Creating an Online Payment Portal for Customers
SHOP STATS: West Automotive Group Location: Escondido, El Cajon, Kearny Mesa, Calif. Operator: Brian Bowersock Average Monthly Car Count: 600-650 (total) Staff Size: 28 (total) Shop Size: Average is 4,500–5,000 each; Escondido location is 10,000 square feet Annual Revenue; $6.2 (total)
Picture this: It’s almost time to close down the shop for the day. You call up a customer and let him or her know the vehicle is ready for pick-up. Unfortunately, the customer informs you that he or she is going out of town that evening but that their teenage son will pick up the car. Then comes the dreaded question: “Can I pay over the phone?”
“Taking credit card payments over the phone would never be a good solution because it’s insecure,” says Brian Bowersock, owner of West Automotive Group located in Escondido, El Cajon and Kearny Mesa all in San Diego County, Calif.
West Automotive Group struggled with finding the right way to cater to customers who are unable to revisit the shop to pay their bills. Bowersock’s shop sought other methods that would provide customers with a sense of relief and protection.
“We often have good customers whose children are going to school and parents [who live out of the county or state] want to pay for repairs,” Bowersock says. “There wasn’t a great way to get that handled.”
Although they found a method that worked from time to time, the overall lack of protection made Bowersock question whether or not the method was worth using at the business.
Bowersock started West Automotive Group in 1993 when he was 23 years old. Prior to opening the business, he became an ASE-certified master technician with a smog license and worked at a dealership, in the U.S. Navy and at an independent facility.
“The initial location started with four bays inside and three hoists inside,” Bowersock says.
Since opening, the business has expanded to three different locations in California: West Escondido, West El Cajon, and West Kearny Mesa.
Catering to customers who are unable to pay their bill in-house becomes a headache when the only method of transferring the documents is via fax machine—and the customer doesn’t have access to one nearby. When it was requested to pay a bill off-site, the shop faxed over a form for the customer to fill out, which is then faxed back to the shop.
“Having [personal] information sent back and forth by fax was not a good idea,” Bowersock says. “There was no guarantee with this process as it was still considered an unsecured card by the credit card processing company.
“If a client decided to back charge a credit card, it was difficult to prove that the actual client was the purchaser.”
Although the shop tried to shy away from customers not stopping in to pay their bill, there were situations where the fax method was the only option.
“People have all kinds of things coming with their busy lives and they can’t make it during working hours,” Bowersock says. “We’re open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and that’s happened where one person is paying the bill and someone else is picking up the car.”
Around 2014, Bowersock approached his website provider with a proposition: He wanted to create an online payment system on his site. Inspired by his friend’s attorney web page that features an online payment system, Bowersock thought the feature could be unique to his customers and provide an easier outlet.
“I said, ‘Hey, nobody does this, but I want you to put a payment system [on my site]',” he says. “They said, ‘If you’ll work with this, then we’ll test it for free.’”
Since Bowersock was a test run for the program, he got the opportunity to run through different processes in order to figure out what works best for the site. Initially that test run resulted in a few dead-ends as the process to finding the right program was difficult.
“It took about three months worth of processing to get it figured out,” he says.
“Some of the credit card payment solutions are not user-friendly.”
Finally, the provider found the best fit for the business and the website.
“We found a provider that’s Internet-based,” Bowersock says.
Now, when customers are ready to pay their bills, they simply head to the West Escondido Automotive website, hit “Pay My Invoice,” choose the shop location and follow the prompts to enter their contact information, invoice number and credit card information (all major credit cards are accepted).
After the customer submits his or her payment, Bowersock’s system is alerted and it integrates into the backend of his site.
For customers that use the platform, having an online payment system has cut the transaction process in half, according to Bowersock.
“I would say it [saves] hours because people can pay from their smartphone,” he says. “You can just have a phone and be able to pay this.”
While it’s not used for every customer visit, it’s been a viable option for the business.
“We use the online payment system between the three shops 20–25 times per month,” Bowersock says. “It becomes a great benefit when speaking with clients who have children going to college in the area and they’re out of the area.
“I often get calls and they ask if we have a platform for receiving payments if their college-age children bring vehicles in, and we can explain [that] they can pay through the website—it’s just one more benefit.”
Although the program is up on the website, Bowersock has chosen to take a step back from marketing the option unless the customer is unable to stop by to pay the bill. By having the online payment system in place, it’s been able to assist customers who need the service, he says.
“We don’t advertise it,” Bowersock says. “It’s not something that we want to use for every single customer, because we like having [customers] come in and pick up their vehicle.”
Not only is personal delivery important for customers, but the other reason he doesn’t advertise this is because, as of now, the credit card processing fee is higher than the one in the shop.
“When you do the transaction in person, the rate you pay is lower, so we only use it for situations that it has to be used for,” Bowersock says.
Through this experience, he’s seen relief from his customers when they hear about the accommodating service, and his shops continue to have customers come back through the shop doors.
Those situations include when customers are out of town or if a customer simply cannot make it back into the shop.
Instead of having to send personal information over the fax or over the phone, the system allows customers to securely make a purchase. Not only does it make customer’s experience more convenient, but it also eliminates the hassle from the shop, Bowersock says.
“I just think that, these days, it’s the most secure way of taking a credit card [payment],” he says. “It’s secure, it’s safe, it protects my clients, my employees, and it’s successful in that we can assist customers that we weren’t able to assist [in the past].”