For other installments in this 12-part series, click on the corresponding number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
There’s no better feeling than when a customer chooses your collision repair shop solely influenced by the quality of your work. Recently, a customer who was impressed by the repair done on her neighbor’s car dropped her vehicle off at our shop. Before she came to us, she went to the “required” appointment at one of Nationwide’s Blue Ribbon shops but made it clear she had her own preferred shop. After the “required” appointment, she handed over the estimate to us and we made the customary call to Nationwide.
Nationwide decided the customer didn’t have the freedom to choose her own shop. We let them know we were prepared to have her car repaired and back on the road before her scheduled appointment at their shop. The customer service representative not so politely insisted that we weren’t permitted to repair the car. He said that not only would the original estimate not be honored at our shop, but an estimator would not be able to come out for two weeks. To top it off, he refused to authorize a rental.
We can argue the legality of Nationwide’s response till the cows come home, but this is the reality of the industry. We kept the job by fronting rental fees to avoid any inconvenience to the customer.
The bottom line is that insurance companies are more aggressively crossing the line than ever before. With the blatant steering we’re experiencing these days, no one can afford to sit by and watch while they steal our customers.
While we observe from the sidelines and wonder why customers don’t respect the experts, insurance companies are dominating with a media blitz suitable for a presidential campaign. They have advertisements in consumer magazines and on radio and TV that feed on customers’ fears and stereotype untrustworthy car repairmen. They reach into homes with cute-talking animals, animated superheros, famous actors and agents that magically pop up at accident scenes. Customers are bombarded with their messages, and the only way for body shops to counter is to bombard consumers with our own messages.
Doing good work and counting on referrals is one way to get work. But if we want to have a chance, everyone in the collision industry has to step up his or her game. Even without million-dollar budgets, there are specific techniques we can use to remind customers we’re right here in the neighborhood, at
Start with your own brand of positive PR. Build trust as the expert in the area with monthly or seasonal postcard newsletters, offering advice on all things automotive. You don’t have to produce the newsletter yourself. For the fraction of the price of radio time, you can hire a freelancer to write a year’s worth of short articles for it. And your helpful hints will go directly to your target audience. Leave room for a “preferred customer” special like a free gas card or a percentage off the cost of a non-insurance job. Be creative and you’ll find that a small token of appreciation can go a long way.
Sponsor a local kids league. Stay visible by rooting for the neighborhood team with signs, banners, etc. The amount of money teams need to start out the season is nominal compared with the positive recognition you can build for your business – all for a couple hundred dollars and the cost of ice cream or pizza for your winning team. As a staple in the neighborhood, little Billy’s mom will trust you over the big insurance company. And all soccer moms have friends, and they have family and friends, too.
Have a customer appreciation day with a free car wash or AC charges. It costs little more than your time and is a great way to create positive word-of-mouth.
For all the shops currently in your system, make sure your customers clear you to do the work – not the insurance company. Don’t allow collision experts to disappear in the new insurance-driven equation – you never know when you might have to sever ties with an insurance company. Even if you just leave a camera in the car imprinted with, “what to do in case of an accident,” or an air freshener, leave your company logo behind. It can be as cheesy as putting a keychain on every key. The point is to stay in your customers’ vision. Let your DRP exposure allow you to grow your customer base.
Our shop will probably never have a DRP, especially since it’s located in an urban area. For that reason, marketing and positive PR are that much more important to hold our market share. If I learned anything in the last two years since this series began, it’s this: The more the actual shops lose control, the more dismal the outcome for our entire industry.
I sincerely thank everyone for their advice and feedback. Hopefully, sharing our experiences and revelations has helped others in the industry strengthen their business resolve – or at least helped them realize they aren’t alone. Thank you for sharing in our journey. It was an incredible ride.
Writer Monica Dorsey is a partner at Classic CollisionWorks in Philadelphia, Pa. You can reach her at [email protected].