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Savvy car buyers go online more to check dealers' credentials

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Reputation will prove an important factor for car manufacturers and dealerships as they bid to bounce back following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The weeks of dealership closures lead to an increasing number of consumers going online to plan their next purchase. In addition to the usual search questions, more potential buyers are seeking the reassurance that the carmakers and dealers will treat them in the right way, writes Alex Wright.

This feature was first published in the July Issue of AM magazine, available here, on June 19.

One of the best ways for manufacturers and dealers to address these concerns is by encouraging customer reviews (hopefully positive) on their own and third-party websites.

Automotive review and satisfaction specialist JudgeService has been at the forefront of this drive towards boosting online reputation over the past 12 months. During that period, it has secured several significant contracts, including Johnsons Cars.

Three other top 20 UK automotive groups are going live with JudgeService’s platform after their plans were delayed by the lockdown, and the firm is about to launch its service to Steele Auto Group, the largest dealer in Atlantic Canada.
JudgeService’s founder and managing director, Neil Addley, said that over the past year the company has focused on extending the range of services provided to existing clients.

To counter the COVID-19 crisis, he said the company had reduced its fees from April through to June. “It was well received and has meant we were able to retain all our customers,” said Addley (pictured).

Neil Addley, managing director at JudgeService“As they come back and start selling again, online reviews will be a powerful tool they can use alongside their showroom offering to build consumer confidence.”

JudgeService has just carried out its State of the Nation survey looking at consumer attitudes to the crisis, including questions ranging from servicing to changing cars. It has also launched ProAct online, a survey which examines lost online sales, featuring questions about the use of video calls and usage of video to show products on websites.

In addition, the company has several products in the pipeline this summer, including one that predicts when consumers are likely to change vehicles based on previous buying habits. Another is Resolution, a customer service tool, which enables dealers to resolve issues and complaints more effectively.

JudgeService also made its part-exchange valuation and car product surveys available free of charge to dealers during the crisis. Backing this up, it has been busy developing its software to improve the speed at which its surveys can be turned around.

“We have done this so we’re able to react more quickly to market opportunities for our clients,” said Addley. “Thanks to our expert insight into the motor trade and the granularity of our surveys and data, we can help them to understand how they are performing and what areas they need to capitalise on when it comes to marketing to prospects.”

The company has also increased the number of researchers in its research centre and added to its sales team. Additionally, it has strengthened its partnerships with sales platforms AutoTrader, Motors.co.uk and Used Cars NI, as well as technology providers GForces, Bluesky Interactive and Autoweb Design.

Trustpilot has also been busy in the online reputation space. Its latest big win is Keary’s in Ireland, which has signed up to use its reviews to get closer to its customers.

New online-only platforms such as carwow, Cazoo, heycar and Cinch have also started to use Trustpilot to actively invite customers to review them and to establish their brand. Additionally, the company has been working with these platforms to enable the syndication of its reviews where they are aggregating information from dealers across the UK.

Neil Bayton (pictured), partner director at Trustpilot, said that since COVID-19 there has been an increase in consumers reading reviews. In fact, more than one quarter of people said they were checking reviews before the pandemic hit, according to a Trustpilot survey.

“With trust for companies declining in the pandemic and with cars being such a high ticket item to buy, it’s vital for car makers and dealers to listen and engage with their customers through reviews,” said Bayton.

“Consumers are increasingly coming to Trustpilot to validate the decision they are making through what others are saying.Customers now expect to read reviews on a platform they know and trust.”

In addition, Trustpilot has introduced Location Reviews, allowing companies to add multiple locations to their Trustpilot profile, each within their own location-specific reviews. That enables them to collect, manage and respond to customer feedback for each location.

It has also seen a rise in businesses using its Review Insights tool to better understand the feedback they receive. The tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning to analyse feedback and provide actionable insight reports.

Added to that, Trustpilot has introduced half star ratings and moved to a five-point TrustScore, to provide a simpler and more accurate reflection of how companies are performing, in line with industry standards.
It has also announced a host of new transparency features, enabling the consumer to see whether reviews were invited by the company concerned or organic, the timeline of reviews and whether that firm responds to posts.

Another company that has been forging ahead with new developments has been Reputation.com. Over the past year, it has won and extended multiple contracts with OEMs and large dealer groups.

In April, the company rolled out its Business Continuity Bundle, a toolkit designed to help brands manage their Google presence and leverage social media for urgent outreach and response during this and future crises.
Available for free for 90 days to new and existing customers, it enables users to better understand customer needs during a crisis.

In May 2019, Reputation.com launched its Reputation Essentials Toolkit, aimed at helping dealers to drive traffic and increase business by improving their digital presence and online engagement, and monitoring and managing their reputation. It also announced the addition of Google services to its suite of enterprise reputation management services.

John Nantau, general manager of global automotive at Reputation.com, said: “The Reputation.com platform’s tight integration with Google services, along with the addition of Premier Google Partner status to the company’s other accreditations, makes it an even stronger choice for enterprises looking to optimise their online reputation. It also will help enterprises be found, chosen and endorsed by their customers on Google.”

hand pressing starIn addition, Reputation.com has announced it has been granted two more patents to add to 25 already covering its online reputation management technology. “Reputation Report with Scoring” and “Reputation Report with Recommendation” will enable the company to help businesses manage and address their reputations, and analyse consumer feedback to improve operations and processes.

The company has also been busy on the recruitment front, adding to its executive committee with the appointment of former Dialpad executive Rebecca Biestman as chief marketing officer in March and Amir Jafari, from ServiceNow, as chief financial officer in April. In February, Nantau joined from Salesforce.com.

In December, Reputation.com announced a new partnership with Alorica, a global leader in customer experience solutions. The new unified CX platform — the first of its kind, it claims — will add Alorica’s support to many of Reputation.com’s back office and front office functions, as well as providing actionable insights and better understanding of consumer sentiment. ALEX WRIGHT

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