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Two things keep your customers coming back: Consistent communication and that once-every-few-years fender bender. Staying in touch is a simple idea, but it isn’t easy for many shops.

Keeping track of names, addresses and emails of past customers, and using that information in a meaningful way can be a challenge. But, with the help of Customer relationship management (CRM) software, shops can collect and organize customer data in a way that lets them automate customer-relations initiatives.

That’s a pathway to stronger long-term sales growth, and the reason that CRM systems have been identified as a must-have tactic for collision repair shops looking to succeed in the next decade.

What CRM Does

Carl Garcia, owner of Carl’s Collision Center in Fall River, Mass., has been using a CRM program called Highrise by 37 Signals for years (online at It costs him $99 a month, and the fee, he says, is well worth it.

“CRM systems are the way to do business; it manages all of your accounts with specific information,” Garcia says. “It’s like a management system on steroids.”

Steve Regan, spokesman for the CollisionQuest consultancy that named CRMs a key tactic for success in the next decade, says these systems help generate sales leads, follow-up on those leads, organize customer information and keep logical records of business activities.

CRM systems help automate customer loyalty. Vivek Thomas, president of CRM provider Maximizer Software Inc., says CRM systems are efficient at analyzing customer information to help obtain and track repeat business. The data can be segregated, segmented and collected in just about any way you want. After that, the information can be used to carry out your shop’s communication and marketing initiatives.

There are some software programs in the market that help shops do similar work, but CRM systems are built specifically for managing customer relationships. CRM systems are generally easier to use, even while being more intricate in how they handle customer relationship data. They take the favorable aspects of other technologies and bundle everything you need under one roof, Regan says.

Garcia’s $99/month price tag isn’t the only way to go when it comes to paying for CRM services. Some systems charge a one-time fee, ranging in price from $750 to $1,500 including installation. Visit for a list of CRM vendors.

Automating Loyalty

Communication builds loyalty and trust, Thomas says. The more communication you have with customers the more they’ll get to know your company and keep coming back. Here’s how CRM systems can help with that:

• Communications categorization DRP customers, non-DRP customers, walk-in customers, insurance companies, vendors, appraisers—CRM systems let you tag your customers by type so you can connect with them in the most meaningful way. In just a few clicks, you can email a specific message to a specific audience. For example, you might want to send a thank-you note to every walk-in customer you had this past year. Select your “walk-in customer” client records, and thank them automatically.

• Action plan development Within your CRM system, you can design a full strategy—a “plan of action”—for interacting with customers and business partners. You can create plans for pre-repair, active repair or post-repair communication on any timeline or frequency you choose. Determine how often and in what way you want to communicate, and schedule it. Mix and match your means of communicating, choosing from letters, emails, text messages or phone calls. The CRM system will keep you on track by reminding you what to do and when.

“I might not see a customer for 10 years, but I’m able to have consistent interaction with them that entire time.”     
—Carl Garcia, owner,Carl’s Collision Center

For instance, you might want to communicate with customers every couple months after their repair to thank them for their business. Enter that plan into the system, along with how the customer prefers to be communicated with, and the CRM system will inform you when it comes time to hit send.

“It’s nearly impossible to remember to do that without a CRM system, especially if you have a large customer base,” Garcia says. “I might not see a customer for 10 years, but I’m able to have consistent interaction with them that entire time.”

Your entire marketing strategy can be set up as an action plan, too. You can create a schedule of when to send promotions, emails or direct mail to customers. The CRM system will tell you when each task needs to happen.

• Task tracking CRM systems allow you to track and document conversations you have with customers. Having those on record helps you remember if you need to follow-up with the customer or do any other work on their account.

If a customer gets an estimate and chooses to go home and think about it, you can make a note in the CRM system to follow-up with that person the next day. The system will remind you to do so, or send an automatic message for you.

Marketing Management

The value of CRM systems increases when you get creative with marketing tactics, Thomas says. The systems allow you to slice and dice customer data however you want, and marketing strategies can be built around that information.

 “I’m able to target marketing efforts much more precisely. It helps avoid taking guesses so we don’t waste money in areas that won’t be beneficial.”     
—Carl Garcia, owner, Carl’s Collision Center

You still have to dream up specific marketing tactics on your own, but CRM systems help you identify who to target and to track success:

• Customer data segmentation Customers can be segmented by zip code, type of vehicle, type of repair, vehicle make or model, for example.

That segmented information allows you to run promotional or marketing campaigns to specific groups of customers. Say a hailstorm hit a certain area of your market. You could offer a special deal on dent repairs to customers who were affected. You can message everyone who lives within that certain zip code.

• Effective advertising CRM systems can deliver targeted marketing messages by identifying where the bulk of your customers are coming from. That helps decide whether or not it’s worth running a radio or TV advertisement in a certain area.

“I’m able to target marketing efforts much more precisely,” Garcia says. “It helps avoid taking guesses so we don’t waste money in areas that won’t be beneficial.”

• Marketing success tracking When Garcia sends out email marketing campaigns with promotional offers, he creates a link within the email for people to find out about the offer. The CRM system generates reports that tell him exactly who opened the email, and who clicked on the link. That helps Garcia know which customers he should follow up with.

In addition, that helps Garcia strategically target certain people with future promotional offers. You don’t want to irritate customers with deals they’re not interested in, he says.

The Wow Factor

Most people think about marketing when it comes to improving sales. Customer relations affect sales, too. Marketing efforts initially get people through the door, but exceptional service and communication will persuade them to stay. CRM systems offer a couple of ways to help out with that: 

• Account history Shops can record the history of everything that has ever been done for a particular customer. When customers come back to the shop, your customer service representative (CSR) can easily see the customer’s entire account history, which helps them handle and interact with customers effectively right away.

“If a customer comes back years down the road, I’m only a few clicks away from finding all the information I need to help them out,” Garcia says.

• Phone integration CRM systems can integrate with your shop’s phone service to perform caller ID functions, Thomas says. Customer information will pop up on your CSR’s computer screen during inbound and outbound phone calls. That allows CSRs to immediately greet customers by name. They can also offer
fast assistance.

“That really helps wow customers and personalize your relationships,” Thomas says.

• Customer service indexing (CSI) integration Garcia says he integrated his CRM system with his CSI software. That fusion allows him to know which customers went home happy so he can send automatic “thank you” notes. He also knows which ones were dissatisfied, so he can send apology letters and correct the situation.

Be Committed

CRM systems are undeniably dynamic, but they’re also only as valuable as the effort you put into using them. The more customer information you can acquire, the more beneficial the tool can be. It’s worth noting every little piece of information you get from every customer within the CRM system.

The more specific data you have, the more creative you can get with marketing tactics. For example, your shop might choose to do a “back to school” marketing campaign in late summer, and offer discounted detailing work to college students before they drive back to school. If you’re able to collect the right information from customers, you could automatically send the marketing message out to every customer who has a college-aged family member.

“You’ll experience dramatic benefits if you’re diligent about handling and storing customer information in your CRM.”     
—Carl Garcia, owner, Carl’s Collision Center

But employees at your shop have to commit to obtain and enter data into the system for that to happen, Garcia says. The software is worthless if you don’t.

He encourages shop operators to explain to employees the importance of doing so, and to implement a standard operating procedure for acquiring data.

“You’ll experience dramatic benefits if you’re diligent about handling and storing customer information in your CRM,” Garcia says. “It’s the easiest way to be organized, manage customer accounts and watch yourself grow.”

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