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  Collision Feature

Savvy Marketing for Your Collision Business

Posted 8/13/2012
By Rachael J. Mercer

Social media is the best way to market your shop to motorists before they need your services.

The Internet has truly revolutionized the way businesses worldwide are able to market themselves to customers. Gone are the days of relying solely on word-of-mouth advertising or phone book ads to attract business. These days, social media, as part of the overall World Wide Web, can reap big rewards for your business. The key to these forms of marketing and communication is becoming knowledgeable about them and understanding how to use them.

Mandy Edwards, owner of ME Marketing Services in Statesboro, Ga., explains: “In this day and age, most marketing is going on online. Being on social media is now almost a requirement to any marketing plan. Social media allows you to engage with your current and prospective customers – building that relationship before any sale is made.”
How can you market your business to customers before they need your services?

Sherry Osborne, who, along with her husband, Shane, owns Osborne Bodyworks, an ASA member-shop in Lilburn, Ga., is changing the way her business markets itself to the community. During the economic downturn in 2009, she and her husband had to let all but one member of their staff go. “It was a very ambiguous time in our business,” she explained. “In the fourth quarter of 2009, because of the depression, we had some serious choices to make.”

Osborne Bodyworks – with a skeleton staff of one employee, her husband and herself – made a move just 200 yards to a main street, increasing their store’s visibility. Once the move was made, Osborne began to look for new and exciting ways to use the marketing and advertising skills she learned during her 13-year career at Coca-Cola. “I began looking for the characteristics about our business that I could use to market our services to customers,” she said. “I felt our education and training are marketable. I also began asking our customers what they would want to learn about.”

Social Media Tools to Have in Your Marketing ‘Arsenal’

Use social media tools to present your business to the public in a fresh and new way.

Facebook: Get a free Facebook page for your business, where your customers can “Like” you. While you can offer links that help you promote your business, you have to be careful to follow Facebook’s rules on business promotion. Be sure to review those carefully before you get your free page. Facebook’s new “promoted posts” does allow page owners the opportunity to pay to advertise their business to more of their friends and to people who have not become fans of their business page.

Twitter: Get a free Twitter account, which will allow you to quickly and rapidly fire off information to your “followers” about your specials, new promotions and educational training your employees have received and more.

YouTube: YouTube is a free broadcasting service used by millions of people all over the world. Use this social media tool to publish videos online on topics from car maintenance to how to get a repair estimate and more.

Wordpress & Blogspot: Not ready to take the plunge into having a Web page designed by someone who really knows what they’re doing? Check out Wordpress or Blogspot for the ability to design and run your own website.

PostCron: PostCron is a free application, which allows you to schedule posts in advance. Therefore, when you want to regularly inform your customers of specials or routine maintenance or even how to check their windshield for cracks and chips,  PostCron will post to your Facebook account directly.

– RJM

Armed with this knowledge, Osborne Bodyworks began hosting quarterly training sessions where customers could come and learn about topics such as how to perform routine maintenance on their vehicles, what to do following a collision and more. “I am always asking our customers when they are here at our business what they would like to learn,” said Osborne. Their customers have been receptive to consumer education, and they have helped them by teaching things like what to ask a mechanic, how to get a proper estimate from a repairer and more.

Since the layoffs in 2009 at their company and the move to another location, business has begun to pick up. But for the Osbornes, returning to “good enough” isn’t good enough. Osborne explained that beyond the customer education, their business has begun investing in a new website where customer interaction and information will be prominent.

“Each year I look forward to the article in AutoInc. about the Top 10 websites,” she said. “For the last two years I have collected information and developed a list of best practices for website design and features. I have begun to understand that beyond having a website, a successful business must integrate features that make it more informative, interesting and user-friendly.”

Edwards explained that the majority of customers expect businesses to have at least a basic website, and many look for activity on at least one of the four major social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. The Osbsornes are creating a presence on these social media sites but they are developing some other features for their website.

For example, the Osbornes’ new website will include an “Habla Espanol” button. When clicked, it will allow their customers to read the website in Spanish. Together with their Web designer, they are working to increase their search engine optimization (SEO), which means that when a customer searches for repair shops in the Lilburn area, the Osbornes’ Web address should be near the top of the search results list.

Osborne said a website can be an affordable option for all businesses – even with the “extras” in communication and interactive features. She explained that she and her husband have bartered with the Web designer so that his vehicle repairs and the Web design have offset each other.

Osborne stressed that communicating with customers is key. “We will communicate with a customer in whatever way is most convenient for them – whether that is a phone call, text messaging, email, Facebook or through their ability to check the status of their repair online,” she said. “And once the repair is done, we continue the communication by sending handwritten thank-you notes for choosing our business for their repair.” The customer testimonals are kept in the Osborne Photo Book in the lobby of the store.

As shop owners gauge what form of marketing would work best for their businesses, it is important to look at your business as a whole. An eagle eye’s perspective will help you know how you should market the characteristics that make your business most successful, and it will also give you the opportunity to improve in other areas.

Customer opinions of a store’s business practices can make a huge impact on their willingness to return to a place of business. But how do you know what your customers are thinking and saying about your company after they leave your store? There are various tools on the marketing front to help manage testimonials.

Managing customer testimonials has become an important subcategory to social media marketing. There are many helpful tools available to help shops keep on top of what their customers are saying about their businesses. One such tool for collision repair businesses is Mitchell International’s Customer Experience Management (CEM) Sentiment Tool, which summarizes customer experience and perception data based on four criteria: quality of work, level of service received, on-time delivery of the vehicle and the level of communication.

Anlin Sethi, product manager for Mitchell International, explained that in the past customers would be asked these questions and would provide their response. If they were asked a yes or no question, typically that would be the only answer provided to the surveyor, who in turn would only have these sorts of answers to deliver to the business.

But the new CEM Sentiment Tool delivers the information to subscribers in an easy-to-interpret interactive dashboard. Shop owners and managers can interpret the information in specific chunks or by looking at the overall dashboard when they log into their Mitchell RepairCenter program. “The CEM Sentiment Tool conveys the voice of the customer using qualifying adjectives and text analytics to give shop owners a feel for the sentiment of their shop base,” said Sethi.

So begin today to define the characteristics and traits of your business that you offer – the ones that are top-notch – and begin marketing them through tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Take advantage of other tools to make sure you’re marketing your business in the right way. You don’t want to market the services to which your customers give poor ratings. And lastly, use the data you receive in those customer service surveys to improve the overall experience your customers receive.

Rachael J. Mercer is a freelance writer based in McDonough, Ga. She can be reached at mercerfreelancing @gmail.com.

 

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