One of the biggest changes in auto retailing is the rise of online dealership reviews. Many automotive websites provide a forum for consumers to share their feelings and speak out on positive or negative customer experiences.

Quite often, negative reviews stem from the seemingly simple act of answering the phone. Here is an online review I came across just a few days ago:

“Found a nice vehicle listed online. When I called for more info they told me the price was wrong. The guy on the phone was not friendly at all and didn’t even say thank you for pointing out their mistake. I will not buy from this dealer.”

Just like that a potential sale is gone.

According to 2013 Nielsen research, 72% of all online readers believe what they read online, including negative dealership reviews, whether legitimate or not.

Nielson says 84% of people who found a negative store review have changed their minds about, or seriously questioned, doing business with that dealership.

Here’s extra salt in the wound. That bad online review will linger around for other car shoppers to read. Review sites give car shoppers a powerful voice. Dealerships need to be on top of their game with every customer interaction, whether by phone, email or personal contact.

Gone are the days when unhappy customers might influence just a handful of family and friends. Today, because of the review sites, negative interactions with dealerships can have a long-lasting and far-reaching impact.

This higher level of scrutiny means dealers need to continually improve every facet of operations to keep pace with consumer demands for impeccable service. In the long run, that’s good for everyone.

There is no better place to start than learning the right way to answer incoming calls. It is critical for salespeople to get things right, right from the start. In an age of emailing and texting, many salespeople need to reacquaint themselves with the basics of fielding phone calls.

Consider the aforementioned negative review. Maybe the person who answered the call actually started off right with a pleasant, “Welcome to Jones Motors. This is Dave. How can I help you?”

Even if he got the greeting right (and employees often don’t), the call obviously went downhill.

While you can’t tell from the review, it seems likely the salesperson didn’t get the potential customer’s name and phone number. Name and contact number are essential to success. It’s impossible to make a sale without this information. Obtain it earlier on.

The potential customer had a vehicle in mind, but had misinformation. It’s not clear where that came from. Most likely it was from the dealership, or perhaps even from a third-party website affiliate. It’s certainly not the customer’s fault.

Once the mistake had been discovered, a quick apology was in order. (“I’m sorry, we must have posted the wrong information. We’ll get that fixed as soon as possible. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.”)

Acknowledging a negative customer experience and offering an apology likely will ward off a negative review. But avoiding negative reviews isn’t the end goal. The end goal is to make a sale.

The potential customer was interested in a particular vehicle. By asking basic questions about the customer’s needs, the salesperson should have checked to see if there were similar vehicles in stock that were near the price point the potential customer originally quoted.

Doing that shows the salesperson is making an effort to find something the customer could use. If that alternate vehicle still doesn’t meet the potential customer’s needs, the salesperson can do a deeper needs-analysis to gauge the prospect’s driving habits and to see if anything else on the lot would be a good fit.

If nothing else does, the salesperson at least has a name and contact information to use as follow-up in the coming days to make a possible sale.

These are fundamental steps. Yet, many incoming phone sales opportunities are mishandled every day.

In today’s connected world, a customer-service slip can hurt both sales and reputation. Making sure your employees are well-versed in call management techniques can keep your reviews, and cash flow, positive.

Andrew Price is president of CallSource Automotive. He can be reached at 877-725-5573.