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Install Cameras for Watching Repairs

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Barbara Morgan recently put a new twist on customer service at her collision repair shop. The owner of Nissen’s CARSTAR Autobody Shop in Palm Bay, Fla., lets her customers keep an eye on the repair process—from the comfort of their own computer screen. Three months ago, Morgan purchased and installed eight cameras that allow customers to watch repairs being done on their car. She says customers love it. “They’re already traumatized because their car’s been smashed up,” Morgan says. Worry and doubt fade away, she believes, when customers can watch the repair process via car cam.

Morgan bought the 30-year-old Nissen’s in January 2008, and since installing the cameras, Nissen’s has had some of its most profitable months yet. In fact, this “wow” customer service is boosting referrals like never before.

GETTING SET UP

The cameras cost $45 a piece at an electronics wholesaler. Making that initial investment, Morgan says, was the easy part. A large part of the cost came from setting up the shop’s computers to handle a live streaming video feed. She hired an IT consultant to upgrade her current computers to greater bandwidth capable of supporting live video. She also had the consultant build a Web site where her customers could log on to view their vehicle’s repairs.

“So how do techs feel? When I told them I was installing the cameras, they didn’t bat an eye. They’re so busy with the cars, they don’t notice.” 
—Barbara Morgan, owner, Nissen’s CARSTAR Autobody Shop

Other expenses included having the local cable company “lay a big cable to my shop to handle that big bandwidth,” Morgan says, as well as purchasing cables to connect the cameras to the computers in her 8,000-square-foot shop.

All told, Morgan spent more than $10,000 to complete the entire project. Sounds spendy, but she says it’s been more than worth the investment because of the potential for increased referrals. And, because the car cam project is handled in-house, she doesn’t have any ongoing expenses bogging down her cash flow.

HOW IT WORKS

The program that Morgan’s IT consultant designed for the cameras is built right into the shop’s management software. When a technician logs into the computer, a list of each car in the shop pops up. The technician clicks on the car that’s being repaired, and once that happens, the system generates an automatic email to the customer. Each customer receives five emails during the repair process. “[They get an email] when we get the car, when it’s in paint, when it’s in assembly, when it’s in detail, and when it’s ready for pickup,” Morgan says. At each of these stages, the customer can go online to view the work being done. To get the gist, check out Morgan’s team in action: Visit carcollision.net and click on “Live CarCam.”

Customers can watch their vehicle repairs for 10 to 15 minutes. After that, the system boots them off to prevent jamming up the bandwidth and making the site unbearably slow. So far, the shop has received no complaints from customers wanting to watch for longer than 15 minutes.

Morgan says her idea for installing the cameras was actually a borrowed one. “To be honest with you, I’m all about stealing good ideas,” she laughs. “When I was at orientation at CARSTAR, they had cameras. As soon as I heard that, I loved the idea. If I were a customer, I’d want it.”

So how do techs feel about their new starring role in the repair business? “When I told them I was installing the cameras, they didn’t bat an eye,” Morgan says. “They’re aware Big Brother is there, but they’re so busy with the cars, they don’t notice. They don’t even think about the cameras at all. They knew it would bring us more business.”

Morgan believes that car cams would work for a shop of any size. “If you only have two bays, it’s still worthwhile to give that customer the warm and fuzzy. They want to know their car is being well taken care of. [The cameras] just help to enhance that level of comfort.” Those cameras have also helped cut down on the number of phone calls from customers wanting an update on repairs.

“Everyone who sees these cameras and loves them—they’ll tell 10 friends… People are going out of their way to tell people.”
—Barbara Morgan, owner, Nissen’s CARSTAR Autobody Shop

WIN-WIN SITUATION

The biggest benefit from the car cams is expected to be a significant increase in referrals. “Everyone who sees these cameras and loves them—they’ll tell 10 friends,” Morgan says. There are a lot of referrals in this business. That’s what I’m driving for: repeat service.” So far, it’s working just as planned. “People are going out of their way to tell people. The reaction has always been, ‘Wow.’”

She says the cameras have also sharpened her skills as a business owner. “It’s all about marketing. Most body shops don’t really market themselves,” Morgan says. “I’m trying to educate the public in my area—here’s what this means to you. If you get your car fixed by us, you know you’re getting that ‘wow’ customer service, and if you want to watch your car, you have the opportunity.”

Aside from boosting business, though, Morgan says the cameras are all about making her customers feel more comfortable during the repair process. “People can see their cars being worked on. To me, that proves we’re doing everything we’re supposed to be doing to that car. It reinforces that in the customer’s mind.”

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