Ben Prickett decided to move his family and take three round trips driving from Texas to Indiana when he took over Lake City Transmission and Muffler in 2015 and renamed the small business to give the repair shop a revamp and modernize the business. Despite possibly having lost a few customers due to confusion over the name change, the shop has made up for it in general repair business. Now, Lake City Auto Care in Hayden, Idaho, averages five-star online reviews all through incentives and generating customer traffic via search engines.
With a staff of only eight and an annual revenue of nearly $1.5 million in 2016, Prickett found ignoring negative reviews resulted in their continued presence online, which could possibly ruin the shop’s reputation.
Online reviews are important for a number of reasons, says digital marketing firm owner Tom Zoebelein: Not only do reviews generate more traffic for shops, they also ensure a customer feels they’re stepping into a quality and trusted atmosphere. Despite their importance, however, shops aren’t always paying enough attention to ensuring their reviews remain consistently high, says Zoebelein, owner of Stratosphere Studio in Bel Air, Md.
Zoebelein says improving the number of times new customers click through a shop’s Google business page is key to increasing traffic visiting the shop.
But, setting up the avenue for reviews is only the first step, he says.
“I think that shops don’t make it a point to stop and see what reviews they have,” Zoebelein says. “They might bury the bad with the good.”
Prickett and Zoebelein give their insights on how to manage the good, the bad and the out-of-left-field reviews—here are four “don’ts” to avoid when managing them.
1. Relying only on Facebook reviews
Prickett says he typically tries to push for Google reviews to boost the shop coming up in Google searches for local repair shops. When customers don’t regularly see positive reviews or any reviews of the shop, they take their business somewhere else, he says. Prickett says about 25 percent of new customers coming into his shop say they found the shop through Google reviews.
The Bottom Line:
Prickett says the first step in getting five-star online reviews is to set up a Google Maps and Google My Business page. After signing up the business on Google My Business, the shop can sign into Google Maps and then place their shop on the map as a missing place through the “send feedback” button. Now, Prickett solicits more Google reviews to increase the number of times his shop shows up in an organic Google search.
Once Google approves your business as a location, shops can utilize the “Insights” tab to track how many views their page receives and even how many phone calls come from customers.
“Google is number one,” Prickett says. “It drives so much Internet search.”
2. Waiting to respond to the customer reviews, whether good or bad
Zobelein says he notices shops bury the bad reviews with the good and then never respond. The issue, however, is that the bad reviews remain online for anyone to find if they look back far enough. Zoebelein says you need to remember that what is important to one customer in terms of quality of service may not be the same for another. Review sites are often left too open for customer interpretation, so an owner going in and explaining his or her actions can take away some of the speculation.
“Sometimes people just go on a rant,” Zoebelein says. “A lot of review sites are too open for interpretation.”
The Bottom Line:
Set up email notifications to alert you of an online review. Then, reply right away. Prickett uses Customer Lobby but had success using Lighthouse 360, which identifies a negative review and warns the recipient before it’s posted. Lighthouse 360 sends emails directly to Prickett warning about one- or two-star reviews that are posted within seven days and left unaddressed. Lighthouse 360 is a software program that also allows the user to collect and post positive reviews directly on Yelp or Google+ and groups customers in email lists to send targeted emails.
Prickett stays proactive in soliciting reviews and immediately responding.
“I would respond now and thank the customer,” Prickett says. “I personally always make that call and no one else does.”
Prickett also engages concerned customers in a phone conversation. He says immediate corrective action is necessary to maintain a shop’s overall goal of showing customers a shop can consistently keep them happy. Don’t let those sit out. He calls up the customer right away, says, “Hey, obviously something didn’t go the way you expected,” and asks what they can do to work it out.
3. Letting the customer leave the shop without engaging
Shops can miss out on reviews if customers walk out the door without knowing the shop has a review system. The easiest ways to get reviews, Prickett says, is simply to ask.
Prickett finds it’s easy to ask the customer at the close of a sale to leave a review on Google if they liked the service and have the time. On average, they ask around two customers out of the nine or 10 they see per day. Typically, they approach customers when the job was more difficult and a little more complex than an oil change.
“This helps us bring in new customers,” Prickett says about the tight-knit community by which his shop is surrounded.
The Bottom Line:
It’s important to make leaving reviews as easy as possible for customers. Set up a Google business page to build up search engine hits or use another software like Lighthouse 360 that allows customers to easily click through to a review.
“Say, ‘Hey, our business is online,’” Prickett said. “We appreciate you taking a few minutes out of your day to leave a review.”
4. Losing the personal touch by using third parties
Maintaining high online reviews takes effort by a person in the business. Software can only warn of reviews and not respond for the business. Zobelein says it is digital word-of-mouth and the shop’s reputation on the line.
Prickett implemented a new program in 2016 to keep customers motivated to leave reviews. The shop has quarterly drawings with prizes and then for the whole year, a customer has the chance to put their name in a hat to be drawn for an iPad.
Along with the shop’s new website launch at the beginning of April, there will be an additional link where customers can see past reviews of the shop.
“You can manage your online reputation but there’s nothing that’s going to automate responding to your reviews,” Zobelein says.
The Bottom Line:
Zobelein says at least once per month, make a note to go through all your reviews. If you’re focused on local reviews then sign up on Facebook. If the shop is looking to gain more local traffic, they should search what is ranking in their town through a generic “auto repair” search and see the shops dominating those searches. Other popular sites include Yelp and Facebook.