Thursday, 20 September 2012 15:10

Go Where Your Customers Are—You’ll Find Them Online

To view a pdf file of this article with photos, click HERE.


In late August, the California Autobody Association’s Inland Empire Chapter hosted special guest speaker, Frank Terlep, CEO and Lead Sherpa of Summit Software and Marketing Solutions.

Terlep, with 25 years experience in the industry, addressed the Inland Empire CAA group Aug. 29 at Don Marcos Restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, on the topic of “Digital Marketing = More Customers, Revenue and Profit.”

Back in 2000, 132 million Americans had access to the Internet. Today, that number has increased to 274 million. Additionally, recent statistics show that customers would rather be contacted by email or text than by phone. About 98% of people read their text messages within three minutes.

The bottom line, according to Terlep, is that body shop owners need to be where their customers are, and they’re online, engaging in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+.

“Shops have no choice. They have to market their businesses to younger customers digitally,” Terlep said. And it’s not just the younger generations who are online. Terlep reports that in addition to 112 million Generation X (those born during the 1960s to early 1980s) and Generation Y (those born in the early 1980s to early 2000s) consumers who grew up in a digital world, there are 60 million Baby Boomers who are actively using Internet, email, text and social media.

Although many customers prefer to receive status notifications by text, email is still the most powerful digital marketing tool, says Terlep. Use your email marketing for education, branding, special promotions and coupons. “But, don’t spam your customers— give them value,” he says, such as tips to car care. Build your customer database by collecting your customer email addresses. Of the group in Rancho Cucamonga that evening, only three shops collected email addresses from their customers. But all three reported they had no problem asking for or receiving email addresses. One shop uses a form that asks for a customer’s email address right beneath the name—it’s the second question on the form. Terlep cites a statistic that more than 80% of consumers prefer to be marketed to via email. According to Stan Rapp, the father of direct email marketing, an email address is worth $118 to business.

Got a website? Great. It’s your online lobby. It’s how potential customers find you. But it’s no longer good enough to have just a website. Terlep says small businesses that are successful digital marketers need to utilize all the marketing tools, techniques and technologies available to capture and retain more customers, revenue and profit. He suggests a welcoming video featuring the shop owner be placed on the home page. It’s like greeting a customer at your front door. But the video doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Have one of your technicians man the camera. People like ‘real’ so don’t worry about it being professional.

Do you know if your website is doing its job? Utilize Google Analytics to find out. It’s free and tells you how your website is performing. Another important aspect is to ensure your website has optimal search engine results. When a potential customer Googles ‘auto body repair’ in your area, will your shop show up on the first page? Rarely, will someone go to page 2 of the search. For this reasons, shops should be frequently updating and changing their website. Another reason: “You have between 5–15 seconds to capture their attention,” Terlep says. Terlep suggests shops hire an SEO (search engine optimizations) consultant to make sure their site is found.

Another good use of your website is to incorporate positive reviews and testimonials because 82% of consumers select a repair facility based on customer reviews and ratings.

Getting good online ratings and reviews is imperative to the success of a body shop in today’s world, Terlep says. Shops could be get getting damaging reviews and not even know about it. There are dozens of platforms out in cyberspace besides Yelp that you may have never heard of, such as Squidoo, Reddit, HubPages, StumbleUpon, FeedBurner, Weebly, and Zimbio. According to Terlep, phone-based CSI surveys will someday soon be a thing of the past.

Most people have accidents every 7–10 years. Do your customers remember you? Your customer is your customer because they had a negative event occur in their life. It was a huge disruption to their daily routine. Most people just want to forget and move on. And they are probably forgetting where they had their car repaired. Because of a customer’s tendency to forget, Terlep says this is why body shops need to be continually marketing to their existing and future customers. Terlep strongly advises shops to offer services other than collision repair so their customers won’t forget them between accidents. Offer these services as coupons in your email campaigns.