One of the greatest competitive advantages is marketing data. Marketing research companies go to great lengths to acquire demographic information, and they collect sizeable revenue from client companies. Collision repair facilities have all of the marketing information right at their fingertips, but few have adequate personnel to collect it. A well-designed customer information form asks for customer and spouse’s name and anniversary, number of children and all family birthdays and additional family vehicles. Naturally it asks for the exact referral source, insurance company or agent, dealership, commercial enterprise, family or friend, and maybe even contact phone numbers. A superior form should also ask for the customer’s business or employer plus vehicles owned by the business along with some contact numbers.
In a busy shop with only one front desk person and an estimator or two, the odds of collecting this data are nearly zero. Only a shop with a trained and dedicated data collection person will have any chance of collecting this information. Few shops would even bother collecting this data, because it is so unlikely they would have anyone on hand to use this marketing data to make the follow-up calls, e-mails and proposals.
Someone selling automobile information would see this data as a potential gold mine and jump on it with great eagerness! Here would be an opportunity to sell a policy to other family members, to insure additional family and friend vehicles, and to possibly even sell some auto policies to the car owner’s employer or employees if he or she owns a business. That same opportunity exists for the shop to invite in any of these vehicles for anything from a detail to a major collision repair. There just must be a person dedicated to the task.
The KEY to the big shop advantage is personnel! With several people on the front desk, when several customers all come in at once, complete information can be collected. Multiple phone calls can all be handled at once. A person or two can be dedicated to keeping customers informed and making follow-up calls on estimates that didn’t immediately turn into jobs. Customer satisfaction survey calls that get more real responses can be made by shop personnel instead of being farmed out to a CSI company. Referral sources like agents, brokers, dealerships and local businesses can be called and thanked and, when appropriate, sent thank you theatre tickets or restaurant meal tickets.
All of these simple administrative procedures when added together produce increased business volume making the big shop even bigger. How can the smaller, independent shop owner hope to compete with this personnel advantage? Employees are costly and few small shops can afford even a fraction of the employees big shops employ.
The first step is to realize that more administrative personnel do give a shop a competitive advantage when trained and focused effectively. Now all a shop owner has to do is work out a way to get more admin people without dramatically increasing payroll. Fortunately the present job situation makes this unexpectedly easy. Many college graduates are failing to find work and may accept part-time or even training positions. High school kids with a strong interest in cars may easily be attracted to part-time entry level car-washing and repair prep, but the others, with an interest in computers, bookkeeping, or other administrative skills, may be just as willing to have a chance to apply what they’ve learned in a collision shop office either after school or on a part time basis.
A shop can also take advantage of youth training and apprenticeship programs like those offered by the Chamber of Commerce, I-CAR, ASE, vocational schools and other programs. As unemployment grows, we’re also likely to see more federal and state assistance programs, summer programs, matching dollar programs and grants.
The KEY is to go beyond collision repair tech trainees. Very few administrative job seekers may ever think of the collision industry as a possible place for an administrative vocation, but once introduced to this friendly industry, many may stay. And with a focus on data collection that few usual people in shops possess, these administrative-oriented people may take advantage of that valuable marketing data that each and every customer can provide for the shop.