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Auto Repair’s New Tech Boom

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More and more, companies from outside of the automotive aftermarket industry are shaping the way in which customers will interact with your shop. From online directories and online bidding forums to telematics and dynamic pricing, tech startups across the country are aiming at the automotive industry as a new platform for business opportunity.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence you’re seeing all these different companies coming in [to the industry],” says Ken Kupchick, director of content strategy at MechanicAdvisor.com. “It’s a big industry, and there’s a lot of business to go around.”

Kupchick was an industry outsider himself before joining MechanicAdvisor.com, an online shop directory aimed at matching consumers with quality local shops. And the company’s founders, Parker Swift and Bob Gendron, had little experience with the automotive aftermarket when they launched the company in 2006. They were repair shop customers, had a bad experience at one, and started a company that would use technology to solve what they perceived to be the largest problem for service center customers.

“It’s an industry people don’t know much about, and [customers] have a hard time finding shops they can trust,” says industry consultant  Jeremy O’Neal of AdvisorFix. “You see all these companies popping up to help alleviate some of that stress.”

Bottom line: Consumers want to be able to control their repair decisions, O’Neal says. And shops need to understand and stay on top of emerging technology in order to properly service their customers.

A Tech Boom

Over the last several decades, the automotive industry has pushed technology from manufacturing to repair. Onboard infotainment features, advanced vehicle diagnostic systems, and improved tools and equipment have made giant leaps in recent years.

Those advancements have changed the way the backends of shops operate, and it’s been driven by companies within the industry.

Now, the advancement is shifting to the customer experience—and the automotive aftermarket is controlling very little of it.

MechanicAdvisor.com was one of the first online directory forums to emerge for the industry. Then came companies like OpenBay, RepairPal and AutoMD. They allow consumers to rank and review shops, giving other viewers of the sites the ability to find shops that fit their needs.

“It’s like Yelp, but only for repair shops,” Kupchick says.

Some of them even allow shops to “bid” on jobs, offering customers estimates to choose from.

There are now sites, like MyTime.com, that allow consumers to schedule appointments based on dynamic pricing models.

There are aftermarket telematics companies, like Carvoyant, that can monitor a customer’s vehicle through an OBD-II plugin and send information back to the consumer—or to a shop of the customer’s choosing.

And every one of these companies, all founded within the last 10 years—many in the last two years—were created by people with no previous tie to the industry. And as Apple, Google and Microsoft battle in the connected car race, it’s clear that the automotive industry is becoming  a new tech frontier, O’Neal says.

For the Greater Good—of Your Business

It’s all about providing customers with quality information to make informed decisions, Kupchick says. That’s the focus of his company, and that’s the goal behind the concept of online directory services for auto repair.

At MechanicAdvisor.com, OpenBay, RepairPal and AutoMD, shops control their own profiles—they’re free to create and can be an advertising service for a service center.

“The biggest thing is what’s called ‘barnacle SEO (search engine optimization),’” he says. “You attach yourself to a big-time directory, and you ride that company’s SEO to improve your own.

“This is where people are looking today, and it’s an advantage to jump on board.”

MechanicAdvisor.com has more than 500,000 shops and technicians on its site.

“These are services people are going to more and more,” O’Neal says, “and I think it’ll only increase once people really get their heads around it. People write it off now, but it’s like when eBay came out: People didn’t quite understand it, so it took a little bit of time. Once they got it, it took off.”

O’Neal spent the majority of his career at the front desk of service centers before founding AdvisorFix. He’s considered a customer-service guru, and he sees this new wave of technology as yet another sign that shops need to truly engage their customers and do everything they can to win their work long-term.

“The biggest thing shops have to do today is get into the customer retention management (CRM) business,” he says. “Get into your customer database and mine those contacts. Stay in front of those people, keep them coming back. If you do that, bidding sites and directories aren’t going to steer people away from you.”

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