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Expert Shares Tips for Managing Online Reviews

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“I refuse to have an emotional response” to a customer complaint, says Korey Cutlip, owner of Regal Auto Care Tire Pros in Auburn, Wash.

I have mixed feelings about online reviews. They can be helpful when deciding where to spend your money. (Who has the best steak dinner in town? What’s the scoop on that new set of headphones?) 


But online reviews also have the power to permanently damage a business’ reputation. 


Before Yelp and Google, if you had a bad experience at a business, you might mention it in passing to your family or friends, promise never to return to the place that mistreated you and then move on with your life. Or maybe you had a private word with the owner or manager. 


That’s assuming you had a legitimate gripe. 


Today, anybody with an ax to grind can tear down what might have taken an honest, hardworking businessperson decades to build — all under the cloak of anonymity, for thousands of people to see. 


I really dislike that aspect of online reviews. But I also realize that it’s part and parcel of doing business in “the digital age.” 


Like it or not, you need to be aware of what people are saying about your and your dealership. What’s more, you need to take control of the story. 


Korey Cutlip, the owner of Regal Auto Care Tire Pros, a single-location dealership in Auburn, Wash., has become extremely adept at managing online reviews. 


He recently told me that his company has received around 400 online reviews over the last few years. Most of them — with the exception of 10 or so — have been overwhelmingly positive. 


But potential customers don’t always look at the “five-star reviews,” he says. “When people are deciding, ‘Is this a product or service I really want to purchase?’ they look at the negative ones.” That’s why you should have a plan to counter those rare, thumbs-down appraisals — even if they are cheap shots. 


Here’s what Korey recommends: 


Keep things in perspective. It’s easy to take negative reviews personally, he says. “Someone is telling you, ‘You’re not good,’ and that’s hard to hear. Your initial gut reaction is to say, ‘The customer is wrong. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ At that point, all you’re doing is feeding your own ego and that’s not going to help.” 


Gather the facts. Before firing off a reply, do your homework. Look at the customer’s file. Check the service record on his or her vehicle. “I always take a step back,” says Korey. “I go back through all of our notes. We look at texts. What did the service writer jot down? Did we address what the customer’s concern was? There could be communication barriers. Where was the disconnect? I want all the details.” 


This helps take emotion out of the conversation, he says. “I refuse to have an emotional response” to a customer complaint. 


Pick up the phone, if necessary. Don’t let belligerent reviewers rope you into an endless exchange of written retorts. Other people — including potential new customers — are watching. Korey says he has been able to turn disgruntled clients into loyal ones simply by listening to their concerns. “It’s easy to reply to a five-star review. It’s not easy to reply to a one-star review. Ideally, we want to turn that one-star customer into a five-star customer. I’m going to call them and dig into the problem. ‘What did we do wrong? What did we miss?’” 


Also be aware that you don’t always have to “win” the argument, says Korey. “Sometimes the customer is really passionate (about the perception) that you did not take care of them. The way we respond will show potential guests and customers what kind of shop we are. 


“I think we’re all smart enough — as consumers — to read between the lines and we know there are always two stories. You can read the customer’s review and read the (shop) owner’s response and determine if you want to do business with that person or not. 


“We’ve had new customers come in who have said, ‘That reviewer was nuts. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You guys are great!’” 


Tire dealers who believe they are too busy to respond to online reviews or think online reviews are a fad “are flat-out wrong,” says Korey. 


As business owners, “we want to do our books right. We want to make sure our receipts match up. This is another key piece” of running a successful tire dealership. 

“It has to be at the top of your priority list. And frankly, it’s a requirement in this day and age. If you’re choosing not to embrace it, it’s just going to hurt you in the long run.” 


Don’t let somebody else tell your company’s story. Start managing your dealership’s online reviews today. 

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