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Our Changing Customers

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Our Changing Customers
Leveraging the information age in customer relations.

Who here thinks the auto industry, as we now know it, is the same as it was 20, 10, or even five years ago? The success of our shops is going to depend more and more on how well we are able to learn, unlearn and relearn. The world we live in is constantly changing. The familiar landscape that we know is changing from analog to digital—little 1’s and 0’s are everywhere!

For all of the challenges that are presented to us, there are even more opportunities if we have an open mind. As the tractor revolutionized agriculture and the assembly line changed auto manufacturing forever, so will this digital age change our world and our industry. There will be those that benefit from these new technologies and methods. Be one of those people! And in doing so, allow your customers, staff and business to benefit as well.

I recall a shop that as of a couple years ago was still creating all-paper invoices. Now I’m betting most of you have a computer generating your invoices but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. I know many a shop owner that checks off the boxes “computer system” and “website” and thinks to themselves, “I got that whole digital thing covered.” This is an ongoing task, you’re never going to be done implementing and tweaking your digital systems, especially as they relate to your customers. An hour a week can cover a lot in this area.

If you feel like you’re behind on all of this, don’t! The pace of change here is quite rapid and best practices change often. You can jump in at any time and start improving. The only real mistake you can make is not to engage; or if you are engaged to not continue to innovate. When advancing technology is discussed, many of us immediately think of the cars we work on. Direct injection, hybrids and advanced driver-assistance system. Yeah, that’s parts of it, but it’s hard to overstate the importance and value of technological advances in business.

Take a look at the interaction we have with our customers. Barely a decade ago, customers might have picked up a phone book to find us. We would have picked up the phone, perhaps hand-written their appointment in a planner, and cracked open a Mitchell repair guide to estimate the hours on their ticket. After all that, many of us still were writing tickets by hand. Advances in our industry have not only made those processes much simpler, they’ve made them more accurate, and reduced much of the waste. Just like a farmer tilling by hand years ago who now uses a tractor. Nowadays, the shop with the most money doesn’t get the largest ad in the phone book. Google recognizes good shops with good reputations. Marketing companies allow us to target our dollars to a specific audience instead of casting a net where our marketing dollars are wasted. Customers can use our website contact form, email, Facebook and text to engage us.

The pace is changing for our customers too.

They want and need quicker interactions. Many don’t want to take the time for a phone call or to wait for a call back. Remember what I said about unlearning and relearning? Our customers and their needs are changing. Quicker and more efficient interactions are replacing a phone call for each step of the process. Digital inspections area allowing customers to quickly see pictures of their vehicles and it’s issues. I’m not saying there isn’t still a need for the human interaction, but more and more the customer experience is being supplemented or “complimented” with an accompanying digital experience. That digital experience can help gain trust and reduce wasted time and the workload on the human. What service advisor doesn’t want that?! There’s only going to be more of this. The future is already serving up cars that tell us when their service is due and telematics that will report to us and allow us to let customers know it’s time to bring in the car.

Automation in our systems helps us keep on top of our customers and their needs. Customer-relations management systems send out reminders for appointments. When the car arrives, digital inspections allow us to offer a very consistent experience for customers and canned jobs and parts store integrations allow us to save immense amounts of time building work orders. We can more easily access a customer’s history in our own database. Management systems that integrate with Carfax can also pull some data from other shops records. And all of the repair-data solutions are continuing to become more robust with repair data, recommendations, TSBs and estimating tools. And they certainly need to with the pace at which the cars we work on are changing. We’ve all no doubt experienced the wrath of new automotive tech that failed and stumped us. And when we’re done, a computer can send out a thank you email or a card. Or companies can even send out hand-written cards and gifts based on data we send them. It’s almost as if we’re lining up to a giant digital buffet trying to decide what to utilize with so many options.

The more connected our world becomes, the more connected we are with each other and with things. Yeah, the “internet of things.” That’s a thing now. Your refrigerator, home thermostat, cars, and even some children’s toys all want to access the Internet and connect for various time and money saving reasons. Never underestimate the human factor (have you seen the Terminator movies?), but do understand that the time it takes you to research and implement these new digital processes in your shop will pay dividends from Day 1. Your staff will have less stress, your customers will feel more at ease with and enjoy more convenient service, and I guarantee the business will have more on the bottom line every month. History is full of people who waited. Don’t wait, do it now!

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