Why Online Customer Reviews Are More Important than Ever

Megan Fulkerson of 3P Marketing said shops that have negative reviews and do not acknowledge them appear to not care. She suggests responding to every review, positive or negative.

Every transaction has a value in terms of both human resources and money, and online reviews from customers play a significant role in both for any business.

Many auto body shop owners and managers use review sites to connect with customers and get feedback. But many are still skeptical about the authenticity of the reviews posted.

Before the online consumer review industry gained momentum roughly 18 years ago when Yelp was founded, people had to rely on recommendations from friends, neighbors and associates. Word-of-mouth worked pretty well, but now we can access hundreds of reviews within minutes, rather than polling the mailman or the checker at your grocery store for the best restaurants, movie theaters or body shops.

As a body shop owner or manager, ultimately, all you want is to acquire new customers, retain existing ones and increase revenue. But like many, you're probably a little overwhelmed by the speed at which technology evolves and how to respond to it.

Recently, I saw this powerful quote from the Harvard Business Review: "Many companies need to dramatically shift their marketing strategies to account for the rising power exerted on future customers by the opinions of existing customers."

I had a friend who used to say opinions are like a certain orifice we all possess. It still applies, but now everyone's opinions seem to count more than ever, especially online.

For companies that do an exemplary job and garner high CSI ratings as a result, online review sites are a wonderful thing. On the other hand, what happens if you're a good company, but you're not getting a significant number of accolades from the public---or, worse, negative bogus reviews from competitors and disgruntled former employees?

Megan Fulkerson, managing partner and strategist at 3P Marketing in Evansville, IN, works with body shops and other small businesses on their online reviews and how to set them up for success.

“While managing reviews can seem daunting, taking care of your customers and providing safe and proper repairs is what we try to do every day,” she said. “Taking things one step further and by having CSRs or estimators ask the customer to provide a review is a great way to have current responses added to your list of online reviews.”

Online reviews are crucial in the collision industry because people want to be comfortable before they trust a body shop with their vehicles, Fulkerson said.

“The collision repair industry is especially important because vehicles are most commonly the second largest asset one possesses in their lifetime. For most, it is critical to the success of their day---ensuring the kids are at school and they make it to work on time," Fulkerson said. "Because of this heightened importance and cost endured when getting collision repair, many are extra hesitant to entrust their vehicle at a shop that does not have recent and good reviews.”

Fulkerson said shops always need to respond to reviews, both positive and negative.

“Another important aspect of getting reviews is responding to them,” she said. “The only opportunity we have as a business owner to dispute a review is to leave a response. By remaining cool and calm but potentially shedding some light onto the negative experience mentioned, you can show that you stand by your work and will always make it right.

"Businesses that have negative reviews and do not acknowledge them appear that they do not care," she said. "While many aspects of marketing and advertising are evolving, the need for good reviews remained unchanged.”

Those shops that embrace online reviews and pursue new marketing techniques such as geofencing, SEO strategies and digital advertising are excelling, Fulkerson said.

Here are some more interesting numbers and analysis from ReviewTrackers:

Google remains the No. 1 review site of choice. Nearly 64% of consumers say they are likely to check Google reviews, through Google Maps and Search, before visiting a business location---more than any other review site. Yelp ranks second at 45.18%, followed by TripAdvisor and Facebook.

Google’s review growth is driven by the volume of zero-click searches, which rose to 65% in 2020. By showing review snippets and star ratings in organic search results without having to send users to a third-party website, Google has effectively cut in line ahead of other websites in the online reviews space.

Eighty-eight percent of all reviews come from only four review sites---Google (73%), Yelp (6%), Facebook (3%) and TripAdvisor (3%). Approximately 75% of new business is influenced by only a handful of business review sites and directories: Google, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Apple Maps and Bing Maps.

Review interaction is up by 50% from pre-pandemic levels. It’s one of the many signs demonstrating consumers’ heightened sensitivities about where to go or what to purchase in the wake of the pandemic.

If your shop is missing the boat when it comes to sites like these, I would suggest to not try to do it yourself. Hire a knowledgeable company that specializes in leveraging these review sites to deliver solid leads and increase your car count.

Ed Attanasio

Columnist
Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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