The Importance of Consumer Awareness
In early 2015, Rick Sparks was named as the vice president of consumer awareness at Assured Performance Network, a non-profit co-op consumer advocacy and management organization. As part of his position, Sparks will work on various consumer-facing initiatives, including many tools to help vehicle owners identify and work with certified collision repair centers through the organization’s Certified Collision Care providers.
Sparks has worked in the sales, marketing and e-commerce divisions of several world-renown companies including Procter and Gamble, Frito-Lay, and Kraft Foods. Most recently, he led a startup effort with iShoutOut, an online consumer marketing service featuring smart apps and online interfaces.
Sparks has become an expert in consumer awareness and the issues consumers face today. He discussed how shops can leverage their relationships with consumers.
Can you talk about some of the consumer-facing initiatives that Assured Performance has?
The game-changer is the OE Customer Referral Program (CRP). We are not just certifying shops; collectively with the participating automakers, we are doing everything we can to make sure their vehicle owners are able to find and work with a certified shop to help ensure the repaired vehicle’s fit, finish, durability, value and safety. We will be using all kinds of great consumer tools such as online shop locators, smartphone apps, telematics, direct consumer marketing, promotions, marketing, and public relations directly from the shop, as well as from our non-profit consumer advocacy organization.
Part of our overall efforts are to evolve past the old-school perceptions associated with body shops and bodywork. We are repackaging and reprocessing the entire experience into “Collision Care.” The difference between good body work and Collision Care is the difference between a handshake and a hug. It is a much greater degree of intimacy with the customer experience. The Collision Care approach takes the stress and pain out of the collision repair and claims process and turns a wreck and the associated repair process into a minor inconvenience versus a traumatic event.
— Rick Sparks, vice president of consumer awareness, Assured Performance Network
This new generation of certification is far different than programs in the past. The industry is becoming aware of our all-encompassing certification program. We have finally reached critical mass with over 1,500 shops already certified and at least 1,000 more to go. We are now working with five of the top automakers in the world in identifying which shops have the right tools, equipment, training and facility modifications. That represents nearly 70 percent of all vehicles on the roadways.
Several of the largest automakers have collaborated to create one common organization dedicated to this critical mission on an ongoing basis. They then officially recognized this joint effort initiative and the standards that have been set. So while each OEM certification has their own unique branding and follow the requirements essential to their vehicle designs, we are able to avoid repetitive costs and duplication of require tools and equipment, etc.
Is consumer awareness something that shops should be paying attention to?
Consumer awareness has always been critical to the shop’s marketing and something a shop should have leveraged. However, during the era that [direct repair programs] dominated everything, there was a diminishing value. With the drive to new technology in vehicles and the use of lightweight advanced materials in the design by all OEMs, consumer awareness is more urgent than ever.
Proper collision repair of the new generation of vehicles is a matter of life and death. Consumers need to know that their new vehicle requires precise repairs by well trained experts that use the correct tools and equipment. They need to know that they should only have their vehicle repaired by a certified/authorized collision repair provider if they want to retain the value and safety. This is a timely message that will resonate with consumers. Our certified shops are provided the tools to drive that message in their local area markets. All combined, that is a powerful consumer awareness campaign.
What are the most pressing points you’re trying to hit on with consumers?
The new generation vehicles are technologically advanced and very sophisticated, requiring a totally different level of repair expertise and workmanship. It cannot be performed the old-fashioned way, so the consumer must be aware and insist on having their second most valuable investment repaired by a repair provider that is officially certified/recognized by the auto manufacturer. There is no other safe substitute.
What are some of the ways you see online and technology-driven consumer communication tools being used in the industry? How could it help the collision repair or claims process?
One of the most exciting aspects of our modern life is technology that operates at the speed of life. Now consumers can use their phone or computer to easily find shops in their area no matter where they live, work or travel. Further, the telematics capabilities inside the vehicle itself can assist them in case of an accident.
Technology has also helped Assured Performance Network and our strategic partners develop and manage a national network of certified shops that have all met a set of stringent business requirements. It is a cost-effective program that has enormous return on investment for the shops that are willing to make the transition.
Technology is also helping technicians perform complex tasks more efficiently and with greater accuracy. With the technical tsunami that is hitting the industry, all of the shops must reinvest to have the right equipment. The tools and equipment are also far more technologically advanced, but now there is greater competition and the pricing and feature-functions are getting better, too. For example, look at the series of smart welders that can ensure a proper weld at the proper amperage. We are just now seeing the tip of the iceberg in this area. As the industry becomes retooled and retrained, there will be far more similar advancements that benefit us all, both the consumer and the shops.