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Guest opinion: The power of online customer reviews

Author: Richard Harrison (pictured), managing director UK,
Online customer reviews have hit the headlines regularly over the past few years with more of us turning to social media to further research our potential purchase.

We are also looking for reassurance from our peers that what we are looking for and the suppliers are reliable and trustworthy. While the value of reviews has been showcased in the travel and retail industries, it seems that automotive dealers and brands could make more of this forum to increase online visibility and sales. 
A 2014 study found that new and used car buyers spent 75% of their purchase research time online.

Meanwhile, Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report found that online customer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70% of global consumers indicating they trusted them, an increase of 15% in four years.
Interestingly, Nissan found that 44% of people were willing to purchase a car over the internet, while 73% were more likely to buy a specific brand or model when they’d read positive comments about it on social media. Online customer reviews are a powerful marketing tool, but businesses have little direct control over them; yet there are things a business can do to manage these reviews.
Managing negative reviews
Businesses often view online customer reviews as a threat, or at least an annoyance; but they are really an opportunity. Managed well, a business can turn a negative review into a positive experience for the customer.

In fact, research has shown that 70% of customers are willing to do repeat business with a company if it resolves complaints to their satisfaction.
So, even if someone is unhappy with a pushy salesperson or a rude mechanic they will come back if the business takes the time to rectify the issue.
In my experience, the power of a negative review lies in the businesses response to it. A polite, professional response, that addresses the concern and works to resolve the issue, is always better than trying to fight against the customer’s opinions and experiences.
Welcoming feedback
Businesses love to showcase positive feedback, but there’s an advantage to displaying negative reviews on the businesses website, alongside the positive. For a start, it shows that the business isn’t afraid of opinion. It also provides the opportunity to state what it’s done to address the issue, and show how the business has improved as a result.
Customers believe that if they see a string of five-star reviews on a business’ site they must be fake - because no matter how good a company is, there is always someone that’s not going to be happy. By including negative reviews, the business shows that it’s open and transparent about its flaws, while proving that complaints are listened to and addressed. It also makes the five-star reviews more believable.
A combined approach
If the automotive industry gave customer reviews the same prominence as those of industry experts and journalists, it would be creating a more detailed picture for the customer. (The tourism industry is discussing taking this approach right now, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation looking at creating a combined hotel rating from official star ratings, and the reviews of guest.)
Local reviews
Of course, buying a new car isn’t usually as easy as logging on to a shopping site, clicking ‘buy’ and waiting for it to be delivered to your driveway. People want to visit the showroom, get behind the wheel and give the car a test drive.

They’re unlikely to bother if their nearest relevant dealer is a three hour train journey away. So it is important to be visible locally – both online and off. Valuing customer reviews and embracing the search engine optimisation benefits that these reviews can offer, is a real cost effective way for dealers to gain some local online visibility. It is better that online customers come to test drive a car in your showroom, than that of your competitor three miles down the road.
By signing up to Google Places, local dealers can build a profile and an additional platform for customer reviews. After the location has more than five reviews, its star rating starts to appear alongside local search results, making it easier for them to compare local dealerships (it’s also good for SEO).
When you consider that, for businesses, increasing the average customer review rating by just one star can lead to an increase in up to nine per cent of revenue, it’s clear that customer reviews are a vital component of any businesses success.
Once posted, reviews can spread to various online channels with, or without the business being aware of these reviews’ existence. We advise businesses in the automotive industry to:
1.       Use social listening tools to monitor what is being said about your business (and your competitors) online.

2.       Approach negative reviews as feedback that will ultimately improve the business, rather than as an attack on your brand.

3.       Respond to people as individuals, don’t send out, or publish, a cold, corporate statement. Address the concerns of the individual posting the review.

4.       Don’t try to control what people say about your business or the services it provides. The only thing you can control in this situation is the way the business responds.

5.       Not respond harshly, or dismissively, as this can result in the name of the business being dragged through the media.

6.       Use Google Local to provide customers with a platform to review your service, and bolster your local search results.

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