When Rory Foster, Communications Director at Bo Beuckman Ford, joined the dealership more than 16 years ago, online reviews were still in their infancy. Consumer websites like Angie’s List and Zagat were only beginning to emerge and word of mouth marketing, in the traditional sense, still reigned supreme.
Fast-forward to today, and the lines between offline and online word of mouth are nearly indistinguishable. Thankfully, Foster and his team had the good foresight to jump on the rising trend of reputation management early, making online reviews a central part of the dealership’s digital marketing strategy for more than half a decade. Touting over 90 dealer reviews on Cars.com and a solid presence on other top review sites, Bo Beuckman Ford uses online word of mouth as a competitive advantage for both sales and service.
“We put our reputation online so that everyone can see it,” said Foster. “We can reach more people out there [online] than we can ever reach in person.”
Getting Sales Buy-in
According to Foster, the benefits of quality online reviews are two-fold: the dealership attracts new customers and individual sales associates see new, unassisted referrals. Once he and the dealership’s leadership team communicated that, it was all smooth sailing.
“We had to explain to our associates that customers might come in and ask for them by name without ever contacting them,” said Foster. “Now, it’s common for a customer to walk in and say, ‘I’ve read how well your sales rep John, as an example, treats customers. I only want to work with John,’ all because of our online reviews.”
Building A Strong Foundation
With a plan in hand, Foster’s next challenge was to establish a process for asking customers for their feedback after all sales and service appointments.
“There was a little bit of a learning curve,” shared Foster. “But we let our staff know that asking a customer for a review was easy and it didn’t cost them anything. Our logic was that they’re already asking for so many other things, adding reviews to the process was a no-brainer.”
To augment the sales team’s efforts, Bo Beuckman Ford keeps a dedicated employee on staff to answer customer questions, offer demonstrations of Ford’s Sync technology and assist with online reviews – both in soliciting new reviews and responding to inbound customer feedback. This ensures all new customer comments are assessed and dealt with promptly.
“Every time we have a negative review we have a little pow wow about it because we want to make sure any issues get resolved,” said Foster. “But we also go out of our way to thank customers who leave positive reviews. It can do a lot for building relationships.”
An effective process, the dealership has responded to 90% of all inbound reviews.
Syncing Up Service
At Bo Beuckman Ford, service reviews are also a key component of the store’s overall strategy. And with nearly a quarter of all reviews on Cars.com pertaining to service, it’s no surprise Foster’s efforts have been embraced by the dealership’s customers.
“A lot of the reviews we receive are specifically for our service department,” shared Foster. “It helps us show customers that, whether or not they buy from us, we’re the best place to go for service, and that we provide a better value than local chains.”
With long-term customer relationships in mind, every service client at the dealership gets a Cars.com dealer reviews flyer stapled to the back of their repair order, a process Foster credits for the their recent increase in service reviews.
Closing Sales from 500 Miles Away
While quantifying the full value of online reviews is nearly impossible, the work Bo Beuckman Ford has put in to build its online reputation has had a tangible impact on the dealership’s bottom line.
Foster says it’s not uncommon for the dealership’s positive reviews to sway visitors from the surrounding St. Louis area, but even he’s been surprised by the influence of the store’s strong reputation. In one anecdote, Foster shares that a customer drove nearly 500 miles from Green Bay, Wisconsin to do business with the dealership, all because of what he’d read online.
“I’m sure he passed a lot of other Ford dealerships along the way,” said Foster. “But the combination of our transparent pricing policy and our positive customer reviews showed him that we were exactly what he was looking for. He said it was worth the trip.”
For more tips on managing your dealership’s online reviews, download our ebook, Scheduled Maintenance: The Dealership’s Guide to Achieving a Positive Online Reputation.