Effectively managing your body shop in this digital age involves booting up with a suitable online presence, according to Greg Tirico, e-marketing project manager for Akzo Nobel Coatings Inc.
“There is a considerable amount of opportunity for those shops that dedicate the time and resources to this area,” says Tirico, who presented Wednesday and Thursday educational sessions on the issue. “We are not lagging behind as an industry, but there is plenty of room for creative thinking in the way of driving sales via the Internet.”
This includes maintaining an attractive home page for your business, communicating with your customer base via e-mail, participating in the multi-posting sites such as YouTube – they’re not just for the kids anymore – and being aware of the power presented by consumer reviews, as with Angie’s List and the like.
“Ignore them at your own peril,” Tirico cautions. “These communities are forming with you or without you. The ‘social media’ is an ever-changing landscape, and Angie’ List is a very popular site.
If you haven’t done so, get going on an Internet site for your shop. Not just a single-page listing piggybacking with a business directory, but an actual setup highlighting what your business offers, he says.
If you already have an Internet page, make sure it’s current. If not, pursue an upgrade. “One of the biggest signs is outdated content,” Tirico points out. Are you now open on Saturdays? Have the daily work hours changed?
If more than a couple adjustments are in order, it may be time for a more significant upgrade to the entire site. “It’s a whole lot easier and cost-effective to do it all at once.”
Perhaps the overall appearance has become stale. “The days of flashing and animated graphics are over,” he reports. “Designs are much more refined and professional-looking.”
A number of shops have a video feature allowing customers to view the step-by-step repair process from the comfort of their homes. “The watch-related services come at a reasonable cost, and they can have an impact on word-of-mouth.” In casual conversations with friends and family a client is likely to mention, “Hey, I could watch my car being repaired.”
There are numerous national firms that design Internet sites, including businesses that specialize in body shop applications. Take a look at what other collision repairers similar in scope to your operation are doing, he suggests.
Also examine what’s going on in your market. Not just among other shops, but take a look at what other industries are doing. At the bottom of every site there’s usually a link to the designer. “You can find local designers that way, and the chamber of commerce is a good idea too,” says Tirico.
He encourages using the free Google Analytics service to monitor the amount of hits you’re getting, how long they stay and what search-terms are typed in to get there. “It can tell you exactly what’s going on with your Web site.”
Asking existing customers for their e-mail address is an effective technique for staying in contact and promoting referrals, according to Tirico. “E-marketing is an incredible personal conversation that a body shop can have with a car owner. It is dirt cheap – but not easy,” he observes.
“In this case, content is king.” The average person is in a crash just once every seven years, so a stream of blatant hard-sell advertisements is not appropriate. But you can ask your customers via e-mail what they want. Tailor the content to an individual’s demographic standing. You can offer a coupon for a glove compartment accident-readiness reporting kit – always a handy item – and partner with other businesses, such as restaurants and charities, to be included in each other’s e-newsletters.
Again, Tirico stresses, be sure to ask your e-mail recipients what types of e-mailed promotions they prefer; some may not want the content you have in mind, and their wishes must be respected for the campaign to be effective.