It was a Saturday morning in 2014, only two weeks after Bud Wildman decided to invest in a whole host of technology (including a text message service, digital inspection sheet and check-in kiosk) at his shop, Precision Auto in Germantown, Md. A first-time customer came in and let Wildman’s son and general manager, Andy, know that she was going to be in meetings all day and asked if it would be possible for the shop to send a text message to her with an update. Andy replied “yes” and that the shop could also send a digital inspection report for her to look over.
After diagnosing the vehicle using BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY's Mobile Manager Pro, Andy sent the report, which included a colored bar at the top of the page alerting her that her vehicle’s overall health was in the critical “red zone.”
The text message Andy received back was powerful in its simplicity: “How much to turn the bar green?”
“That lady spent $850 that day,” Wildman says. “I’ve been in this business for 32 years. It’s a relationship-based business. It takes time and visits to obtain a customer’s trust. What we have found is that with our first-time customers, that trust is obtained in the first visit thanks to this technology.”
So for the naysayers that argue emerging technology is distracting and makes customer interactions impersonal, Wildman points only to his average repair order, which grew from $380 to $510 in 2015 and is on track to increase gross sales after hitting a then-record $1.6 million in 2014.
“I’m very excited about what I see happening,” Wildman says. “It’s incredibly effective.”
Wildman, along with other shop owners who have seen the positive effects of embracing technology, detail six ways you can use technology to increase customer engagement and gain more time for true customer interaction.
1) THE CHECK-IN PROCESS
The use of technology at Wildman’s shop begins with the check-in process, which has changed dramatically. Instead of filling out a paper form, the customer will utilize the tablet-based Welcome Station from BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY. The system syncs with his shop’s management system, R.O. Writer, and allows the customer to enter in information that either begins a new customer account or brings up past repair history from a previous visit. The system then collects customer contact information for during the repair, preferred methods of contact, vehicle issues, as well as customizable prompts for up-selling opportunities, such as a weather-linked feature.
“We used to use a paper form,” says Wildman. “They would fill out their name, address, telephone number and email. The problem is that not everyone’s handwriting is great. There were a lot of mistakes made with addresses and email. These are very important items to obtain correctly. It helps us obtain that information the first time at 100 percent accuracy.”
Besides the accuracy, Wildman says that it also frees up significant time that service advisors used to spend writing things down, which can now be used for building a relationship with the customer or listening to any concerns about the vehicle.
2) REVIEWING INSPECTIONS
After the customer drops off his or her vehicle, Bill Connor and his staff at Craig’s Car Care, a high-volume shop in Allen, Texas, make it a point to ask the customer how they would like to be followed up with, and emphasize their text messaging and email capabilities with their digital inspection sheet system through AutoVitals.
Connor says that although he knew millennials would immediately embrace the text message functionality, he was surprised to find that 98 percent of all his customers utilize a cell phone that is capable of receiving the reports. Even still, staff members will show the customer what the text messages will look like so they don’t accidentally assume it’s spam.
After the vehicle is diagnosed, a service advisor will send a text message with an inspection report attached. The report includes the vehicle’s overall health rating, as well as the conditions broken up by category (fluids/filters, brake system, general maintenance, etc.) with correlating pictures attached.
“It’s given me a lot of time that I can use to do other management things where I was doing busy work before,” says Connor.
3) THROUGHOUT THE REPAIR PROCESS
At Lalia Zakrzewski’s shop, Kittle’s Garage in Little Rock, Ark., communicating with customers throughout the repair process in an undisruptive way is tantamount. Although her staff will still call customers if a lengthy conversation is needed, now her staff uses the capabilities of vehicle text update program autotext.me to send photos, text messages or emails to keep customers updated about the status of their repairs and expected delivery dates. In particular, taking and sharing vehicle condition photos have become integral in helping her shop sell recommended services.
“We spend so much time tracking down people when we just need an update or an authorization,” she says. “It has freed up half a day for us and that’s huge. We can communicate, it’s interactive.”
Now, the customer receives a text every time the vehicle moves into the next step of the repair process. Zakrzewski has customized the text messages and their frequency for her shop. Customers can then simply respond back with a text message at their convenience, which will notify the shop.
4) VEHICLE PICK-UP
Wowing the customer is the goal, says Wildman, and one way to do that is to make the repair process as convenient as possible for the customer.
“We would wow the customer all day long until the end of the day when the customer said, ‘I can’t make it there by 5:30,’” he says.
Customers often then asked if it was possible to leave the keys in the car, but Wildman says that not only was there a huge liability factor, many newer cars now have key FOBs, which can’t lock with the key in the car.
It was a problem they could never work around until they invested in an ATM-style key dispensing machine from KEYper Systems. Located under an awning in the front of the shop, the secure system allows a staff member to give the customer a one-time five-digit PIN and put the key in a designated box in the machine. When the customer arrives, he or she simply enters the PIN and the keys drop down to a receiving area.
“They love it,” says Wildman. “In today’s world, with people’s work schedules, a lot of customers can’t make it. We have some customers who we never see face to face. We just run a credit card over the phone, give them a code and they’re on their way.”
5) SCHEDULING REGULAR MAINTENANCE
Mike Thorp’s shop, Superior Auto Repair in Bradenton, Fla., has more than 2,500 customers in its database that it sees at least four times a year. With that, scheduling oil changes and regular maintenance isn’t just a huge source of revenue but also a relationship-building opportunity. The shop has become meticulous about scheduling regular oil change appointments and uses text messages through BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY’s Pro Pack to ensure customers show up for the appointment. Various management systems and other tools, such as AutoVitals’ customer retention tool, also have similar functions.
“Every time a customer is here for a regular oil change appointment, the system will automatically create their future appointment based on the intervals that we told them, either so many miles or months,” says vice president Jeneen Thorp. “Seven days prior to that appointment, a text goes out to the customer reminding them of the appointment. They can confirm the appointment just by replying back.”
Thorp says that if a customer does not respond, the customer will then get an email reminder and finally, a phone call. Although that’s significant follow-up, she says it’s rarely needed. Customers love the ease of simply responding to the text message, she says, and it’s greatly increased the rate of customers following through with pre-scheduled appointments.
6) MONITORING CUSTOMERS’ VEHICLES IN REAL TIME
As telematics becomes a greater presence in the industry, companies are emerging that allow repair shops to utilize the technology to monitor and assist customers in real time. One such company is CAARMO, which CEO Vinay Raman says allows for customers to have more “hyperrelevant” conversations with their customers. The device plugs into the OBD-II port, which then connects to the CAARMO app through the smartphone’s wireless data connection. Both the shop and the consumer then have access to the car’s diagnostic data. Shops are able to continually monitor the vehicle’s health and receive notifications when a vehicle experiences problems. Consumers also have a dedicated app that shows their vehicle health status.
“We’re trying to change the script and the dialogue that a customer has with the shop,” Raman says. “The idea is to build hyper-relevant engagement with their customer. Five seconds after something happens with their car, that’s the right time to call, as opposed to two weeks later. You want to be the guardian angel for them.”
Shops can also schedule service intervals, and even customize those service intervals based on the real-time miles driven by the consumer.
“Everybody wants to have customized service,” Raman says. “Now all of a sudden, the shop isn’t sending them an email saying, ‘You’ve got an oil change in 7,000 miles,’ when they just drove to Disneyland and need one in 400 miles. This changes the script so it’s hyper relevant to what they need right then and there.”