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February 2, 2023

Management Takeover: Reputation Management Strategies Dealerships Need to Consider During a Merger or Acquisition

Reputation management strategy should not be overlooked in the chaos of management change. These tactics build trust and can make a transition successful.

There’s a lot on your mind when you’re going through the process of acquiring a new dealership. Between the logistics of the sale and training and hiring new employees, the last thing on your to-do list might be online reputation management. 

However, an automotive management transition is an excellent opportunity to make an online reputation management game plan. We’re boiling it down to the essentials to make it easy for dealerships trying to improve their online reputation after an acquisition or management transition. Whether the dealership has great Google reviews already, or if its reputation has room for improvement, here are some tools used by experts in automotive reputation management that will help set up your strategy. 

Let customers know about the acquisition when it’s relevant. 

Name change? Give them a heads-up.

Often, customers are fairly unaware that their local dealership changes hands. If changing the name of your dealership, your customers may be confused for months after the transition. When looking up directions, they may search for the old name. You want to make sure your loyal customers stay committed after the transition. 

Consider proactively letting your customers know via a newsletter or in an email about their upcoming service that the dealership’s name is changing but that you’re still here providing the same great service. 

Another tactic is to reply to reviews as usual and add a sentence letting all of your most recent reviewers know that their go-to dealership is changing management, and sharing any changes that might affect them. 

Management transition means an opportunity to win back lost business.

Think of a dealership acquisition as a rare moment to earn back the business of bygone customers. One strategy we see that works well is to respond to old, negative reviews letting the customer know that the rooftop has been acquired and you’re newly in charge and ready to assist. Here’s an example of a reply that might work:

“Thanks for sharing this feedback about your frustrating experience with us. I’m so sorry to hear that we let you down. I would like to let you know that as of (Date of Management Transition), our store is under new management and we are prepared to right any wrongs made in the past. We’re here to support you and we’d love the chance to earn back your business. If there’s anything we can do for you, or if you’re willing to discuss this, please reach out to me. 

Sincerely, (Manager Name - Title - Phone number)”

While it’s possible that your communication may not always win upset reviewers back, it shows prospective customers that it is worth coming to your store and will earn you more business in the end. 

voice of the customer report promo in article

Review Management 

Getting more reviews 

With the dealership under new management, get ahead of the local competition by increasing your review volume. 

Some fail-proof strategies to get more reviews:

  • Ask every customer for a review
  • Send the request via SMS 
  • Automate the process 
  • Personalize the review ask and put it in the context of the customer’s visit
  • Add a link to your Google Business Profile so it’s easy to leave a review
  • Outsource review solicitation to a company that integrates with your CRM

*Tip: For dealers who undergo a name change, we recommend including a reminder of the name change in review request messages so your customers know where the text is coming from. “Hey Kelly, this is Chris here at Yellow Ford (previously Blue Ford). Would you take a minute to leave a review about your recent oil change?”

If you know that the dealership previously had a review generation strategy, consider how successful it was– and if you may want to switch things up. To determine the success of the previous strategy, consider: 

  • Were you getting as many reviews as you could? We consider a good target to be ~20% of your monthly customer transaction volume.
  • Were you asking for reviews at the right time? We consider the ‘right time’ to be when the best impression is made. For example, post-vehicle sale, the impression you want to capture is the feeling when the customer drives off the lot in their new car. Don’t ask during the finance process when your customer is stressed. 
  • Were you asking at multiple customer touchpoints? Possible opportunities for a review include a test drive, vehicle sale, state inspection visit, regular maintenance, and recall service. 

Automated Review Generation  Send Texts. Get Reviews. Make Sales. Learn more about Invite

Responding to Reviews 

When you acquire a dealership, you’ll want to consider what’s been successful for you in the past in terms of review response strategies. Maybe you have had success with an in-house responder. If you have a relatively low number of transactions and reviews per month, assigning response duties to an individual at your dealership can be a sufficient strategy. 

Alternatively, maybe you’ve hired a reputation management company to manage your reviews in the past. Often we see large dealership groups utilize this centralization strategy. If you decide to upgrade your review generation strategy to something automated, like Invite, partnering with a review response service may be the best way to stay on top of an increased volume of reviews.

Regardless of who is assigned the responsibility, we recommend responding to every review, good and bad. As noted previously, in the first few months after your management transition, it can be a good idea to include key details of the acquisition in your responses. Changes made to the dealership name or hours of operation may be helpful to include. 

