Mobials: new digital word of mouth tool arrives

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Mobials co-founders James Hayes (left) and Brad Hanebury

In business, any business, you’re only as good as your reputation. And reputation is something a lot of dealers find themselves struggling with.

From a consumer standpoint, car dealers don’t often rank amongst the top businesses for reputation. Although this often has more to do with perception than reality, it’s a lingering stigma. The disconnect between how dealers actually conduct themselves and the feedback that is published on the web, is significant.

“We’ve been around for 45 years and we’ve got two Google reviews, one positive, one negative,” says Curtis Vickers, Internet marketing and sales manager at Summit Ford in Rexdale, Ont. “That’s it. We wouldn’t have stayed in business this long if the majority of our customers weren’t happy.”

It was this lack of control over the review process that made Vickers want to search for a better way, whereby sales or service staff could actually ask customers if they were happy with the experience and then those customers could spread the message through their own online social networks.

Mobials-logoThat was how Vickers met James Hayes from a new startup company Mobials (Mobile Testimonials). Hayes, an entrepreneur who has started and been involved with multiple businesses, says he co-founded Mobials when he and partner Brad Hanebury perceived a gap in the marketplace for automotive reputation management. “Brad had been in the automotive space,” says Hayes “and we’d been chatting about developing a classified site. I had sort of an ‘aha!’ moment when I realized there was a content issue for dealers in Canada.”

Although there were inventory listing sites, where consumers were spending a lot of their time doing research on vehicles, Hayes says there was room for improvement regarding brand reputation tools. “We started asking ourselves questions,” says Hayes. “Is this the way things should be? Is this giving the dealers the return on investment they require? Is there value in this system? We kept coming back with a resounding answer that ‘no’ there wasn’t.” He says the current review systems were even hostile to dealers.

So how could it be fixed? One way was by conducting more research, another was by actually asking stakeholders in the auto retailing business what they wanted in a reputation management solution — one where the dealer has control over the review process and where consumers would actually respond and be able to spread reviews, which could be linked back directly to the dealership and the individual staff member who sold the car or provided the service.

“We needed a solution that was driven from the bottom up, where individual sales staff are poised to ask the customer for a review, since they are the ones that have earned the trust and created the brand loyalty,” says Hayes.

That meant being able to connect the dots, to create a mobile application built around a new ecosystem whereby the consumer, the dealership and the third-party content publisher were all connected to each other, in essence creating digital word of mouth advertising on the go. It’s an important consideration since whether in the virtual or real world, people tend to care far more about what others say about you than what you say about yourself.

Furthermore, says Hayes, Mobials can help drive the service end of the business, becoming a retention as well as a promotional tool for dealers.

Although it is still early days yet, Hayes says both dealers and publishers have responded well to the concept with a number choosing to participate in the beta testing stage and forming partnerships, prior to the official launch of Mobials.

“The thing I like about it,” says Curtis Vickers, “is that it is something our salespeople can do and not only is it giving the customer the review, it is giving the opportunity to share that review. I have had a couple of customers that have taken pictures of their vehicles, put them online and tagged me in them on our Facebook page and saying thank you, so all of their family and friends can see it. How great is that?”

Susan Gubasta, president of Mississauga Toyota, in Mississauga, Ont. is another dealer who saw value in Mobials and joined the beta testing program. “The whole point is to get more reviews out there,” says Gubasta “but what I like is that it leads to customer retention. It has a reward program and customers love reward programs. It keeps them connected with the store.”

On the publishing side, Kathy Ward, president and CEO of Canadian Black Book, says she thought the concept behind Mobials was “an excellent idea — bringing the consumer together with the car dealer. We are looking to do that and looking for the best possible services to add our website to make that happen. Mobials is an ideal match for us.”

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Canadian auto dealer