In the Futurist column, we often focus on changing automotive technology and how it will impact collision repairers in the near future. In this article, however, the focus is on an area of collision repair that has not changed as quickly as the advances in accident avoidance technology: how collision repair shops deal with customers. Don't get me wrong; there are many elements in performing a quality repair that should not change. But just as new materials and technology used in vehicle construction require new repair methods, so, too, there are new methods to be used when reaching out to customers today.
When it comes to customer service, technology has changed, too. Is your shop keeping up with the changes? I believe that understanding the changes in social media and Web 2.0 is as important as understanding how changes in metallurgy will affect collision repair. If you ignore how customers now interact with the Web and social media, you risk not reaching these customers at all.
How active is your website?
In today's world, where most people rely on the Internet for pre-purchase education, I believe that a Web presence and customer testimonials have begun to replace in-person word-of-mouth advertising. In using a search engine to find body shop websites in my hometown, I have found there are three basic results:
1. The body shop has no website at all, only a listing in the Internet white pages.
2. A website for a shop came up, but it was a static single page with not much more than basic phone information.
3. The website was interactive, with pictures of the shop, vehicle "'before and after" photos, customer testimonials, helpful information on training certifications, and what to do to report a loss. Some shops had Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, demonstrating they embrace the new media way of communicating.
Now, it's obvious which site an Internet-savvy customer will spend the most time exploring and remember when they report the loss to their insurer. Many readers will be thinking at this point that since the insurer will recommend a direct repair program (DRP) shop anyway it doesn't matter, but it does matter. If a vehicle owner then calls in the loss, and two of the three example shops above are on the recommended shop list — which shop would the vehicle owner likely choose? The one where the only listing was the white pages or one of the others that reached out to communicate?
Let's say I'm a vehicle owner and none of the shops in the example above are on my DRP, and I don't like any of the recommended shops from the DRP listing. My insurer reiterates that I can take my car to the shop of my choice. Wouldn't the shop that I had spent the most time on the Internet researching and reading customer testimonials for have the best chance of being selected?
The argument for being relevant in social media and on the Web becomes more important when we look at demographics. The younger the potential customer is, the more important an active Web presence is. And as insurance companies can tell you, younger drivers have more accidents. So why wouldn't you want to go after the customer base that is most likely to need your shop?
So, I challenge you to Google or Bing the words "body shop" or "collision repair," along with the city where your business is located and see what comes up.
Is your business website the one that stands out for the right reasons? Find someone at your business who is a "Millennial" (born between 1980 and 1995), because this is the generation that is absorbed with the Internet and into social media. Ask them which website they like best and why. Then find someone to help you with search engine optimization (SEO) to attract customers who are using the Internet to research their collision repair purchase needs.
The good news is that it's pretty inexpensive to hire web designers and SEO professionals these days. You might even have someone working for you who could get your site to the next level.
This could be the most cost-effective investment you can make for the long-term health of your business.