Keep Customers in the Loop with Text Messaging

April 30, 2010
A collision repairer invented an automated text messaging service as a way to promote his shop. Now other shops are jumping on board—and saving money doing it.

Over the course of a repair at Sterling Autobody, customers are likely to get up to four text messages that say something like this: “Hi Nancy. Your Buick is happy here! Why? Because we are taking good care of it until it comes home on March 8 at 5 p.m.”

“We are over the hump! Your Honda is 52% completed and still on target for 3/11 @ 5:00pm.”

“All is well here. We are finalizing repairs and are 91% completed. Call you soon.”

The messages are a bit corny, but customers love this stuff, says Nick Notte, president of Sterling Autobody, whose company has used, an automated text messaging service, to communicate with customers since March 2009.

UpdatePromise contracts with body shops to send automated text messages to shop customers throughout the repair process. The company also sends text messages to follow up with customers after the repairs.

Notte likes UpdatePromise so much that his company, which runs 61 collision repair shops in 16 states, has cut back dramatically on traditional promotions like mailings, fliers, coupons and phone calls to people who typically don’t even answer the phone. Sterling’s overall annual marketing budget is down 66 percent since he started using UpdatePromise, to $250,000 from $750,000. Sterling’s sales are up since the company started using the service—despite cutting back on traditional marketing—which tells Notte the service is working.

“[At first] I thought these messages were stupid. But it’s exactly what the customer wants to see."
—Michael Quinn, co-founder of 911 Collision

“Sterling’s senior leadership team noticed exponentially more benefit than the expense of the program,” says Notte, whose company pays $79 a month for each of its 61 locations to use the program. The service costs $199 per month per shop, with steep discounts for multiple shop locations.

Shop operators who are using UpdatePromise say they’ve used it to promote themselves to existing customers, reduce marketing budgets, increase capture ratios and ultimately increase sales.

Digital Opportunity

Dave Caulfield, owner of East Hills Auto Collision in Yorba Linda, Calif., was spending a lot of time, money and resources following up and contacting customers through the repair process to make them feel comfortable. Seeking a way to make customer contact more efficient, he piloted the idea of a predesigned series of automated text messages that would be sent out to his customers after providing them with an estimate, and throughout the repair process.

Caulfield’s idea worked. After implementing the pilot, Caulfield experienced a monthly 4.1 percent increase in his capture ratio after providing repair estimates to potential customers. Since he launched the service, which he named, in August 2008, 1,400 shop locations have signed on. In addition, Caulfield says his 17,600 square foot shop with a $3.2 million annual revenue saw a 7 percent increase in sales within the first year of implementing the program.

The messages, sent via a shop’s software management system, don’t share the gritty details of the repair job, but describe the progression of the repair to the customer based on the timeline a shop gives them when they drop off their vehicle. When receives repair order data from a shop’s management system, no manual data entry or employee involvement is required.

The system also serves as a two-way communication tool. Customers can text back to the shop with questions, comments or concerns throughout the repair, rather than having to wait until the end of the process, Caulfield says.

Once a customer picks up their vehicle, they receive four more messages from the shop throughout the following year: after 30 days, 90 days, six months, and on the one-year anniversary of the repair.

Every message is branded with the shop’s name and contact information, and reminds the customer to call with any future questions.

“If our number is in their phone all the time, that’s just one more chance for the customer to remember your company,” says Notte.

Sign of the Times

Texting as a promotional tool is here to stay—and one that ought to be embraced, since it offers clear advantages over traditional promotional tools, say collision repairers who have embraced the technology.

“Promoting your business differently, and tapping into how your customer wants to hear information is a big part of ensuring you retain a customer,” Caulfield says. Many shops judge promotions and marketing through their own eyes, Caulfield adds. But shops should consider the technologies their consumers are using and tap into that world, rather than staying in their own world and continuing to do things the traditional way.

Texting provides plenty of unique promotional opportunities and advantages:

• Texting is still new. Text messages are still novel enough that they don’t feel like junk mail, Caulfield says, adding that consumers hate being targets of junk mail. Erick Bickett, CEO of Fix Auto USA, agrees. He likes the subtlety of the text message promotional strategy offered by UpdatePromise, and says it’s more effective than other marketing tools he’s used. “More and more people appreciate paperless tactics, as long as it’s done in a way that’s not obtrusive,” Bickett says.

• Texting is subtle. Text messaging is much less intrusive than making phone calls or sending emails, which customers appreciate. “Promotion is all about being visible to customers,” Notte says, adding that people can look at text messages at their convenience, it’s nonintrusive and doesn’t force them to talk to a salesperson, like phone calls do.

• Texting works. Traditional marketing tools—including some e-marketing strategies—are becoming less effective in the mobile age, says Bickett. Even e-mail tools are relatively ineffective; Bickett’s company sees a return rate of less than 1 percent on the e-coupons his company sends to his customer base.

Michael Quinn, co-founder of 911 Collision, also sees business promotions moving to the mobile arena. “People are tired of seeing the same old thing from organizations,” he says. E-mails are increasingly getting deleted before they are looked at, but with a text message, the customer just has to look in their hand and they’re reading your message.

“I thought these messages were stupid,” Quinn says. “But it’s exactly what the customer wants to see.” Quinn expects to see a two-point bump in his CSI scores.

• Texting creates buzz. Using a promotional tool that’s still on the cutting edge can differentiate a shop from the competition and create buzz, says Quinn. “If I text someone updates and they’re standing around with their friends, they’re going to turn their phone around and show it off,” Quinn says. It’s likely the customer will tell their friends the name of your company, which promotes the brand name and sparks discussion about the business, he added.

The most important thing with any new promotional tools is to pair it with great customer service and a quality repair, Bickett says. It’s more than just one satisfactory experience that will drive your brand to the top of a customer’s mind; it’s important to do something memorable.
“We’re becoming a digital world,” Bickett says. “If you don’t represent yourself there, you’re going to be invisible.” So invisible, he says, it’s like not having a sign on your building.

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