Creating a Shop Website

Nov. 1, 2010

A thoughtful, multi-page website conveys competence and legitimacy—traits especially important for collision repair shops. FenderBender’s Caitlin Burgess talked with Dave Henderson, CEO of AutoWatch, who began his career as a bodyman at age 17 and eventually started up AutoWatch, which uploads digital photos to a shop’s website so customers can keep tabs on the repair process. He offers advice on the right way to build a shop website.

Shops that have a website are providing good customer service. A website gives current and potential customers access to your shop at all times. Customers expect to get information about your business online, and when they find your website, that expectation is met. You’re off to a good start in building a positive customer relationship. It’s as simple as that.

Websites are not just for multi-million dollar shops. Your small shop can look just as nice and professional as the big shop down the street. The Internet allows all businesses to be on the same playing field. AutoWatch builds sites that range from $795 to about $2,100, allowing even the smallest shops to get online.

Customers live in the information age. The third-most-visited page on the sites AutoWatch has built is the “repair process” page, which tells us that people are interested in what happens once they leave their car at the shop. Let customers get to know you through your site.
People pick a specific body shop for several reasons:
1. They’ve driven by it and know where it is.
2. Someone has told them about it.
3. They’ve been in a wreck before and had their car repaired there.
4. The insurance company has given them a list of suggested repair centers.

When a potential customer gets a word-of-mouth referral for your shop, or drives by and wants to know more about your shop, your website provides the reassurance that yours is a timely and viable business. Your site provides all the info a potential customer needs to know—directions, hours, repair capabilities and more—to choose your body shop for their repair.

Ask yourself, “What business am I in?” If you said you’re in the collision or body business, you’re wrong. These days, everyone is in the marketing business. Begin saying, “I market a collision shop.” If a shop doesn’t have a marketing budget, it’s already in trouble. A website is critical in today’s market. If you don’t make your site part of your marketing plan, you misunderstand the basics of what customers expect.

When creating a website you must put yourself in the customers’ shoes: What does the customer want and how easily can I get it to them? Customers want to know how your shop got started and what experience you bring to the table—to a point. They’re interested in your shop’s history as it pertains to your credibility, but they don’t care about the legacy of the business, so don’t write a novel. Also, make the site nice to look at—including pictures of your work—and easy to navigate. The Internet has become simplistic and people expect your site to be up to speed.

The four most important things to include on your site are:
• FAQs. We all look for answers to frequently asked questions. Those answers allow customers to obtain information right away, reducing the time your employees spend explaining shop and repair basics in person or by phone.
• Directions to your shop. A no-brainer right? Some shop sites don’t include this basic, critical information. An interactive map that can give specific directions to your shop from a customer’s location is best.
• Contact Us. Again, a no-brainer. Be sure to include as much contact information as possible. Essential personnel—owner, shop floor manager, front desk manager—need to be listed with phone and email.
• Shop Tour. People want to know something about the place they’re bringing their vehicle for a repair. A photo tour through the shop will put a potential customer at ease while showing off the high-tech equipment that is now essential to the collision industry.

Adding AutoWatch, or a similar service, to your site will help establish trust. AutoWatch allows customers to see their vehicle throughout the repair process, receive instant updates on its status and see the shop in action. Customers have a preconceived notion of a body shop. The industry has changed so much, especially during the past 15 years. But the stereotypical shop image—dinginess, dirt and jerks trying to overcharge for poor service—hasn’t kept pace in the minds of consumers. We know that shops are now well-kept, that computers measure paint formulas and assess damage, and that technology abounds. If customers can see this, they’ll update their view of what collision repairers are all about. And when they’re also able to keep tabs on their car and your staff, they rest easy—and tell their friends.

After creating a site, Web traffic won’t be your only traffic. When you add instant updates and the ability to watch a repair online, it boosts a shop’s customer service—and the amount of referrals a shop will receive. Customers tell and show their friends. They’ll say, “You have to see my car!” And the page clicks and word-of-mouth advertising will begin. Simply put, happy customers equal referrals, and referrals equal more jobs and more revenue. The happier the customer, the more you will see your business grow.

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