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Saturday, February 27, 2021
While the last 12 months have not been a great time for most local businesses, several factors have helped auto repair shops weather the storm better than many other industries. That’s true even while many people’s vehicles stayed parked in their driveways for months. Some of these benefits were time-specific. Examples of this include the classification of repair shops as essential businesses, and repair requests from stimulus check recipients who could finally afford them. But one of the best things independent shops have going for them is the average age of a car.
The pandemic pushed some families without second cars to purchase one rather than relying on public transit or ridesharing – this reduced the supply of vehicles and increased their prices further. And the industry’s current microchip shortage is forcing auto plants to shut down, bringing down new supply even further.
The bottom line is that the average odometer of an in-use vehicle has a higher reading than at any point in history, and that number is only rising.
This is good news and bad news. One negative of vehicles becoming ever more reliable is that many of them continue to make it down the road for more than 100,000 miles with nothing more than the most essential of maintenance – oil changes, brake service and new tires. Customers who wait until they get stranded on the side of the road to call you won’t be calling for a long while after they get their vehicle.
But the growing age of vehicles also means that the average driver spends more years than ever behind the wheel of a vehicle without warranty coverage. Customers who commit to servicing their vehicles well before they start falling apart can expect to spend a decade or longer in them before it makes sense to leave their old vehicle behind. Even if customers finance a vehicle for five years, that’s a lot of years without a car payment.
The challenge is that many people don’t prioritize maintenance unless they can see or hear a problem. And because engines and transmissions last longer than ever before breaking down, a vehicle in need of maintenance is less likely to “ride rough” or provide direct feedback to the driver that it’s time for a peek under the hood. So even as the vehicle is becoming less safe to drive, and maintenance left undone is turning into damage done, owners continue to put off maintenance until its convenient. Which, of course, is never.
That’s not good for you – but it’s not good for vehicle owners either. They’re trading a little bit of time and money for a lot of their vehicle’s lifespan. It turns out that vehicles are a bit like teeth; you show me someone at the dentist with six cavities, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t get cleanings twice a year.
Have you ever gone into a store to buy a $20 product and had an employee offer you a 3-year warranty for it? Nobody is paying for that, and they know it. That’s why they really don’t even bother trying to sell it. They don’t even tell you what the warranty covers or how it works. They already have their finger on whatever key takes them to the next screen, and they’re just waiting for your permission to press it.
That’s what happens when the person selling the product doesn’t believe in it – and you’re not going to sell much preventative maintenance if the person talking to the customer feels this way. Maintenance isn’t an attempt to make a few extra high-margin dollars off of a customer before they can get out of the door. It’s an opportunity to change your relationship with your customer (see bullet two for more on this).
Before anyone goes into a conversation about the value of preventative maintenance, make sure they have whatever information they need to truly believe it’s in the customer’s best interest to say yes. Service writers need to feel better, not worse, about how well you’re serving the customer after convincing them to schedule preventative maintenance.
After you’ve dealt with the customer’s repair, tell them you’re always happy to help them however you can, and that you’d appreciate the opportunity to do the scheduled maintenance on their vehicle because it makes you the good guy instead of the bad guy.
When customers don’t let you do preventative maintenance, shops make their money when vehicles break. The more work required to fix the problem, the more money shops make. That makes you seem like the bad guy – and because many customers don’t get around to coming in for vehicle maintenance, you have to deliver a lot of bad news.
Scheduled maintenance turns this relationship around. When customers let you do scheduled maintenance, you make money by keeping their vehicle safe, extending its life and preventing expensive surprises. You and the customer benefit from the same thing – a reliable vehicle. That makes for happier customers and it makes your job more enjoyable, too.
Another way to show customers you’re trying to build a relationship with them and not just upsell them is to offer perks and benefits for customers who bring their vehicle in for preventative maintenance checkups at regular intervals. The benefits to offer depend on your shop’s size, location and equipment, but could include a free car wash or mini-detail with service, discounted labor, priority scheduling, or free or discounted towing if the car is disabled nearby.
It’s also a nice gesture to send regular customers a hand-written note one to two times a year thanking them for their business. It’s a gesture that they’re not likely to get from the big franchise down the street, and a reminder that their business really does matter to your shop.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you bring more cars into your shop, call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.
