In Don Smith’s experience, many dealership leaders focus on short-term financial figures, concentrating only on the present.
And that, he says, is rather short sighted.
“At a dealership, some guys think, ‘Well, I’m only thinking about short-term dollars and what’s going to happen today,’” says Smith, the longtime general manager at Hugh White Honda in Columbus, Ohio. “But, if you’re in this for the long term, you’d really better care about customer satisfaction.
“As a general manager or owner, you try to look at, ‘How can I improve myself? How can I educate and train employees to do a better job, and not just fake it to get a good [customer review]?” Smith’s employer in Ohio had earned a 4.7-star rating on Google by last summer, based on over 800 online reviews. And, by the sound of it, he reads virtually all customer comments about White Honda that are posted online on Google, Yelp, Cars.com, or Facebook. He’s well aware that one angry customer can leave countless negative comments about a business via digital means.
“If we see a bad review,” Smith says, “then we respond immediately. … If you keep getting certain [criticism], then you’d better find what’s wrong and fix it..
“You don’t want any bad [customer comments] out there. … Because, with as much money as we spend on advertising, you don’t want to have all that be gone over $50, or $100” in maintenance work.
Smith, who has worked in the auto industry since 1977, explains how dealerships can effectively handle negative customer reviews.
1. React with urgency.
Smith, who works in concert with three in-house Internet department members, makes sure every service customer is called within 24 hours of maintenance work. He does that for two reasons: “No. 1, to thank them, and make sure everything was OK,” he explains, “and then from there, No. 2, to collect email [addresses].
“We send emails to all these customers and let them know that there’s going to be a survey coming from our manufacturer and, if they’re happy, please fill it out. And, if something’s not right, please let us know, so we can fix it—because we do care.
“According to classes I’ve taken, it’s important, if you want to have your website rank high on Google, to be responding to these [negative reviews]. Don’t just let a bad survey lay there … otherwise it grows. You cannot kick that can down the road.”
2. Consider third-party assistance.
While Hugh White Honda uses in-house employees to help respond to bad reviews, Smith knows that customers can, and occasionally will, make complaints outside of typical business hours. That’s why he uses a third-party marketing company to help monitor negative online comments about the dealership, and email him whenever a comment requires attention. For just a few hundred dollars per month, the third-party company offers Smith invaluable peace of mind.
“They’ll send me emails and show me what the customer’s upset about,” Smith says, so “you can nip it in the bud. It makes me a lot more efficient at what I do. [We can tell customers], ‘Bring it back in, we’ll look at it for free and we’ll take care of it.’ And then that squelches that whole problem.”
3. Empower service advisors.
To address complaints, Smith’s facility often turns to employees on the front line of customer service—namely, service advisors. They’re empowered to do what they deem necessary to resolve conflicts.
“If we have a customer that’s not happy, we will do whatever it takes,” Smith says. “We might send them a free oil change [coupon]—you know, things that would promote future visits back to the dealership.”
4. If necessary, escalate issues.
When a customer seems truly intent on besmirching the name of Hugh White Honda, the dealership’s service manager will get involved. More often than not, such a move will placate a client, assuaging their fears that their concerns have gone unheard.
An “employee failed, and most likely this customer doesn’t want to talk to that employee,” Smith explains. “So, if you’ve failed in some respect, the service manager should go in there and take care of it. … Do interviews with the employee, see what happened and [ask], ‘What can I do to fix it?’”
5. Don’t take things personally.
Scenarios like this play out often in service departments: A customer becomes irritated, because they feel they weren’t waited on quickly enough. Yet, in reality, perhaps an employee was simply stuck on the phone, aiding another client.
Whatever the case, all that matters is a customer’s perception of what took place, Smith says.
All that matters, he adds, is calming that customer as quickly as possible—thus preventing them from turning to the Internet, or social media, to badmouth your workplace.
“We want the customer coming back,” Smith says, “so don’t take it personally. … Most things are easy to resolve, as long as you care.”