Ross Berman, executive manager of Berman Auto Group, says service managers at the group's five Chicago-area dealerships are instructed to respond within hours after online complaints are brought to their attention.
"If it's really egregious, you want to take it offline," Berman says. "You don't want it out there. The whole point is to stop things from going viral. You want to make things right."
Remedies can range from a free oil change to a loaner vehicle while a repair dispute is resolved. But often, Berman says, "we don't really have to give people much by way of free things. They just want to vent."
If service departments don't address poor or mixed reviews within 24 to 48 hours, the chances of resolving a disgruntled customer's concerns drop significantly, says David Brondstetter, CEO of SureCritic, a Seattle company that helps dealerships gather consumer feedback and alerts managers to negative reviews.
"An upset customer that you fix is more loyal than customers you never hear from," he says. "Dealerships will be rewarded with an increase in customer-pay retention when service managers get involved in concern resolution."
The worst thing a service department can do is ignore a bad online review, says Jamie Oldershaw, general manager of dealership review site DealerRater.com, a subsidiary of Cars.com.
"When a dealership hasn't met the expectation of a customer, it's important they respond and take a diplomatic tone and explain the situation," he says. "It's the three A's: acknowledge, apologize and act."
At the same time, a service department needs to cite positive reviews, Oldershaw says, because "the service lane is really what makes or breaks the dealer's reputation." Service reviews for dealerships are "like gold," he adds.
"It's a lot harder for a dealership to earn a [good] service review than a sales review," he says. "There has to be something about it that makes you want to share with other consumers that your expectations were exceeded."
Although fixed ops managers may not like negative feedback, many say customer criticism can identify areas of needed improvement.
"Social media helps us get better," says Doug Ikner, service director at Helfman Ford in the Houston suburb of Stafford, Texas. "If no one ever lets you know where you're weak, how are you ever going to better yourself as a company? I would rather hear that than not hear it."
Adds Jeff Smith, the dealership's general manager: "When we see somebody saying something negative about us, I say, 'Let's go pull [the repair order]. Did we do something wrong? Was there a misunderstanding? Let's get in touch with the customer.
"Our managers have the authority and the ability to make a decision on their feet," Smith adds. "I tell them all the time, if a hundred or two hundred dollars will resolve an issue, then resolve it, even if you feel like you're 100 percent right. Resolve it and move on."