisfied shoppers will be moving forward.

In fact, we are already seeing digital-first buying practices have a profound impact on customer satisfaction. According to the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index, car buyers that use digital retailing tools are more satisfied with the car buying process.

Satisfaction among buyers who agreed to a price online was higher than those who hadn’t negotiated online, and buyers who completed most of their paperwork online were also most satisfied13.

Digital offerings didn’t just pay off with respect to satisfaction and reviews. Consumers are also engaging more with dealers who offer virtual services. reports an increase of 30% in contact and user engagement for dealers offering home delivery and virtual options versus those still offering the traditional showroom experience14.

To get set-up with a seamless online buying experience from your website, to your chat, to your end-to-end digital retailing experience, give our friends at Dealer Inspire a shout. Just watch how easy they make it to take the same selling conversations you have on the showroom floor to a (magic) text thread.

12. Consumer Metrics Q4 2020
13. J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index
14. Internal Data, Badge Analysis, Sept. 24, 2020

5Embrace Your Negative Reviews

Even award-winning dealers receive negative reviews from time to time. Our Dealer of the Year winners all share a common trait when it comes to negative reviews: they consider that feedback a gift. While you want positive reviews to dominate your feed, negative reviews present a valuable opportunity to gather customer insight. 

Our winners told us that negative reviews help them quickly identify trouble spots in their operations and quickly fix them before they negatively impact their business.

“Customer reviews are like having a real-time focus group,” said John Petersavage, General Manager of Tucson Subaru. “We use reviews to keep a pulse on the customer experience we deliver and to ensure we are fulfilling our promise of a straightforward, simple, and efficient car buying experience.”

Moreover, negative reviews offer an opportunity to showcase your customer service brand to potential customers. When shoppers see you’ve responded to negative feedback quickly and professionally, they see how you’ll handle any potential problems down the line and build trust that you’ll respond to their needs as well. A well-managed response also has the power to convert a customer who had a bad experience into a lifelong brand advocate.

Our AutoResponse™ team are experts on handling negative reviews, and they draft responses for you to approve or edit before posting. 

“Negative reviews are the best way to identify unhappy customers quickly,” said Sharon Dibble, Online Reputation Supervisor for Off Lease Only in Florida. “Customers just want to be heard. They are surprised and delighted when we immediately respond to their feedback. Often times it is a small misunderstanding that we are easily able to fix. This gives us the chance to make things right and turn them into some of our strongest advocates and most loyal customers for life.”

We’re Here To Help You Win

A well nurtured reviews program sets your store apart and shows consumers the great experience only local dealerships can deliver. So whether you manage to land on next year’s Dealer of the Year List or not, adopting these proven review habits will always be a winning strategy. With increased trust and enhanced loyalty for your brand, higher lead conversion, SEO power, and a team that feels valued and recognized by you and your customers, you can’t lose.

If you need help getting started, our team is here to guide you. Let’s chat about how we can help make you the next Dealer of the Year.