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On online review sites, the overall rating of car dealerships and automotive companies tends to increase as more reviews are posted, according to research by customer feedback software company ReviewTrackers.

The research is based on an analysis of more than 83,350 automotive dealership reviews of 5 companies with more than 1,160 business locations over the course of 2016. The top review sites covered include Cars.com, Google, DealerRater, Yelp, Facebook, SureCritic, and Edmunds.com.

More Reviews = Higher Ratings = Greater Visibility

The lowest overall ratings (3.98 stars out of 5) were recorded in December of last year, when the business locations had an average review velocity of only 1.3 reviews per month. Meanwhile, back in May, business locations averaged 8.5 reviews per month, with a year-high average overall rating of 4.24 stars out of 5.

We also found that 59 percent of consumers are likely to use a rating filter when searching for automotive dealerships.

Customers also left significantly fewer reviews starting last August: seasonally, less service is done and fewer cars are purchased at this time of the year.

Five review sites — Cars.com, Google, DealerRater, Yelp, and Facebook — hosted 95 percent of the reviews. Meanwhile, SureCritic topped the list of sites where customers left the highest ratings (4.89 stars), followed by Cars.com (4.78), DealerRater (4.75), and ResellerRatings (4.75).

Key business takeaway: develop a review request program.

The link between quantity and velocity of reviews and overall ratings is more crucial than ever, especially at a time when online reviews and customer feedback play an important role in helping automotive shoppers make smarter decisions.

Given these findings, it makes sense for car dealerships and automotive businesses to develop an effective review request program — with particular focus on the review sites where customers are likely to leave high ratings and positive feedback.

By encouraging automotive customers to share feedback through online reviews, you can systematically improve your ratings and generate the kind of social proof that helps drive sales. (Related research also found that reviews tied to review requests recorded higher ratings than unprompted reviews.)

Service and Customer Experience Matter Most

ReviewTrackers’ research also suggests that in the automotive industry, sales-oriented corporations are taking a backseat to service innovators and customer experience leaders.

Textual analysis of online reviews show that “service department” and “service” are the top keywords mentioned in negative reviews and positive reviews, respectively.

Keywords with the highest negative sentiment score include: “worst customer service,” “tow truck,” “customer service,” “smog check,” and “oil change.”

Key business takeaway: make experience — not sales — the priority.

These findings are indicative of an industry-wide trend where consumers are less concerned about horsepower than about after-sales services, customer experience, and interactions with salespeople and frontline staff. They also reinforce the need for companies to focus on building an experience in which the customer is truly engaged.

The sales process no longer begins when a potential buyer arrives at the dealership. In order to stand out, automakers and suppliers must deliver seamless, persuasive experiences that reflect the lives of their customers and deliver on their brand promise.

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BMW Redesigns the Automotive Dealership Environment — and Delivers a Customer-First Experience

An example of an experience that exceeds customer expectations is provided by luxury vehicle manufacturing company BMW.

According to Automotive News, BMW is attracting shoppers to its locations by refurbishing showrooms and introducing pop-up stores as a way of operating in the automotive retail space.

These stores take into account all of the customers’ needs — even those that customers didn’t know they had — in order to address service- and experience-related issues voiced typically in online reviews. For example, a BMW location in Manhattan features coffee bars with TVs, phone charging stations, and a gift shop.

BMW’s Future Retail Design dealership program

It’s part of what BMW calls Future Retail Design dealership program, which involves rolling out new dealership standards for the look and feel of BMW retail locations in the U.S. The company plans to have all 341 U.S. dealerships meet Future Retail Design standards by 2019.

Thanks to Future Retail Design, showrooms are cleaner and sleeker. The floors of service areas are tiled with non-slip subway tiles. And new workstations employ hoses that hang over the head of Rotary Lifts to efficiently deliver common fluids that a technician would need.

“BMW’s new bright white, open design has a feel similar to an Apple Store replete with BMW geniuses who can help you understand the ever increasing tech-oriented BMWs,” writes Chuck Vossler. “BMW has been working to standardize the corporate image of its retail centers and how BMW customers interact with service and sales.”

Hendrick Automotive Group’s BMW Kansas City South was one of the first Future Retail dealerships in the U.S.

“Each member of the team has been hand-selected to match what we’re trying to accomplish, which is to minimize wait time and create a world-class experience in a really interesting landscape,” John Desmon, Hendrick Automotive Group’s market area vice president, told the Kansas City Business Journal. “BMW wanted to create a retail environment, not necessarily just a car sales and service environment. We incorporate the theme in the design through the use of furniture and in our sales process.”

Megan Wenzl

Megan is the Associate Editor for ReviewTrackers. She's a writer who is committed to finding useful information to help your business succeed. Megan holds an M.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago.

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