COVER STORY: Brand on the Brain - BodyShop Business

COVER STORY: Brand on the Brain

Want to get consumers thinking about your shop all the time? The key is to create a marketing plan that emphasizes repetition and consistency.

Every collision repair facility owner has a similar story to tell of the friend or relative who got in a wreck and went not to his or her shop but to a competing shop. Chances are that the friend or relative simply forgot what you do for a living.

A shop owner recently shared one of these stories with me about a former neighbor of his. The neighbor smacked himself in the head and said, “Oh wow, I should have taken my car to your shop!” The amazing thing is that this was a customer who had been to the shop owner’s facility on many occasions back when they were neighbors!

Why does this happen? The answer is simple: most shops don’t repeat their marketing message enough. Repeating your message is truly the most effective way to keep your name in front of the consumer. Media advertising, for example, is most effective when it’s consistent and frequently viewed by the consumer. Think of how many catalogs you personally receive in the mail each month and how they affect your purchasing decisions.

Repetition in marketing is also important considering that the average consumer only needs the services of a collision repair facility once every seven years. So collision repairers have a twofold marketing challenge: Keeping the names of their businesses front and center and targeting consumers who don’t need their services very often.
A Changing Market

It’s no secret to any of us that the collision repair business is changing. There’s less business to go around due to a host of factors, including less miles driven, safer vehicles and roads, tough economic conditions and a significant increase in total losses. It’s even more imperative, then, in an environment where everyone’s fighting for repeat and referral business to pursue a consistent marketing plan.

When a vehicle is damaged, no matter how minor or severe, consumers look to the shop for answers to their questions and solutions to the inevitable inconvenience they’ll experience. It’s important, then, to keep the message circulating on how you guide your customers through the process. Education on the repair, rental access, interior cleaning and cycle time are some areas to focus your message on.

Just as the automotive dealership works hard to promote a professional image, so too should a collision repair facility. One way to do this might be to explain how the use of advanced technologies will minimize the customer’s inconvenience and restore the damaged vehicle to its original condition. Your motto might be, “When you need our service and experience, we’ll be there.” The bottom line is that you need to make your business stand out from the crowd.

Here are several examples of marketing that will help your repair facility take on a professional look while focusing on the infrequent customer. Whatever way you choose to get your message across, keep in mind that consistency will make the difference.

Think Positive

The newspaper, Yellow Pages and radio advertising are what we typically think of when we hear the term “advertising.” Today, however, members of the  younger generation and others are “Googling,” not walking their fingers through the Yellow Pages. You should target these consumers with Web sites that are easy to navigate and display basic information such as the various services you offer and how to contact you. Be open to this new wave of advertising. Times are changing and shops need to be creative. Take the saying, “You cannot do the same thing and expect different results,” to heart.

Let’s look at some new ideas that will make consumers think of your particular shop long before they get in an accident.

One of the difficulties body shops encounter when dealing with consumers is overcoming the “negative sale,” or the fact that the consumer only goes to the body shop when he or she is involved in an accident. Perhaps if we could eliminate some of this negativity, shops would benefit. For example, what if you hosted a charity car wash? All you would need to do is find a local high school club that wants to raise some money and offer your facility as a place to put on such an event. Or how about putting on a Chamber of Commerce golf outing, sponsoring a sports team, participating in the city parade or holding an open house? These are all inexpensive ways to support your community and promote your shop.

Promote why “keeping the business in your community” is a good thing. Donating bottles of water, candy or signs doesn’t cost a lot either and brands your shop’s name on past and future customers. Every person you talk to and mention your facility’s name to is a potential customer.

If you’re offering minor ding repair, advertise it. In fact, you should promote anything you do that isn’t major crash repair. The whole idea is to keep your shop foremost in the prospective customer’s mind before the crash.

Don’t forget e-mail marketing, too. Collecting customers’ e-mail addresses is easy to do by going through an e-mail marketing company. Once you have a list, you can keep in touch with them by letting them know about, for example, detailing specials, the aforementioned charity car washes, news tidbits, etc. You can opt not to go through an e-mail marketing company and manage e-mail distribution yourself, but you run the risk of your e-mails getting “spammed” or blocked by your customers and thus not read. An e-mail marketing company won’t be viewed as a “spammer” and will manage your list, track “opt-outs”, etc.

Want the Business

Every customer who walks through your door or calls your business is a keeper. Listening skills will help you ask the right questions in order to relax him or her. Remember, you’re comfortable in your environment but the customer may not be. Developing a relationship with your customer will result in repeat business.

