How should you deal with online customer reviews?


As if it isn’t enough that you have to worry about your dealership’s CSI scores, you now have the Internet as an ever-revolving source of customer reviews. And the reality is that instead of talking to someone to solve the problem, many unhappy customers go directly to complaining about you online.

Everyone wants to get good reviews, of course, but there can also be an advantage to getting a negative one – providing that you handle it quickly, effectively, and correctly.

Online peer reviews have become very important shopping tools, and for many it’s the first step in deciding which businesses to patronize. If you only have positive reviews, it may seem suspicious; no one gets it right every single time, and people may suspect that you’re deleting negative ones to make yourself look better. But it’s a point in your favour if they see that you handle online complaints promptly, and could turn around the person who initially complained about you.

Staying on top of online reviews is vital, and it shouldn’t be something you check occasionally when you have spare time. This is a customer service issue, just as if that person were standing in front of your desk with a complaint. Someone should be assigned to regularly check online for reviews, and then to have a step-by-step process to deal with them.

If it’s a good review, post a thank-you. If it’s a regular customer, consider an additional quick phone call, email or text – your records should show what form of contact is preferred – to say thank you on a more personal level as well. This may also open an opportunity to ask if you can do anything else, especially if the vehicle’s coming up on the end of a lease or close to a scheduled maintenance visit.

If it’s negative, you need to spring into action right away. If you can’t respond immediately with a solution, then do so with an apology and a promise: “We’re very sorry you’re unhappy with us, and we’re looking into this to see what happened and come up with a solution.” Then do exactly that. There should be a chain of command where the person responsible for monitoring reviews starts the resolution process. Each department should have such a person, but upper management should regularly get a head’s-up of the number of complaints logged overall. Customers see you as a single entity, and complaints against the service department can affect the sales office as well.

As you work to resolve an issue, you’re likely going to contact the customer personally, but you also want to keep the conversation going online. Show the steps you’ve taken – “We’ve located the paperwork, and yes you should have received credit for that item, and we’re putting it into the system today.” And then the next day, “The credit has gone through and you should be seeing it on your statement in a couple of days. Please let me us know if you don’t receive it.” It may be redundant because you’ve already told the customer over the phone, but it’s for the benefit of those who see the negative review and then how quickly and efficiently you’ve handled it.

If you get a nasty review complete with obscenities or personal attacks, keep your cool and never fight fire with fire. It won’t solve anything and it’ll make you look bad. Instead, use the same language you’d use with someone who’s negative but polite. A surprising number of people will calm down and may even apologize when they see your rational reply. And even if they don’t, you look good to others.

So what happens if you end up with a customer making an unreasonable request, and you can’t solve the problem? Again, even if you’re dealing with the customer personally, keep the conversation going online. “We looked into this and we’re very sorry, but that promotion ended six months ago and we’re unable to process it on a purchase you made this week. But we very much appreciate your business and want to keep you as a customer, and we’re offering you a discount on your next service visit.” Of course, if the request is way out there, be polite but explain that you can’t offer a solution. Repeat the request verbatim in your reply – “We want to keep our customers happy, but unfortunately we can’t replace your tire under the road hazard warranty when your nasty neighbour slashed it with a knife” – to show others that you aren’t sidestepping the issue, but that it’s impossible to comply with it.

Online reviews can also be a useful tool for improvement. The person in charge of them should be logging them in a spreadsheet and regularly reviewed. If the same problem keeps cropping up, you know where to make changes. Equally, if you get frequent glowing reviews about an employee or a way of doing things, see what they’re doing right and implement that process across the board. Whether good or bad, make online reviews work for you.