Friday, February 26, 2021
A recent study of consumer perception of online reviews shows that reviews continue to grow in importance when it comes to how consumers make decisions. Consider these key points from the survey of more than 1,000 people:
Those numbers reinforce the importance of review quality, frequency and recency. If you want to bring more business to your shop, here are three things you can do to keep your online reviews working for you in 2021.
This may seem obvious but we still hear from many shop owners who are hesitant to ask their customers for reviews. Asking customers for reviews is the single most important thing you can do if you want to improve your online ratings. Years ago, customers may have viewed this as an unusual or awkward request, but it’s much more common now. Most consumers have been asked to leave an online review for a product or service by at least one business and probably many more than that at this point.
Happy customers are also far more likely to leave an online review if they’re asked to do it. Asking for reviews from customers who you believe are happy with your service is one big way to have some influence on who leaves online reviews for your shop.
Otherwise, people are more likely to leave a review when their experience is terrible than they are to leave a review when their experience is great. That’s how a good shop gets a bad reputation.
A key point to consider is that when potential customers look at reviews they like to see themselves in the review. That means they like to see reviews for the service they need and for the experience they expect to have.
When you ask customers for a review, encourage them to include specific details in the review. Who did they work with? What did they have done to their vehicle? They don’t need to write a book, but people like to see enough details in a review to imagine that they will have the same experience as that person who left the great review. This is a significant factor in leveraging your reviews to get more business.
There’s another benefit to this: Google likes details too, and if customers mention locations or services in their reviews, your business is more likely to show up when people search for those terms.
A study from four years ago showed that people believed five stars was too good to be true. Customers were more likely to buy a product or service with 4.7 stars than with 5 stars.
So don’t panic about a four-star review – or even a one-star review. In addition to making your reviews look more realistic, it’s also an opportunity to respond – and show potential customers how you treat unhappy customers. For some customers, the way that you respond to an unhappy customer is more important than how many happy customers you have. No matter how frustrated you may be with a bad review, respond in a very professional matter. Remember, from a distance people can’t tell who is right and who is wrong so getting into a war of words in a review leaves you with very little to gain and a lot to lose.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help your auto repair shop get more reviews, call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Some business owners really love running a business. They love making customers happy and having a great place to work, but they also enjoy everything that comes with it – financial management, sales, competitive strategy, mentoring employees and putting out fires every day.
Other business owners started their business because they wanted to do things right and give their customers what they deserve. They accepted the logistics and paperwork that comes along with the job, but they really took the plunge because they just couldn’t continue to work for someone else who treated their employees badly and told them to do things that weren’t in the customer’s best interest.
Owners in either of these categories can find marketing distasteful. But if you’re in the second category, the odds are especially high that you don’t enjoy advertising. Sure, you have a website. And you especially love seeing great reviews come in for your shop online. But does the thought of putting together a marketing slick about how great you are and sending it to every mailbox in town make you a little nauseous?
If it does make you nauseous, you aren’t alone. There are plenty of people who associate marketing with vanity and hype. In a study commissioned by the advertising industry’s own trade association in 2015, 4% of people believed that marketers behaved with integrity. Whoever those 4% were, if they’re still around after this past year’s onslaught of political ads, they’ve probably changed their minds.
One reason people hate marketing is that many companies don’t use it to tell their customers who they are and what they represent. Instead, they use it to convince customers that they’re something that they really aren’t. These companies don’t use marketing to emphasize facts – they use it to sell lies.
USA Today compiled a list of the worst product claims of all time. Did you know that 5 Hour Energy is recommended by doctors? It isn’t – but they didn’t let that stop them from saying it was. A TV ad showed a Nissan Frontier pushing a dune buggy up a sand dune, which it can’t even do. The Cheerios box used to say they lowered cholesterol, which they don’t. Now the box says they “can help” lower cholesterol. And the list is full of cigarette and weight loss product claims that were all bogus.
It only got worse when things moved online. Now, advertising doesn’t just lie to you, it tracks your every move to figure out which lies you’ll believe. Companies can (and do) show you completely different ads based on your demographics, beliefs or location.
