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Leveraging Use of Chatbots
Find out how a shop can implement its own chatbot service

In 2019, it’s predicted that the best commerce and content will remove barriers to purchasing, including “clicks” to checkout, according to a report by Big Commerce.

Using chatbots for marketing activities such as ad targeting, lead generating and SEO is becoming more and more popular. According to a report by Digital Marketing Institute, the future of digital marketing will be heavily directed by artificial intelligence (AI) applications, including chatbots.

In fact, Gartner, research and advisory company, predicts that by 2020, over 50 percent of medium to large enterprises will have deployed the use of chatbots. A chatbot platform allows users a simple, single option. Simply type in a message and get a prompt response, which many sites report is appealing to millennial consumers.

Jody Gatchell, owner of A&J Collision Repair in Conway, Ark., noticed that, toward the end of 2018, his customers wanted a different way to contact the shop if they needed updates on their vehicle. Today, Gatchell’s business does about $2 million in annual revenue with a monthly car count of 75.

Customers wanted more options similar to texting, which Gatchell says the shop was already doing.

In today’s market, consumers can get services from their homes and with a click of a button to get whatever they desire—from a pizza delivered to their door to Amazon deliveries shipped as soon as two hours after an order is placed.

Gatchell knew he needed to keep up with the current marketing trends and start offering a service that is not only simple to use but makes it convenient for the modern customer that could possibly want something “on demand.”

Since Gatchell decided to offer another way for his customers to communicate with the shop staff, he has had great feedback, he says—both from his own employees and customers. He says the use of a  more modern communication method not only grew his business but made it so his shop was also more approachable and accessible to customers.


The Backstory

Customers of A&J Collision Repair have always preferred to find out updates on their vehicles through text messages, Gatchell says. And, since most of his front office team has the ability to sit behind a desk and computer screen for the day, Gatchell says choosing a method of communication through the computer was a relatively seamless process.

The shop is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and with those limited hours that coincide with other people’s work schedules, Gatchell says he came across customers asking for ways to contact the shop when its office is closed.

“Most people are doing their web searching when they get home and they probably find us, and think, ‘Oh, crap! I need a [shop] soon,’” Gatchell says. “We’re more likely to get people messaging us than calling us back the next morning.”

 In late 2018, Gatchell decided to find a solution to fulfill this customer demand.


The Problem

Gatchell surveyed his customers and saw that most of the responses noted how there needed to be a better form of communication with the shop.

At first, A&J Collision Repair used a web forum, but that was not as fast as Gatchell wanted. So, he did some research and the shop eventually began using the company Podium to set up a chatbox on its website.

Gatchell says he did not do much in the way of researching a company for chatbots. Podium reached out to him about the chatbot service because he was already using the company for a texting form on the shop’s website.

Yet, he was hesitant, initially, to start using the chabot setup.


The Solution

While A&J Collision Repair started offering the chatbot service to customers, it did not mean the business necessarily grew, Gatchell says.

Gatchell chose the Podium company largely because his shop already used it for services like text message communication with clients. Since every feature is integrated into the platform, there was no additional cost.

Once the chat box feature was added to the website, customers are able to quickly chat online with one of the shop’s customer service representatives.

Here’s how it works:  

Step 1: Go to the shop’s website. A chat box will pop up in the lower right-hand corner of the website. This box is green.

Step 2: Type in a question. Once the customer clicks on the box, he or she can type a question into the box.

Step 3: The collision repair staff receives the information. While the first message delivered to the customer is an automated one that says, “Thanks for texting with us! We’ll be with you shortly,” the front office staff sees the message pop up on the website, Gatchell says. An employee sees a message that says the name of the customer and the topic of his or her inquiry. From there, the employee shares his or her name and asks how the shop can help the customer.

The body shop staff makes it a priority to answer the chat questions as soon as they come through. If no one at the front desk knows the answers, a staff member will tell Gatchell and the whole team will brainstorm to find a solution.


The Aftermath

Gatchell says that, while the chatbox process has been fairly easy and streamlined, he does not like his staff to provide answers to the customers based off of a script. For instance, if a customer asks what color they can change their vehicle to, he does not want a customer service representative be beholden to answering with all the colors that the shop might be able to supply. The employee should be able to answer with just one color.

Right now the shop gets about two to three customers using the chatbot per week.

“If we ever receive good messages, we also make a point of going through them at the weekly staff meetings,” he says.

And, when the tough messages come in through the chat box, Gatchell will have a staff member pick up a phone and call the customer. If the staff has to relay a message about a delay in a repair or something that did not go according to schedule, then he or she will message the customer, explain they have an update about the car and follow up with a call.


The Takeaway

Using chatbots provides a way for customers to stay in constant contact with the shop, even after business hours, which is especially helpful for Gatchell, whose shop is closed on weekends.

“It gives customers the ability to ask their questions, feel like someone is there and feel like they are being helped,” he says.

Since the use of chatbots is relatively new to him, Gatchell has not noticed the chatbots providing any significant details on the shop’s customers. He usually sees about two messages a week through the application. Typically the questions range from the when the shop is open, to what kind of repair work the shop does, and a handful of customers asked about older cars and paint jobs for them.


SHOP STATS: A&J Collision Repair   Location: Conway, Ark.  Operator: Jody Gatchell  Average Monthly Car Count: 75  Staff Size: 14 ( 4 in front office, 2 in disassembly team, 4 metal technicians, 2 in paint department, 1 detailer, 1 owner)  Shop Size: 18,000 square feet; Annual Revenue;over $2 million 

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