First, just a quick note to say I appreciate Autobody News offering me an opportunity to share some of my thoughts, opinions and ideas with you here.
I know many of you may have only an occasional chance to attend one of my presentations or classes, so this is a way for me to try to offer you some information every month.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a term I first heard from Mark Fincher at CCC Information Services: “liquid expectations.” What it means, in a nutshell, is that your customers and potential customers aren’t comparing their experience interacting with your shop based solely (or even at all) on their experience with another body shop. They’re actually comparing it with their experience with other types of companies.
Think about it: You can book a hotel room or airline ticket any time of day or night. Order almost anything from Amazon (24/7) and it likely can be delivered in the next day or two---often with free shipping. You can use OpenTable to make a restaurant reservation in the middle or the night, and the large movie theater chains enable you to buy tickets in advance online. Have you picked up a rental car from an airport recently? You likely could walk straight from the plane right to a designated parking space where your car was waiting with the keys in it – with no stop at a rental counter.
Are you offering any type of conveniences like this? I’ve been told as many as one-third of consumers want (or even expect) to be able to do business with you outside of business hours. Are you making that possible? Or are you at risk of losing those potential customers to shops that understand the customer experience they want?
Can your customers go online in the evening or on weekends and book an appointment for an estimate or to drop off their car? CCC’s “CarWise” is just one of the ways you can enable this. Customers can punch in their zip code to see a listing (and possibly reviews) of shops in their area. But go to the site and you’ll see only some shops have it set up to also allow a customer to click a “Schedule Appointment” button to see what appointment days and times are available and book online.
A potential customer might not think to go to the CarWise site if they already know your business. So some of the shops I work with have the CarWise appointment scheduling system embedded right into their own shop website.
Do your customers have to be at the shop to sign a paper document to authorize repairs? Or do you offer them the option of providing an electronic signature remotely?
As you walk around a vehicle to check for prior damage, are you still using pens to mark the damage on the car, or are you capturing that information electronically?
I know there’s lots of controversy about photo estimating, and I absolutely agree that you can’t write an accurate complete estimate from photos. I also know estimating by photo is not legal in some states.
But with those limitations in mind, does providing photo estimating offer you a way to start the process with a potential customer who doesn’t find it convenient to come in for that initial step? Another client of mine has a two-minute video on their shop’s website that walks the customer through the process of shooting and submitting photos for an estimate using a cell phone app that they can download there at the shop’s website.
Other shops offer a concierge service that sends an estimator to the customer’s home or work to prepare an estimate, perhaps even outside of traditional work hours. I know shops that use independent appraisers to provide this service on behalf of their shop.
The bottom line: We have to provide a much more modern customer service experience, particularly if we don’t want to risk losing the estimated 1-in-3 customers looking to interact with us outside of typical shop hours.
Mike Anderson is the president and owner of Collision Advice, a consulting company for the auto body/collision repair industry. For nearly 25 years, he was the owner of Wagonwork Collision Center, an OEM-certified, full-service auto body repair facility in Alexandria, VA.