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Stacey Bair sends nearly 32,000 customer emails each month to her list of 5,000-plus customers.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software makes it easy for Bair, the owner of Ocean Air Auto Repair in Virginia Beach, Va., to maintain accounts and build new client relationships for her shop. 

The auto industry’s marketing world is changing, and having a quality automated system for communicating with customers and managing marketing strategies is becoming a must.

Taking care of a shop’s marketing and customer relations needs manually takes valuable time from shop owners and managers, while a CRM service can meet nearly all of a shop’s needs while staying on the virtual backburner.

CRM programs integrate with shop management systems to allow for significant automation and ease of use. Demandforce by Intuit is a leader in the field, and has proven vital for shop owners like Bair and fellow shop owner Doug Grills at Autostream Car Care in Baltimore.

Both owners know the ins and outs of the service-software combination, and understand how important the program is to seeing their respective shops thrive.

“It gets people in more frequently than they might have otherwise, and it really strengthens that relationship,” Grills says.

Demandforce business development manager David Tulkin says he’s seen a jump in the response shops are getting from CRM services as products like Demandforce develop.

“It automates communication with your customers, helps you attract new customers and grows your online reputation,” Tulkin says.

What a CRM System Offers

The full benefits of equipping a shop with customer relationship program like Demandforce hinges on having a collaborating shop management software already in use. 

Demandforce integrates with many of the top management programs including Mitchell, RO Writer, NAPA TRACS, AllData and Winworks. While options like Constant Contact can be used without a shop management program, the benefits of having both are significant.

While Demandforce can be utilized more through a shop’s website, a business webpage isn’t a must.

Many CRMs use a shop’s existing management software by sorting, scheduling and analyzing customer data. Demandforce and other products work to build a shop’s customer base through sending automated maintenance alerts to customers, as well as thank-you notes and recommended service reminders. They also provide the ability to send promotional offers, as well as run online customer appointment scheduling tools and facilitate customer feedback.

Bair says that her shop has utilized numerous CRM services since 2003 and that having some form of CRM is crucial to a quality marketing campaign and bringing customers back to the shop for three key reasons:

1. Automated Communication. One of the most widely used features is the ability to send recommended service reminders. Relying on the notes technicians put into the shop’s existing management system, the program creates emails and postcards that are sent to customers automatically.

“When a customer for some reason can’t have a service done right away, we can send them a reminder 30 days later,” Bair says. “We add an offer like $15 off that service if they come back and have it done in the next 30 days.”

Bair adds that recommended service reminders allow customers to be more familiar with her store by reminding them to make more regular visits. That contact has helped build her customer base, evidenced by the nearly 5,000 emails she has in her system.

An additional perk that Grills appreciates is the preprogrammed manufacture maintenance schedules that can also be sent to customers.

2. Attracting Customers. Sending promotional offers is made simple once a CRM system is in place. A shop owner can take advantage of the ability to create custom promotional coupons or use templates like the ones offered by Demandforce.

Grills says he is strategic in the frequency that he sends his promotional offers, being careful to not overflow his customer’s inboxes or mailboxes.

“We don’t send out tons of communication, so they're not constantly being bombarded with messaging,” Grills says. “It’s usually a manufacturer recommendation or a recommendation that we've made.”

Bair said she sees an obvious payoff with her postcard promotions bringing in a 5–8 percent response rate depending on the promotion she sends. Compared to the 1 percent return rate she sees with traditional blind mailers, it’s a no-brainer when factoring in the costs. 

“We send an email at least once a week to our customers,” Bair says. “I usually set up our promotional offers six weeks in advance, so our techs and service writers know what’s going out.”

One of the benefits of Demandforce, Tulkin says, is the ability to send offers to certain demographics of a shop’s customer base, targeting ranges of customers from those who average larger tickets to the ones who haven’t been in to the shop recently.

“Demandforce will let you segment a campaign to target customers that have, for example, spent over $1,000 in your shop. You know that they are going to be good customers,” Tulkin says. “You can also target based on parts by sending a brake promotion to customers that haven’t had their brakes serviced recently.”

3. Accumulate Feedback. Tulkin says that while it’s crucial for owners to instigate communication with customers and send thank-you notes after they’ve provided services, responding to feedback can be just as important. CRM systems automate that process by giving customers the chance to fill out surveys and provide personal reviews.

Grills says he relies heavily on those reviews and surveys to see how his shop is performing, noting that he has generated more than 600 online reviews.

“Our average rating is 4.5 stars,” he says. “When customers see that, it makes their selection of our company easier.”

Grills says that a close look at the surveys can alert him to issues as simple as a facility needing to boost its cleanliness or a shop that needs to improve order completion time.

Bair noted that her lowest score in April was a 92.7 percent, and that 100 percent of the customers who responded would return to her facility. She says that because of the feedback, her stores have been able to address customers and resolve any issues.

“If we see a bad review or a complaint,” Bair says, “It allows us to respond and correct whatever happened to make the customer unhappy.”

Potential Roadblocks

One of the hardest parts of implementing any CRM system, Bair says, is the initial process of standardizing the shop’s current management system.

“The biggest issue in general is having the CRM software pull information from the correct fields in the management software,” Bair says. “It took us probably a month or so, but once it’s set up right, there isn’t a lot of maintenance involved.”

She added that it’s important to have everybody in her shop on the same page, consistently writing notes in the correct places. But, with her system regimented and running smoothly, Bair claims she has seen a dramatic increase in the customer response.

“It interfaces with our point-of-sale software, R.O. Writer, very well,” Bair says. “Once it’s set up, it makes those recommended services easy to send.”

For the month of April, Bair’s numbers show that she was able to send 32,000 promotional emails across the nearly 5,000 contacts in her system. With 1,528 of those being service reminders and 52 appointment reminders.

Cost and ROI

With a $3,000 monthly marketing budget, Bair says that roughly $800 is dedicated to CRM, including the Demandforce fees, and any expenses she has for mailers and postcards.

The CRM software more than pays for itself, though, Bair says, pointing to her 15 percent response rate to service reminder postcards.

Of the 648 postcards she sent as service reminders, her data revealed that 98 customers came back in within the following 30-day period.

“It doesn’t show if they had the recommended service done, but it shows that they were coming back into the store at a 15 percent response rate,” Bair says.

Those numbers match up with the 2,245 customers that responded to the roughly 16,000 postcards that have been sent since her shop began using Demandforce.

“It may not have been that specific service,” Bair says, “But it shows that they’re coming back to receive service from us.”

An Easy Solution

While any new system takes some time to learn, Grills says it’s a smooth transition to add Demandforce with tutorials online and special classes available.

“Their library of webinars that you can look at any time makes it easy to learn more about a particular topic,” Grills says.

Another factor that has made Demandforce an easy solution for owners like Grills and Bair is its ability to automate and schedule out reminders and promotions months in advance.

Bair says that while it’d be simple enough to have a manager or office worker keep tabs on the CRM service, she makes a point to schedule her marketing strategies ahead of time so her managers never have to worry about it. 

Grills says he prefers his shop managers to check in on the program’s dashboard at least twice a day to check for appointment requests and to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed.

“There really isn’t a lot that you have to do outside of your normal day,” Grills says.

Tulkin says it’s important to make three particular checks an everyday occurrence to get the most out of the software. Those include looking at the most recent feedback, managing incoming appointment requests, and gathering emails.

“If you have a computerized customer database for your store, you should be using some form of CRM system,” Bair says, “It by far provides the best return on our money over any other type of customer-acquisition marketing.” 

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