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Adding an Online Estimate Portal

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Your website is often the first place consumers look to learn about your business, and a huge factor on which they base decisions to visit your facility. Websites need to be impressive, and include features that entice potential customers to contact you.

For some shops, the addition of an online estimate portal has been a golden ticket for new business—especially tech-savvy consumers. It’s a simple sales strategy that allows information-seeking customers to conveniently request repair advice from your shop, and provides shops with opportunities to sell their services to stay-at-home estimate shoppers.

“Technology is being used all around us, and collision shop operators should do everything possible to capitalize on that trend. Online estimates open opportunities to create relationships with potential customers by communicating and conveying information,” says Eyal Dunkel, president of Fancy Auto, provider of online body shop estimate service “This is a lead generation tool for the collision repair industry that ultimately creates sales.”

And it’s simple and inexpensive to implement—not to mention it’s a tool that shops of all sizes can implement almost immediately.

FenderBender recently spoke with two shop owners who have used an online estimate process to drive substantial increases in website traffic, customer communication and revenue. They shared why their shops did it, the business impact that has followed, and how you can replicate those results.

Joe Downey, director of Sands Collision Center in Glendale, Ariz.

“Several customers we’ve spoken with intentionally look for shops that offer online estimate services. It’s a way to catch their attention and attract them to our location by offering a more convenient service.”

We wanted to capture more business and expand our base of customers who live in different ZIP codes. We initiated an online estimate process about six years ago, which only required adding a new page to our existing website.

The focal point of the concept is to develop communication with customers that we didn’t have previously. Most consumers who submit online estimate requests do so for fairly basic jobs, such as bumper repairs or broken mirrors. They want to know a general cost of the repair so they can proactively decide whether to pay out of pocket or file an insurance claim. Once we open lines of communication, we can sell customers on our shop and processes to make them feel more comfortable working with our business.

Frequency of Use: We average 12 online estimate submissions monthly.

Business Impact: The process is effective from a sales perspective by allowing us to acquire customers we wouldn’t have otherwise. We have an 85 percent capture ratio for estimates submitted online.

Downey’s Implementation Advice: Customers who search for estimates online likely submit the request to multiple facilities. Respond to the inquiry as fast as possible to improve your chances of obtaining the job. We always respond within two hours after receiving the submission. If the information is sent after business hours, we submit a reply by 10 a.m. the following business day.

Jeff DeMeerleer, owner of Auto Body Super Center, a three-shop operation in Idaho and Washington

“Once the Web page is developed and added to your website, there is no additional business expense for shops to offer this service. There’s no reason not to do it; there’s nothing to lose.”

Our goal is to drive customers to our shop who aren’t sure how to start the repair process so we can help steer them in the right direction. Most people who ask for online estimates are ignorant about the repair process and fishing for information. They start by searching online for estimates because that’s the only way they know how to get help. We implemented the online estimate process two years ago to generate and capture those sales leads.

Frequency of Use: We acquire about five estimate submissions online monthly.

Business Impact: This has served as a great way to get the ball rolling with customers who are short on time. We land most of the customers who submit requests.

The customer information acquired through the online estimate portal has also strengthened other marketing initiatives. We acquire each customer’s name, phone number, mailing address and email address, and add that information to our database. We can continuously market to a broader range of individuals with future efforts.

DeMeerleer’s Implementation Advice: The accuracy of the estimate is highly dependent on the quality of photos submitted, but most customers don’t take the photos properly. Provide customers with a brief set of instructions that illustrates the various angles and distances you need photos to be captured.

Initiate Communication

You might be concerned about your ability to provide accurate damage assessments simply based on photos uploaded by customers. There could always be hidden damage that isn’t visible in the photo, and every shop knows it’s nearly impossible to quote repair costs with 100 percent accuracy before physically seeing the car.

Of course, you want to provide estimate-seekers with accurate information, but that’s only part of the purpose. The whole idea is to open lines of communication with potential customers by providing them with a tool to acquire as much information as possible in advance.

Dunkel says this tool gives customers a general idea how to pursue their repair needs, which is really what they’re looking for anyway. They appreciate receiving information up front, and usually understand a shop’s limitations for accuracy as long as it’s clearly explained that the online process is a “guesstimate” and why it’s necessary to make a more thorough assessment before the estimate can be solidified.

In addition, Dunkel says customers are searching for online estimate services regardless, so it’s a service every shop should offer to help prevent those people from looking elsewhere for their repair needs.

“Offering the service on your website allows your shop to make the first virtual connection with customers. It gives them a starting point, and a reason to contact your shop so that you can pitch your services and entice them to select your facility,” Dunkel says. “If customers can’t make that connection with your facility, they’ll look for it somewhere else.”

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