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How To Win Dealer Of The Year 2023

The Key Habits Of Winning Dealerships

We all know that reviews are important. Whether we are looking to eat at a new restaurant, choose a vacation destination, or buy a car — we rely on the opinions and experiences of others to guide our decisions.

That said, gone are the days of just trying to amass as many reviews for your dealership as possible. Today it’s not how many reviews you have, it’s what they say about the in-store and online buying, selling, and service experience that your dealership provides — especially when it’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd.

And this year’s DealerRater® Dealer of the Year and Consumer Satisfaction Award winners exemplify what it takes to make the most out of their online reputation to boost their bottom line. 

Before we show you how you can be in the running to take home one of these awards for the coming year, let’s take a moment to officially congratulate our 2023 winners. These partners earned a high volume of positive ratings, as well as richly written reviews that told their story of digital convenience and thoughtful customer service. 

Congratulations and thank you all for representing our industry!

When you’re recognized as a DealerRater® Dealer of the Year, your customers and community trust that your dealership will provide the exemplary customer service they’re expecting. That’s priceless content you use on your website and in your marketing campaigns to show that your experience is built on relationships, trust, and the proof of happy customers.

Many factors are taken into consideration to determine which dealers qualify for, and ultimately win, a Dealer of the Year or Customer Satisfaction Award. In general, the most important factors include the number of reviews a dealer earned that year, combined with their average star rating.  Simply having the most reviews, or being the highest rated, isn’t enough to win. Dealers must outperform their respective competitors in both areas. 

Now that you have an idea of what it takes to win, here’s our guide that identifies the best practices that this year’s winners embraced and exemplified. Follow along so you can solidify your own reputation online by committing to a level of excellence that will place you in the running for next year’s awards!

1Personally Respond to Reviews Every Day

Winning dealers do more than just secure reviews, they also respond to customer feedback. In fact, 85% of Dealer of the Year winners respond to new customer reviews compared to just 40% of dealers on average1

While not a part of the calculations this year, next year Review Response Rate on DealerRater and will become an important factor in determining which dealers take home a Dealer of the Year Award. As such, dealers who develop the habit now of constantly engaging with their reviewers will have an edge over the competition. Not just in winning an award, but in building a loyal customer base.

That said, I know it’s sometimes hard to prioritize this activity when your team already has their hands full at the dealership. But 88% of consumers say they are likely to use a business if they can see the business owner responds to reviews2, so it’s critical that you take the time to respond to the feedback you receive.

With AutoResponse™, our team of expert reputation management specialists will personally respond to every review for you.

One way award-winning dealers set their responses apart is by personalizing every message. A few small touches go a long way to show future customers the kind of experience and attention they can expect from your dealership:

  • Mirror back words the customer used, or staff members mentioned, in their review to show you are listening. 
  • Tailor each response to the unique experience you shared. 
  • Sign each response with your name and title. 

A personalized response is also a good indication to potential customers that you’ll follow up and stay engaged with them even after the sale, no matter their buying experience.

2 Don’t Ignore Negative Reviews

Even award-winning dealers receive negative reviews from time to time. Our Dealer of the Year winners all share a common trait when it comes to negative reviews: they consider that feedback a valuable opportunity to gather customer insight.

Ultimately, unhappy customers just want to be heard. In talking with dealers across the country about how they handle negative reviews, they almost universally share the same sentiment: Customers who write negative reviews are typically surprised and delighted when someone at the dealership personally responds to their feedback in a genuine effort to make things right. 

And while directly handling customer complaints is something you just can’t outsource, our AutoResponse™ team are experts at drafting thoughtful responses for you to approve or edit before posting. 

Remember, consumers are more than twice as likely to consider using your business if they can see you actively responding to reviews3, so your quick, personalized response matters to both your current and future customers.

3Focus on Self-Improvement

Another common trait that award-winning dealers have shared over the years is their never ending commitment to refining and improving upon their shopping experience. For many dealers, customer reviews essentially act as a real-time focus group that can be used to monitor and improve upon their overall service quality.

And while I always encourage dealers to actively inspect their online reputation, DealerRater® is now powering a new Experience Report that leverages customer feedback collected on the CARS platform to report on and compare over time how critical aspects of your shopping experience are resonating with your customers.

