Some things aren’t going away. Like gravity. And customers’ online dealership reviews. Those are here to stay, says CEO Gary Tucker.

When such reviews started cropping up, they horrified many dealers. Some still bridle at the prospects of an unreasonable customer getting an open platform to air complaints that might otherwise carry little weight.

Yet, most dealership reviews are positive. Many of those that aren’t offer dealers a chance to spot an operational deficiency and address it, says Tucker.

Each month, about 40,000 new- and used-car buyers in the U.S. and Canada post DealerRater assessments. The website has tallied more than 1.7 million consumer reviews. Many shoppers use them as third-party sources.

WardsAuto talks to Tucker about how to get good and bad reviews, the power of storytelling in reviews and how a growing number of customer evaluations now focus on individual dealership employees. Here’s an edited version of the Q&A.      

WardsAuto: What’s a new trend in dealership reviews?

Tucker: We are seeing a connection at the person level with a strong number of reviews of individual salespeople and service writers. It’s moving from product to price to place to person.

An AutoTrader survey said 73% of people polled indicated a willingness to driver farther for a great salesperson. People are coming in asking for salespeople by name because of a DealerRater review.

WardsAuto: Presumably if someone is asking for a particular salesperson, it increases the chances of closing a deal.

Tucker: A dealer was telling me about a young salesperson who’s getting great reviews and posting great sales numbers.

WardsAuto: If dealers are trying to brand their store, would they not dislike ratings that focus on individual employees rather than the facility itself?

Tucker: A lot of dealers are concerned. They don’t want the individuals outshining the store. But you can still brand your store and have reviews of individuals. Especially if that sells more cars.

WardsAuto: Wouldn’t other salespeople resent customers asking for a co-worker by name? Doesn’t that cut into their action?

Tucker: In the case of the young salesman I mentioned, other employees were motivated to get customers posting online reviews about themselves, too.

WardsAuto: What happens when a lauded salesperson quits and goes to work at another dealership?

Tucker: There are ways to protect the dealer. If a salesperson leaves, the reviews don’t go with him. The reviews stay on the dealer’s listings. Auto dealerships have always relied on referrals. In the old days, it was an over-the-fence conversation between neighbors. Today, it’s online and scalable.   

WardsAuto: How do you get a good review? Is there a formula of doing this, this and that, and bingo, you’ve got yourself a 5-star rating?

Tucker: There’s no silver bullet. But dealers who get good reviews do a good job taking care of the customer. Transparency benefits them. For other dealers not up to speed, transparency can cause pressure. Like it or not, transparency is here. Trying to hold it back is like trying to hold back gravity.