Have you ever been caught off guard by a negative online comment or review from a customer? How did it make you feel? How accurate was it? How did you react?

For most businesses, a negative online comment or review feels like a kick to the gut or slap in the face, especially when it’s from a customer who never expressed their dissatisfaction at the time of the transaction.

Instead, they waited until they got home to unleash their anger and frustration online, and let the world know about a situation that could have been easily resolved at the time it happened. Depending on how large the customer’s social circle is and how committed they are to making their point known, a negative online comment or review can do a lot of damage to your business.

In his book Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000, Pete Blackshaw writes, “Consumer-generated media is here to stay. Because what companies say to consumers about their products and services through their marketing and advertising channels is rapidly losing ground to what consumers say about those products and services to one another through their network of Internet-enabled channels.”

Customers’ online comments and conversations are glimpses into public perception of how well and consistently you are delivering the promise(s) made by your brand. It is part of how first impressions are made online.

The frustrating part is that you don’t have a lot of say in the process, unless you’re keeping a close eye on what people are saying about your business online. You have to be where conversations are taking place; online and offline. Otherwise, you’re giving all the power to people outside of your dealership.

You Can Lose Control of Your Brand Image and Message

Businesses don’t have control over what consumer say and do online. Any one person with access to the Internet can affect the way a brand is perceived online and offline. This is especially true if the brand in question ignores those conversations or engages in contentious back-and-forth arguments with dissatisfied customers.

Think about Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews. All are super popular and have a huge impact on how people perceive businesses online and offline, given that most online conversations are also happening in person. People tell their friends about things they see online. It’s human nature. Humans trade stories to build relationships with other humans.

You Can Be Held Hostage by Online Review Terrorists

Most businesses have them and many fear them. They are customers who broadcast their dissatisfaction online with the hope of getting attention and free concessions from the business.

They are ruthless and passionate about telling the world about how they weren’t treated the way they should’ve been treated, and how no one else should visit the business that did them wrong. Often, they sprinkle in extra drama and don’t tell the full story of what actually happened in order to get people’s attention.

The secret to dealing with negative review terrorists is to catch their comments/reviews as early as possible, respond politely, and take the conversation offline by encouraging them to call or email your dealership. For example, on Facebook, you can send a private message to someone who leaves a review or comment on your page instead of leaving a public comment.

This is very import! You should never offer extra or special freebies to customers who complain online. It encourages them and others to complain more in order to get free stuff. Instead, only offer things that you are willing to offer to customers who complain offline. Offering extra things to customers who complain online creates more online review terrorists.

When we say don’t give extra things to online complainers, we don’t mean you should provide them with bad customer service either. Your dealership should offer amazing customer service both online and offline.

It Can Lead to Public Relations Nightmares

Ignoring negative online comments doesn’t make them go away. It makes the business look unresponsive and less caring. Ignoring an online complaint or negative message creates the perception that the business doesn’t care or that the customer’s complaint is valid. It also encourages other customers to post their negative experiences, which can create a nasty public relations situation.

Negative comments often spread like wildfires because they are shared by people many times over. The average Facebook user has 155 friends. If one of your customers posts or shares something negative about your dealership on Facebook, you can assume that an average of 155 people may see it. Bikers know other bikers. It’s very likely some of those 155 people may also be your current or potential customers.

Even worse than ignoring negative online comments and reviews is arguing and calling customers out by name for the rest of the public to see. This is the ultimate no-no. It makes the business look petty, unprofessional and overall bad. It also validates the customer’s complaint. Other people are more likely to perceive an online complaint as credible if the business acts a fool in its response. This is how PR nightmares are born.

PRO TIP: Be Proactive and Kill Them with Kindness

As soon as a negative online review or comment pops up, respond to it and take a proactive approach to resolving the problem. Be polite and empathetic. Don’t argue. Offer to help offline. This is how the best PR pros do it.

Bad Online Reputation Will Negatively Affect Your Sales

This applies to current and prospective customers. Your current customers do business with you because they like you and are not embarrassed of your reputation. The most loyal ones even recommend you to family and friends. They are your ride-or-dies (also known as apostles to marketing professionals).

If your current customers start seeing negative things written about your dealership online, they will start rethinking their support. They will think twice before they send a friend or a family member your way. Most people don’t want to recommend a business that may treat their friend or  family member poorly. That puts their reputation at risk.

Things get even dicier in terms of prospective customers. Your online reviews may be their first glimpse into what your dealership is all about. According to Inc., 84% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust their friends.

If you have a slew of negative online reviews, a prospective customer is more likely to go somewhere else. The likelihood of that happening is probably higher if you haven’t responded to those reviews or if you argued with the people who wrote the reviews.

The bottom line is that roads paved with negative online reviews lead to fewer sales. They also take your customers to your competitors’ dealerships.

But Wait! There is Hope

You too can have a stellar online reputation and use it to make it rain at your dealership. If done correctly, you can convert positive online reviews into powerful testimonials. You can also make delicious lemonade out of negative review lemons, and even make money selling that delicious lemonade. It’s true.

Here’s how:

  • Proactively monitor what people say about your dealership online. One of the easiest ways to do this is to sign up for Google Alerts and regularly review the activity on your social media account. You can also hire an agency to take care of this for you.
  • Have set policies for dealing with online comments and reviews. It should be followed by all staff members who interact with customers online.
  • Respond quickly and appropriately to both positive and negative online reviews.
  • Use negative online reviews as opportunities to showcase your dealership’s exceptional approach to customer care.
  • Make it your marketing team’s goal to convert online review terrorists into brand apostles. This is super rewarding and a great way to build your brand.
  • If you really want to win big with customers who leave positive comments and reviews, send them a coupon or a small freebie. They will love you even more.
  • Keep your brand image, message (promise), and personality in mind when engaging with customers online. Deviations lead to brand erosion.

The Bottom Line

Customers talk. They talk online and offline. Some are nice and some aren’t so nice. You can’t control what customers say about your dealership online. The best you can do is be present when they do say something and engage in productive conversation. This applies to both positive and negative online comments and reviews.

Half of the battle is showing up, and the other half is artfully molding each customer interaction into an opportunity to build your brand. The good news is that it’s not super difficult, if you have a clear plan in place. Winging it is not recommended.

Have a great idea for monitoring and making the most out of what people say about your business online? We’d love to hear and share it with our readers. Let us know in the comments.

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