The Experience Report is a valuable tool that provides insights into how your dealership’s overall rating compares to the average ratings of other dealerships in your market and OEM. It also features customer experience ratings by category, such as lead handling, financing, trade-in, pricing transparency, and service lane — which can help you identify what you’re already great at, along with which aspects of your experience you may need to improve upon. 

4Balance Your Online Reputation

If you want your in-store (and online) experience to be recognized as one of the best, it’s important to make sure your customers are able to discover what makes you great no matter where they are. 

And while your Google review count and star rating is highly visible in the search results — they often lack the substance and context shoppers need to make a decision on which dealer to choose4.

Our award winning dealers this year collectively focused on nurturing a fresh, balanced review diet across all their online platforms. From Google, to Facebook, to DealerRater® &, you have every reason to want to make sure that your customers are sharing their story about your dealership’s experience where it’s likely to reach the widest audience possible. 

I understand that that might sound difficult, especially if you’re responsible for the online reputation for multiple rooftops or an entire automotive group. If you find that you’re unable to create a balanced review presence on your own, ReviewBuilder™ can help. 

Now included within Premium Listing packages, ReviewBuilder™ automatically solicits each day’s sales and service customers asking them to share their story on the review platform most in need of balancing at that moment.

5Promote Your Digital First Experience

The way reviews are written by your customers has evolved over the years, and recently they’ve become more encompassing of both the in-store and online experience at your dealership. Only just a few years ago, it was fairly common for most positive reviews to simply be all about a customer’s experience with their salesperson and the dealership.

Today on DealerRater®, consumers are mentioning very specific parts of your online shopping experience in their reviews, like having a friendly chat or receiving an instant financing approval. They’re tagging multiple employees (more on that below) and talking about how each played a part in the overall experience. Customers are even including photos capturing their delivery experience in their reviews. 

Not only are these specific mentions great contextual clues for how you’re performing, but they can also be used in your marketing campaigns to truly illustrate to in-market shoppers how your modern, digital experience makes your dealership different from the rest. 

Then, as customers choose your dealership based on these specific call-outs in your reviews, they’ll be primed to leave a similar style review of their own. It becomes a cyclical process, where each happy customer actively influences your next ones by sharing the individual details of your customer experience that make your dealership the best place to do business.

6Celebrate & Show-Off Your Team

Building an award-winning reputation for your business can’t be done by a singular Marketing Manager or a QR code in the showroom. It’s been proven time and time again that building an award winning online reputation is a team sport. The entire dealership — from top to bottom — must prioritize every single 1:1 interaction between employees and customers to ensure it’s the best it can be.

Beyond setting the expectation for the way your team can and should interact with your guests, you can take it a step further by publicly recognizing the great reviews your employees receive for the high level of customer service they provide. 

Congratulate them in your sales meetings and internal communications. Reinforce how by building their personal brand, they’re driving referrals and business that directly boosts the overall ROI of your dealership.
You can even extend that individual recognition to your most valuable digital properties like your website, DealerRater®, and vehicle listings using Salesperson Connect™.

*Survey of 17,981 car buyers on, October 2018
**Based on VDP lead submissions between January 2019 – February 2020

Doing so will showcase your top performing team members’ reviews right on your VDPs, giving shoppers the ability to schedule an appointment directly with the salesperson they’d like to work with — making them 2.5x more likely to show up and purchase6.

7Make Your Team Taggable

Speaking of your team, you want to make sure that your employees are set up in the DealerRater® Dealer Panel so your customers can tag and individually rate them directly in their reviews. This is something that 87% of Dealer of the Year winners did for their employees7, and you can too regardless of whether you partner with DealerRater® or not. When your customers are given the ability to rate the staff members they interacted with, it builds better accountability across your team, which ultimately drives improved customer experience.

For those who are a DealerRater® customer, your team is given the extra capability of creating individual Employee Profile Pages. These pages allow shoppers to get to know, or choose, their salesperson which can lead to more 1:1 connections, and ultimately more reviews.

1. DealerRater® Analysis, January 2023
2. BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey February 2023
3. BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey February 2023
4. DealerRater® analysis of a sampling of 512,337 Google reviews over a six-month period ending Feb 14, 2023
5. Based on review volume of 1,182 ReviewBuilder™ customers between August 1, 2022 – January 31, 2023
6. Based on VDP lead submissions between January 2019 – February 2020
7. DealerRater® Dealer of the Year 2023 internal data