Two very different brands, Nissan and Lexus, are claiming the highest reputation scores in the United States.
Reputation management is more important than ever in a year dominated with change and uncertainty among the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from Reputation.com, “2020 Automotive Reputation Report Update.”
Consistent and effective reputation management emerged as an important factor in increasing sales volume, inspiring trust among customers and driving operational improvements. Dealerships effectively managing their digital reputations are seeing a 10% increase in sales, according to the report.
The difference in the type of brands which are both at the top — Nissan is mainstream while Lexus is a luxury brand — shows the cost of a car doesn’t automatically mean better service or reputation overall, according to Reputation.com.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many OEMs and dealers went above and beyond to communicate the extra cleaning protocols they were taking to keep customers and employees safe, says Ali Fawaz, managing director, head of automotive strategy, at Reputation.com.
“Because this is an ongoing and unprecedented situation, it’s important that they continue to incorporate messaging about the safety measures being taken at the dealership level,” Fawaz tells DriveTime. “They have to keep incorporating these messaging on platforms such as their website, Facebook, Google My Business and other digital touchpoints where the customer can engage with the retailer.”
The report validates that the way consumers are buying their cars has drastically changed in a short amount of time. Many have opted to use virtual car-buying tools and contactless home delivery options, for example. For those that do venture into dealerships, hygiene has been a big concern that is consistently reflected in customer feedback online.
In fact, mentions of personal health and safety in online reviews have grown 100X since the pandemic hit. Dealerships have responded in part with valet service, which minimizes customers’ interactions with others inside brick-and-mortar locations. A dealership’s valet service is the No. 1 new driver of positive sentiment during the pandemic, according to the report.
“Consumers have quickly become reliant on viewing reviews and feedback from other customers that visited dealerships and service centers in person, looking for updated hours and appointment availability, as well as how dealers uphold safety precautions during this challenging time,” Fawaz says.
Complaints about price drove many negative reviews. Manufacturer shutdowns due to COVID-19 resulted in a lower inventory of both new and used cars, driving up auto prices. Prices will remain high for the foreseeable future, as it will likely take the auto industry two years to restore sales and production numbers seen pre-pandemic.
Reputation.com’s data science team applied machine learning to unstructured text from consumer reviews on Google, Facebook and other sources for more than 33,000 dealerships and leading automotive brands worldwide.
Dealerships and brands were ranked using Reputation Score, a measurement on a scale of 0 to 1,000 that considers a location’s sentiment, visibility and engagement across nine elements: star average, review volume, review recency, review spread, search impressions, review response, review length, listing accuracy and social impressions.