For many years, consumers turned to 1-800 numbers when they experienced issues with product or services. Companies typically favored these channels because they could assist customers one-on-one and away from public view. Essentially, companies were in control.

Today, consumers have access to platforms where they can share their experience with the entire Web. Word-of-mouth marketing stretches far beyond a customer’s friends, family and immediate connections. Virtually every business is now being influenced by online reviews—and car dealerships are no exception.

As part of a 2012 study facilitated by digital marketing company Digital Air Strike, 69 percent of consumers said car dealership reviews influenced their decision to visit certain dealers. What does that tell us? Your dealership’s online reputation can have a major impact on your ability to influence and persuade customers to do business with you.

So, where do you start when it comes to managing your dealership’s reputation? Consider following these steps when building a reputation management program:

  • Understand your current footprint 
    An important first step is understanding where your dealership currently appears online. To a get a sense of where car buyers may be talking about you, perform a search for your dealership using popular search engines and look for reviews or places where customers can rate their experiences. Capture those websites and social networks in a single document for easy access. 
  • Capture and update your outposts 
    Once you’ve built a list of review sites for your dealership, begin the process for taking administrative control of these profiles. Many popular review sites provide opportunities for business owners to claim control of their company profile. While this does not prevent customers from sharing their experience, it does provide a layer of oversight for your dealership’s brand. Additionally, claiming the business profiles allows you to update important information such as location, hours of operation, contact methods and, in some cases, photos.
  • Build a monitoring and response system 
    After your dealership’s review sites have been outlined and captured, it’s time for you to start engaging and responding to customer experiences. To start, look through the sites and determine if there have been any immediate reviews that can be addressed. Find reviews that may be less than 90 days old, and draft a response on behalf of your dealership. An important best practice to remember is to move conversations with customers to private channels such as e-mail or phone discussions, especially those who may have had a not-so-great experience.
    Additionally, treat positive experiences just as you would negative experiences. Thank customers for sharing their positive experiences, and let them know you’re listening.
  • Create a feedback loop 
    It’s important to remember that you need to ask for reviews. If you sit back and wait for the reviews to flow in, it’s likely that you’ll be disappointed with the results. Moreover, you will not see any positive change in your dealership’s online reputation if activity is stale. To help move the needle, build processes for asking customers for reviews. Link to your review sites on your website, social media channels and on other digital touch points, such as e-blasts or e-invoices.

Managing your dealership’s reputation is definitely a process, not an event. However, by employing these strategies, your dealership will be in a better position to address customer experiences while influencing potential customers. Showing that you care about your customers, and your dealership’s brand, can easily serve as the tipping point for sending a customer through your front door.