It seems like technology is going to change our lives whether we want it to or not. Some people think it overly complicates things while others rush to embrace it because they believe that it makes their lives and businesses better.
In the collision repair industry, technology has helped body shops to do a better job across the board, especially on cars that have were made within the last 3--4 years. With new high-performance plastics, aluminium and sophisticated computer onboard systems on today's newer cars, collision repairers are either changing with the times or being left behind when it comes to technology.
We have seen this same scenario play out many times before. A new form of technology hits the market and some panic and run for the hills while others test the new technology and make their own decisions. I remember when California mandated the use of waterborne paint a decade ago. Some painters freaked out and avoided the switchover as long as they could. I even encountered one veteran painter back then who quit his job and went to another shop so that he could spray solvent for the next six months before it became law.
When I first started writing about the collision industry more than 12 years ago, some body shop owners were still fighting the personal computer, shop management systems, social media and other forms of emerging technology. One veteran shop owner told me back then that his computer was a "silly box on my desk" and that social media was for soccer moms and people with too much time on their hands. Since then, the entire industry has become savvier about all forms of technology and more open to using it to do better repairs, which is obviously the idea.
Back in 1962, Everett Rogers, a professor of communication studies wrote a book called Diffusion of Innovations in which he presented a theory that attempts to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread. Rogers argued that diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated over time among the participants in a social system and then identified five distinct personality types.
So, are you an innovator or a laggard or something in between? Take a look at each of these designations and decide for yourself:
Innovators (2.5%): Innovators will camp out in line for the new iPhone while most of us will wait at least until we read the reviews and get feedback from the innovators in our lives. These people are willing to pay top dollar to be the first on shop in their area to have the latest piece of equipment or tools. They are willing to take risks; are normally younger; usually have financial resources and are extremely outgoing and interact with other innovators. Innovators end up being the beta testers of the collision repair industry; love going to shows like SEMA to find the latest and greatest and will embrace technology 2-3 years before it becomes mainstream.
Innovators love reading operating manuals cover-to-cover and can't wait to tell their friends about the newest equipment they just bought for their shop.
Early Adopters (13.5%): These people are considered influential leaders whose opinions are respected. Early adopters are typically well-educated; have attained a higher social status; possess more financial lucidity; have and are more socially active than late adopters are. They are more discerning in their adoption choices than innovators are, but are still willing to take a chance on any type of training, tools or equipment that will help their daily operation.
Early Majority (34%): Individuals in this group will normally implement something new into their shop but only after the innovators and early adopters have set the table. They're willing to accept change, but wary and unwilling to take chances, in most cases. They usually possess above average social status, and many of their friends, colleagues and associates are early adopters, but they rarely hold positions of opinion leadership in a system. For example, innovators and early adopters hold office in collision industry trade organizations, while early majority people are just happy to be members. They're willing to participate, but don't want to lead.
Late Majority (34%): People in this category will adopt an innovation, but only after almost everyone else has. These individuals will approach an innovation with a considerable amount of skepticism. They will wait for all of the others to use a piece of equipment, management system or tool for a while and get some feedback before acting, but suffer from waiting as a result. Late majority people usually have below average social status; limited financial lucidity and possess very little opinion leadership. These people are still on the fence about things like OE certifications, plastic welders and even sophisticated measuring systems, but can be persuaded with solid information.
Laggards (16%): Individuals in this category are the last to adopt any innovation and proud of it in many cases. Showing little or no opinion leadership, laggards will typically fight change at every opportunity and tend to be 50 or older in age. They love to call themselves "old school" and likely have the lowest social status from anyone on this list with the lowest financial fluidity and the least education. Laggards are still using outdated tools; don't value training and think social media is still for soccer moms and teenage girls and that's why they're likely not in the top 20% of all shops in this country.
Curtis Nixon was a second-generation shop owner who was been an innovator his entire life. In 2009, he sold his family's shop and founded UpdatePromise, a leading communication and technology provider to auto insurers, repairers and dealerships throughout North America. In the last eight years, UpdatePromise has grown at a tremendous rate and communicates with millions of consumers and services throughout the United States.
Nixon has seen the industry change through innovation at a lightning fast rate, and has also encountered many of the people in each of these categories. The percentages will always change as people gravitate toward or step away from technology, but technology is unavoidable, he explained.
"The paradigm is shifting and more and more consumers are starting to use technology in every interaction they make," Nixon said. "At first, it was all about entertainment and people connecting with family and friends through social media. That was the starting point of a major shift. Initially, it was primarily younger people connecting via sites like MySpace, but then it migrated to Facebook and now we have more than 60% of the people in this country with a profile on a social media site."
Are more laggards becoming early adopters or vice versa? "We're seeing a huge change in the consumers' adoption rate of technology, but we still encounter what we call 'legacy employees' who are still reluctant about change 'and holding onto the past. Business is run by technology and there isn't any disconnection or loss of that personal approach when people use it, because that's what they actually want. Sometimes our customers will tell us they think they can do something better without using the technology. They're still attached to their paperwork and their notes and they pick up the phone and call their customers rather than use the technology that is available to them. The problem they run into is that their customers are moving faster than they are and they can't keep up."