A viable website is very important to any dealership in this digital age. Online search engines have long surpassed offline tools like the yellow pages when it comes to attracting new customers. Moreover, Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines have a wealth of free tools to help small businesses rank higher in the search results. Every dealer should take advantage of these.

According to Pete Blackshaw, in his book “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends — Angry Customers Tell 3,000,” any dealer without a good web presence is literally losing access to a large number of potential customers. Once thought of as just another part of the marketing plan, it’s now important to recognize that today’s websites are more than just tools to play offense. They can also initiate a viable defense for a dealership and/or its brands when unhappy customers want to vent.

First, about offense, one of the hottest tools today is the use of customer testimonials -- more specifically, video testimonials. Using short clips of real customers, sharing their happy experiences, powerfully displays people who have already put their money up and are enjoying the benefits! It captures the “human” aspect. For a prospective buyer, seeing these clips can instill trust, confidence and enthusiasm for your sales message. And, we’re not talking about Steven Spielberg productions here, either. These clips are short, simple to make and easy to integrate into any website.

Switching to defense, it may be surprising that we should even consider such when thinking about a website. But we’re now living in an ultra-connected world. In the “good old days,” an unhappy customer would write a letter. Today, a customer who is unhappy with a dealer, product or service can virtually unleash their wrath into cyberspace with the click of a mouse. Even more concerning, a customer could unload his rancorous dissatisfaction in some clever way and it could go viral! Remember “United Breaks Guitars” that got millions of “hits” on YouTube because United Airlines foolishly ignored a customer? An extreme example, sure. But lots of damage can be done on a local scale by an angry customer who should have been addressed.

Making certain you have an interactive website can be a great defense against such unwanted notoriety. A website that has a clear provision for a customer to express dissatisfaction is now more important than ever. In turn, it allows the dealership to quickly address the complaint before it gets out of control. An interactive website can act as a “shock absorber,” Blackshaw contents. “It’s better to take a hit directly than to see it cascade across a million public venues – that’s really where a lot of brands have gotten stung big time,” he emphasizes.

Are you using customer video testimonials? Is your website interactive? Now that we’re finally seeing the climate for boat sales improving, it’s the right time to review, update and improve your website.