Jeff Dyke, president of Sonic Automotive Inc., said the public dealership group's executives scan five-star reviews for inspiration on what they are doing well and one-star reviews for where they need to improve. Sonic uses Reputation.com, an online reputation management platform, to scan reviews on online platforms.
"If we have a customer that's unhappy, which you're going to have, we attack it immediately," Dyke said.
Sonic CEO David Smith said he forwards any bad reviews to Dyke and his executive team to keep them in the loop. It's important to learn about the negative experiences, Smith said, and he wants to know the truth of what happened.
Sonic aims to take care of employees, Dyke said, in part because happy staffers lead to happy customers.
"That doesn't mean that every once in a while we don't have a bad score, because we do," he said. "It's what you do once you find out that you got that bad score."
Jamie Oldershaw, general manager of DealerRater and vice president of reputation strategy for Cars.com Inc., swears by a three-step program to address negative reviews — "the three As."
"It's acknowledge that there was, in fact, a problem. Apologize, which obviously speaks for itself," Oldershaw said. "And then act; tell the customer how you're going to take action to make it better."
Dealers also should take the conversation with the customer offline and to the phone, or in person at the store, as soon as possible. Drawn-out duels in comment sections signal that dealership employees are argumentative and more interested in saving face than a sale, Danford said.
No matter the rating or the sentiments expressed in a review, responding politely and personally is key to building and maintaining a positive brand, Oldershaw said.
"Consumers these days don't expect perfection in a dealership. What they expect is that dealership will respond professionally when they fall short on the customer experience. You'll earn their trust and you'll earn their business."
Melissa Burden contributed to this report.