Be on the lookout for possible negative feedback from customers during your period of transition. During this time, it’s possible that service may falter if your team’s energy is focused on a smooth transition. To any customers claiming to feel unattended to during this time, consider noting that you’re in a period of transition and you’re committed to 5-star service moving forward. 

Download the printable cheat sheet of 54 high-impact words and phrases to use in review responses

Group-level reputation management strategies

Larger dealership groups acquiring more rooftops will benefit from a centralized reputation management strategy as they expand. 

A centralized approach is one in which reputation management strategies, like review generation, review response, and customer sentiment tracking, can all take place in one tool or by a specific team. Whether this is the corporate team or an outside vendor, it can be helpful to have consistency across review response and review solicitation activities. 

Collecting all your reviews in one place offers insights that wouldn’t otherwise be available. If choosing an outside vendor, look for one that offers a reporting dashboard so you can determine individual location performance and sort by customizable categories and tags. 

Make new management takeovers seamless with a centralized reputation management plan in place. 

Rooftop Rebranding: Digital Best Practices for Your Website and SEO

Changing the name of a dealership can be a complicated endeavor. Whether the rebranding results from an automotive group acquisition, a new strategic direction for the current owners, an OEM inventory switch, or a straight buy/sell between two local businesspeople, a name change comes with a list of both traditional and digital marketing-related tasks to work through.

Onsite Considerations

While changing your website address/URL may seem daunting, if done correctly any loss of organic search engine rankings or traffic may be minimal and temporary. Here are a few procedures to take into consideration which assume it is only the main domain name, and not the technology (platform/CMS) behind the website, undergoing said change:

  1. URL Structure: Where possible, maintain the same post top-level domain addresses. For example, www.olddealrership.com/service-department transitions to www.newdealership.com/service-department. If you do wish to change the structure, see #3.
  2. Content: Fresh content is always a smart use of time in the eyes of an algorithm, but if you want to minimize any traffic losses, keep it simple. Maintain the same page names, URLs, metadata and on on-page copy to help ensure the resulting traffic fluctuation is a ripple as opposed to a tidal wave. If you are planning considerable content additions or rewrites, save it until a couple of months/weeks after the URL rebrand. 
  3. 301 Redirects: There are several types of redirects, but the 301 tells search engine algorithms that a page has moved, permanently, and isn’t coming back. 301s can be assigned at the site or page-by-page level, and this will cause the algorithm to follow your specific directions as to a replacement and then reindex a specific URL. If 301s are not in place when a site migration takes place, there’s a lot the indexing bots will have to figure out on their own, and this can result in traffic/ranking losses.

Offsite Considerations

Once your website has been successfully refreshed and reindexed, it’s time to consider what has to be addressed off-site as a “local SEO” and brand awareness best practice. It isn’t enough to just complete a migration to your website’s new URL and be done with it - you also have to take any external references, links, or citations into consideration. Think specifically in terms of listings, business directories, review sites and other “outposts” which may attract prospective customers and contribute backlinks helpful to organic rankings.

Your first order of business, because it is such a powerful tool in 2023, is to update your Google Business Profile. If your web address, phone number, location or any other critical business detail has changed, this must be reflected on your GBP and other external sites as quickly as possible. Inaccurate business info can result in confused humans and algorithms alike - ultimately leading to a loss of business and SERP (Search Engine Result Page) visibility. 

GBP isn’t the only game in town. Your presence on sites like Cars.com, Autotrader, Dealerrater, Yelp, etc. will also have to be updated to truly stick to best practices. This is often referred to as “NAP Alignment” (Name/Address/Phone) and consistent records across relevant 3rd party sites you are able to build and then control profiles on is key to a comprehensive online marketing strategy.

If this sounds like a time-consuming task, that’s because it is. While possible to handle it internally, if the digital marketing resources are in place, there are also many local listings management services that will do the work for you. Follow the link to see some of our preferred options. 

All things considered...

Reputation management strategies should not be overlooked in the chaos of a management change. In fact, most of these tactics can relieve points of tension, build and maintain trust in your dealership, and ultimately make the transition more successful.

For a more comprehensive overview of your reputation performance, and valuable industry insights, check out the Widewail Automotive Reputation Index. See how your dealership stacks up against competitors and learn how to leverage the voice of the customer. 

Interactive Dataset  Automotive Reputation Index Explore (It's Free)

Keaton Smith

I’m a writer, philosopher, climber, mountain biker, and a fried-egg enthusiast. Before joining Widewail as a Review Response Specialist, I attended Middlebury College and studied Philosophy and Art History. I grew up in Michigan, but I fell in love with Vermont while in school.

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