According to surveys conducted by Phoenix Solutions Group (PSG), close to 80 percent of body shop customers choose a collision repair facility that they feel has their best interests at heart.
Nick Schoolcraft, president of the Illinois-based company, said shop owners and employees need to stop worrying about what their insurance partners and competitors are doing and how they are marketing. Instead, he stressed the importance of understanding how to best interact with customers and connect with them emotionally.
“A collision is an extremely emotional event. We really need to focus on building a strong relationship with customers as soon as they walk in the door,” said Nick during a presentation he gave this past November at the SEMA show in Las Vegas, NV, as part of the SCRS Repairer Driven Education Series. He told conference attendees that taking the time to build this type of relationship will help shops gain repeat customers, referrals, increase sales and ultimately, run a more successful business.
Nick’s father, Steve, founded PSG in 1988 following a car accident.
“The experience was so horrible, he set out to change the industry,” said Nick.
Since then, the company has concentrated 100 percent of its efforts on developing marketing strategies for repair facilities. Part of that focus includes surveying collision clients, which gives the company tremendous insight on current industry trends and ensures shops have a multi-dimensional understanding of the voice of the customer.
Based on PSG’s research, the company found that most shops focus on quality.
“Quality isn’t a differentiator or motivator---it’s an expectation,” said Nick. “Truly understanding your customers is the only way to build loyalty.”
During his SEMA presentation, “The Time Has Arrived for Change,” Nick discussed the new consumer mindset.
“Customers are expecting different types of experiences than they used to,” he said. “They are no longer delineating between a retail store and a body shop.”
Instead, they are expecting the same type of experience they receive from forward-thinking companies, regardless of the industry.
“Eighty-seven percent of consumers measure all brands against Apple, Amazon and Netflix, so having a deeper understanding of the voice of the customer is critical for businesses operating today,” explained Nick.
PSG surveys specifically focus on gathering this type of information for the collision repair industry.
“Gone are the days where quality and efficiency led the charge for how people chose a body shop,” he said. “Those reasons are actually 1 percent of the total decision that we see in our data.”
Nick said customers are now choosing where to take their vehicles based on past experiences, reputation, honesty and additional factors that lead to a really great customer experience.
“What’s even more interesting is that in the past 10 years, we’ve seen a 750 percent increase in the number of decision factors that people go through when deciding on a body shop,” said Nick. “More people want the opportunity to make a decision on their own. They don’t want to be told what to do or where to bring their cars.”
He pointed out that this movement toward consumer choice is becoming apparent with insurance companies too, which has been demonstrated by the recent closing of estimating facilities and the implementation of mobile estimating applications.
With an extensive background in marketing, Nick joined Accenture six years ago as a subject matter expert focusing predominantly on customer and employee experience strategies for Fortune 100 brands.
“The best type of marketing today is word-of-mouth---interactions with human beings,” he explained. “The ability to connect with a human being is the best way to sell anything. You typically want to buy from those you care about.”
Typically, after individuals have been in an accident, they go through a series of processes such as calling the insurance company, the police and the rental car company. When it comes to making a final decision on which shop they ultimately go to, they reach out to those they are closest to, such as friends and family, as well as do online research.
“By understanding what your customers want, how they are feeling and what they are looking for, you have the opportunity to differentiate yourself through empathy,” said Nick. “This ensures a shop has a leg up when selling its services.”
He also recommended offering customers an experience that is unmatched.
“The problem is that a lot of body shops believe it’s all about getting the vehicle in and out,” said Nick.
PSG surveys have consistently shown that customers expect that the car will look the same as it did before the accident.
“The differentiator is the shop’s ability to connect one-on-one with the customer,” Nick said.
By taking the time to really understand customers and learn exactly what they want, Nick said shops can drive a better marketing strategy and enhance customer interactions. Being courteous, shaking hands, looking a customer in the eye and keeping customers informed about the repair process all contribute to connecting with them emotionally. Nick said that a mutually beneficial relationship with customers in which they feel part of the repair process has been shown to drive best-in-class experiences.