Running a Shop Technology Apps+Software

Virtual, Yet Personal

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Sandra Baker-Assemi has noticed two common themes at her shop, Elite Auto Collision Repair Center in La Mesa, Calif. First, as has always been the case, most customers want to establish a sense of trust before doing business with her. Collision repair is a foreign experience to many, and customers need personal interactions to know their car is being left in good hands.

Second, customers love technology. They use mobile phones and tablet devices all the time, and are always looking for new, convenient ways to interact with businesses electronically. For example, she says there’s been a large influx over the past couple years of customers who ask for estimates online.

Although personal interactions and technology usage are seemingly contradictory ideas, Baker-Assemi thought there had to be a way to satisfy both. Skype, she says, was the perfect answer—a free online resource for video-based communication.

“It’s a tool for them to get to know our staff, schedule appointments, and receive preliminary estimates.”
—Sandra Baker-Assemi, owner, Elite Auto Collision Repair Center

Baker-Assemi thought a lot about those trends and how to capitalize on them to benefit her business. Using video chat through Skype as a communication tool seemed ideal. She says it ties her shop to the technology trend while maintaining a personal touch, and it’s free to use. So she implemented Skype during the summer of 2012. It’s advertised on the “estimates” page of Elite Auto’s website (elitecustomauto.com) and promoted through a tutorial posted on YouTube (check it out at bit.ly/FBskypeestimate). The shop’s staff also lets people know about the offering when they call in asking for an estimate.

Now, customers are able to communicate with Elite face-to-face using their cell phone or tablet device.

“It’s a tool for them to get to know our staff, schedule appointments, and receive preliminary estimates,” Baker-Assemi says. “Instead of taking a photo, emailing it to the shop and waiting for a response, customers can call via Skype, turn their phone to the car, and acquire a visual inspection immediately. It’s a pretty simple process.”

Managing the system isn’t difficult, either. Skype can ring directly through your computer if you have a customer service representative (CSR) sitting there. Or, it can ring through your typical phone line just like all other calls.

Of course, not every customer now uses Skype. But Baker-Assemi says there is a portion of customers who like video chats as a way to cultivate familiarity and personal attention while receiving an electronic, preliminary estimate.

“It’s a tool that catches people’s attention ... and causes them to explore our business deeper.”
—Sandra Baker-Assemi, owner, Elite Auto Collision Repair Center

“It’s been beneficial for us, especially since it’s a free tool and doesn’t generate any overhead cost,” Baker-Assemi says.

Within five months, about 25 new customers contacted Elite Auto through Skype. With average repair bills of roughly $2,000, that amounts to a $50,000 revenue boost that may not have otherwise been achieved.

“We’ve hit on something that’s helping to define sales opportunities by capitalizing on technological trends,” Baker-Assemi says.

She says that work increase is the result of four main business benefits Elite Auto has achieved by offering Skype:

1. Increased trust: For some, it takes more than a pleasant phone call to build a positive rapport with shops. They want to know the personality of the business and its staff in order to build a sense of professionalism and credibility. Immediate face-to-face interactions are a powerful way to cultivate that, and illustrate the company’s transparency, honesty, and genuine desire to provide repair assistance.

2. Stronger relationships: People do business with people they like. Some people perceive Skype as a more personal way of doing business, and customers who value that are more inclined to connect with your shop.

Allowing customers to see your face before they come in helps develop emotional connections and familiarity right off the bat. That’s the whole reason for doing this.

3. Improved selling opportunity:  Video chats can improve your closing ratio on estimate inquiries. When customers call for estimates through Skype, CSRs are able to assess the customer’s body language and demeanor, which is beneficial for landing jobs. It helps CSRs understand the best way to handle interactions and tailor conversations appropriately.


4. Better impressions: In addition to customers who actually use Skype, Elite Auto has acquired other customers simply because of the offering. Several customers have reported being impressed by the progressive, forward-thinking approach compared to other shops, and found the business appealing because of that.

“It’s a tool that catches people’s attention when they visit our website, and a catalyst that causes them to explore our business deeper,” Baker-Assemi says.

A Second Opinion

Dennis O’Connell, chief operations officer at Suburban Auto Body in Little Canada, Minn., also uses face-to-face communication technology with customers. In addition to Skype, he uses FaceTime on his iPhone.

O’Connell says the offering “has been an awesome way to capture business” through improved customer service. Many customers call for estimate inquiries over the phone. They want general advice as to whether their repair needs will exceed their deductible so they can get the claim process started with their insurance company before arriving at the shop.

The problem, however, is that they want rough numbers after providing a brief explanation of the damage—before shop estimators even have an opportunity to see the car.

Skype and FaceTime generally allow for ballpark assessments, but that’s typically enough to let customers know how to proceed, satisfying their immediate questions. 

“There is an old estimator joke, ‘Why don’t you just hold the phone up to the car and I’ll make an estimate?’” O’Connell says. “That joke is now a reality. When people call with those inquiries, we can actually do that and provide instant gratification with Skype and FaceTime strategies.”

He says that elevated service has caused customers to perceive the shop as a progressive company, and has demonstrated a genuine desire to offer convenient assistance. 

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