The Best Body Shops' Tips: How to Build Customer Loyalty, Prepare for the New Customer Mindset

Nick Schoolcraft, president of Phoenix Solutions Group
Nick Schoolcraft, president of Phoenix Solutions Group

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.

Over the last year, a large part of what PSG has set out to do is understand the areas of the business where it could enhance interactions with customers. This has led to three top priorities for 2018: social media, employee engagement and dynamic marketing.

“We are keeping my dad’s legacy as close to heart as we can and fine-tuning it to be more adaptive to today’s industry’s needs,” said Nick.

1) Social media

“I believe a lot of people in the industry today don’t necessarily understand how to use social media effectively,” said Nick. “The misnomer is that many believe that social media should be used as a conversion tool, but the real goal of social media is to create awareness and have a social conversation with those who are following you.” As more people become interested in what you have to say, Nick said, a better social media following will result.

Deep customer insight is also critical for businesses, according to Nick. PSG uses the insights gathered from its unique survey to build a robust social media marketing strategy for customers. This involves creating captivating, unique content to drive engagement.

“Social media is only beneficial when the content is relevant to its followers---not through generic, recycled content about cars. If you are posting the same thing that your neighbor is posting or other shops in the country are, your relevancy isn’t really shown,” he explained. “Google and the other search engines pick up on that and it hurts you in the long run.”

In addition, he recommended having a consistent look, tone and feel with all social media posts.

“This requires a lot of work and insight, but the benefits are far greater when done the correct way,” he said.

2) Employee engagement

Another key focus this year for PSG is offering dynamic online learning and training for shops. The company recently invested in a learning management system that will assist collision repair facilities in choosing the training courses that best meet their needs.

“The training will be individually tailored to each shop and be directly related to the metrics PSG gathers,” said Nick.

He said this will help customers better understand the information the company supplies and provide employees with tactics on how to improve performance metrics.

“We want to ensure our customers’ employees feel as though they have the tools they need to become better educated, and we also want to put in measures for the ownership team to better understand how their employees are doing and the competencies that are occurring within their shops,” he explained.

The courses will be focused on management skills and what Nick referred to as the “soft skills” of the industry.

“PSG has always been focused on the front of the house instead of the back of the house, and our focus will continue to remain there,” he said.

These include courses on topics such as how to set proper expectations up front for customers, how to communicate effectively throughout the repair experience and how to follow up with customers after delivering their vehicles. The courses will be based on the metrics PSG gathers from shop customers and are expected to be available within the second quarter of 2018.

“One of the things that my father always wanted to do is be everything for everybody at every point of the day,” said Nick. “This is our way of extending that to the industry.”

Many of the trainings will resemble what Steve created, while being updated to industry standards and expectations.

3) Dynamic marketing

PSG also plans to offer shops the ability to market to their individual customers dynamically by personalizing post-repair follow-up letters. Currently, PSG assists shops by sending out hand-signed letters that are focused on particular parameters.

“The future letters we send out to customers will change based on the feedback we gather,” said Nick. “They are going to be highly personalized to the individual while incorporating elements the shop wants to market, which will garner a much better response and build trust.”

Nick said that this will help address the needs of customers more directly as well as allow more freedom in choosing the types of messages sent.

“Ultimately, it enables a more personalized experience for shops and their customers,” he said.

“Our mission for 2018 is transformation---solidifying the core that my dad created over the past 30 years, which is ensuring we are 100 percent focused on the collision facilities and delivering best-in-class types of products for them. Not only do we want to stay true to the industry and their needs, but we are trying to find ways to incorporate that ever-changing customer mindset.”

For more information about Phoenix Solutions Group, contact Nick Schoolcraft at 847-764-8079 or visit

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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