Customers want to know that you want their business. Remind them that a car is the second largest investment they have and that they shouldn’t take the risk of driving a car that may be unsafe. Remind them that a lower estimate may not result in the best repair and that their cars need to be safe.

A flyer listing the questions that should be asked when choosing a shop is a small investment to hand the customer as he or she is leaving. Questions regarding warranty, OEM parts, unibody repair equipment and certification are all things the customer doesn’t know to ask about.

A flyer or follow-up letter to the customer will educate him or her and also serve to set your shop apart from others. In this economy, everyone is getting back to basics or should be. Review your sales techniques. Is it time for a refresher course?

Class Is in Session

You deal with accidents and estimates all day long, day in and day out. It’s important to remember that the average customer has no clue about what collision repair involves and feels out of place in your environment. Take time to explain the process, what the repair entails and what they can expect. If they don’t commit to the work at the time of the estimate, explain what steering is.

Remember that a customer cannot evaluate how well the technical end of the repair was done. The perception of a successful experience in your shop is influenced by service, treatment and follow-up. Manage your customers’ expectations by explaining what will happen and what kind of updates customers can expect regarding the progress of their repair. Make sure the customer doesn’t have to call for updates.

Be proactive. If you have to wait for a claims adjuster, educate the customer on how this impacts cycle time. A simple statement such as, “A claims adjuster is someone who evaluates the damage caused by an insurance-related accident,” will go a long way toward building the all-important relationship with the customer.

Take the time to explain to a customer why his or her automobile was classified as a total loss. If the main reason was the expense of replacing airbags, then educate the customer on this. Taking the time to explain all this is tough because you’re not making money on that total, but it will pay big dividends in future business and referrals. Customers will remember and appreciate that you took that valuable time to open their eyes to one part of the collision repair process.

Also, display empathy in regard to the time and expense the customer will need to invest in replacing that car. Even if the dealerships in your area have their own repair facilities, you should have contacts to refer your customers to help them find another car. Don’t look at it as referring to the competition – there are customers who prefer independent shops over dealerships, and chances are the dealership will pay your referral back by referring you if indeed the customer inquires about an independent shop.

Educating customers and managing their expectations will build trust and peace of mind. Building relationships is key to grabbing repeat customers and referrals. Treat the customer as you would want to be treated.

Another thing every shop should have is a “What to do in case of an accident” flyer. This piece will not only serve an educational purpose but, since it will have your shop’s name on it, will also serve as a promotional tool. It should be something that a customer could carry in his or her glove compartment. Also, consider handing out these flyers at driver education schools and insurance agencies.

Building Relationships

How comfortable you make the customer feel on first contact can often times determine the sale. With either phone or physical contact, you should always have a smile on your face. You might think it unimportant on the phone, but remember that a smile comes through on the phone.

Acknowledge the customer even though you’re multi-tasking: “Hello, thanks for coming, I’ll be with you in a moment!” Also, use the customer’s name often – it’s a person’s most valuable asset!

Don’t forget about building relationships with insurance agents because this is a good source of referrals, too! Make their responsibilities easier by delivering surveys to them. Agents and their office personnel will feel more secure in referring your shop if they have firsthand knowledge of their customers’ experiences at your shop.

Agents have told me that they’ll get a call from someone asking for a shop referral and, since they recently visited ABC Body Shop, the shop’s name is on their mind and so they’ll refer that shop. Better yet, ABC Body Shop left behind Post-It notes, notepads, pens, etc., and your name is embedded in their mind. Agents also appreciate a flyer with a shop’s services listed: rental access, detail work, loaners, experience, location, etc. Again, it eliminates guesswork for the agent. Last but not least, thank agents for their referrals with consistent visits.

Attitude of Gratitude

It’s general knowledge that it’s less expensive to retain a customer than have to attract a new one. What better way to keep your repair facility’s name in front of customers than to tell them that you appreciate their business. Sending out a card semi-annually costs very little and reminds customers that your facility will be there when they need you. Promote the saying, “Please tell a friend if you’re happy with your repair, and tell us if you have an issue so we can resolve it.”

Don’t forget the importance of marketing. Most body shops would rather be repairing vehicles than running their businesses, but you really should act like a business that fixes cars rather than just a car-fixer. Review your marketing budget and how you track your business. Know where your business is coming from. Target new techniques and most important: Be consistent in your marketing.  A

Pat Lewis has been in the automotive business her entire career, starting out as an automotive consultant and then part of the Bell & Howell-ProQuest-OEConnection family. Lewis is now doing promotional work for collision repair facilities to promote their businesses. She can be reached at [email protected].

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