Consumers have been sick of false claims for some time now. And marketing has already started to change as a result. But it’s not going to disappear.
Sure, if your company gets as much press as Tesla, you can fire your entire PR department and still be the richest man in the world. But small businesses still need to get the message out about who they are and what they do.
That’s what marketing should be – telling customers who you are and what you do. Not trying to tell every possible customer what they want to hear. Not trying to be everything to everybody. Marketing should be about making a few big commitments that you intend to keep.
So if your repair shop could handle more business, don’t let your stomach turn over the thought of marketing. Effective marketing doesn’t require anything that shouldn’t make you proud of why you started your business in the first place. Tell customers about your shop. Tell them about the type of people you hire. Tell them about the types of problems you fix.
And then make one to three commitments that you intend to keep. Most importantly, whatever it is that you come in to work every day and try to do better than any other shop in town, tell people about that. It could be personalized service, or fixing the problem the first time, or never making a recommendation you wouldn’t follow yourself. Tell them what you want to be held accountable for.
Since your principles aren’t likely to change, you won’t have to come up with a new marketing message every quarter. Since your customers will see the same message over and over again, they should have a pretty good idea of what to expect when they visit your shop. And if you and your staff stay focused on those few commitments, you’re probably going to do a good job of delivering them.
When you deliver on your commitments, you’re going to get referrals and great reviews. And when you read reviews that state “They do exactly what they say they’re going to do,” you’ll know that your marketing worked.
Marketing like this is marketing to be proud of. Making commitments and following through on them is a key element of integrity. And when potential customers see or hear the word integrity truthfully attached to your shop’s name, you’ll have a major advantage on all the other businesses making false claims.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help your auto repair shop get its message out with integrity, call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.
Monday, January 25, 2021
This past year was one of the toughest our country has had in a very long time. We suffered through waves of economic crises, health crises and political crises striking throughout the country on staggered schedules.
The economic fallout left some auto repair shops hanging on by a thread. But many other shops were struggling to keep up with the steady barrage of work coming their way. Like so many other businesses, the financial impact of pandemic chaos depended a lot on where the shop was located and what types of customers the shop typically served.
So far, 2021 is feeling a lot like 2020. But by the end of the year, the pandemic’s impact on daily life should begin to fade. And despite all the pundits talking about how the world will be forever changed, most people will be thrilled to get back to the life they had before.
Here are some opportunities for shops ready to tackle another year of rapid change.
Big businesses have been able to move their customer service online and have saved a fortune. It’s been great for their stock prices – when they move their customer service to emails, chat boxes and “call centers” staffed by home-based employees, those employees have almost no overhead costs. It has caused many companies to reevaluate their work from home approach.
But this isn’t going to end like they think it is.
People who have socially distanced during this pandemic have also been socially isolated, and it’s made many of them miserable. Personal service – from someone who remembers your name and face and actually cares about you – may command a higher premium than it has in years. And independent businesses will be in the best position to provide that service.
When customers call your shop, does your employee seem like someone they’d like to meet? Or are they distracted, impersonal or unhelpful? Answering the phone in a friendly and caring way, and focusing on the customer’s problem instead of their automobile will build loyalty quickly, especially if they’re constantly dealing with businesses providing the same subpar service after the pandemic that they are today.
Used car prices have finally plateaued after a major increase in the fall. But the average new car price is now above $40,000, and it isn’t going down anytime soon. In fact, crippling bottlenecks in microprocessor fabrication are forcing auto manufacturers to idle their plants, causing significant supply concerns. For people who saw this year how quickly a steady job can disappear, a six-year auto loan is even less appealing than it used to be.
It’s long been a source of frustration for technicians and shop managers that people are unwilling to invest more in their car than the bare minimum required to keep it on the road one more day. The good news is that, for any customers who have priced a new car lately, regular maintenance may be an easier sell than it was before the pandemic. Problems are cheaper before they become disasters, and with the prices out there today, even a disaster might be cheaper than a new vehicle. Why take a chance to save a few bucks?
Maintenance sales may also be bolstered by many peoples’ heightened awareness of personal safety. Unfortunately many people are newly aware of how lost lives can impact those around them. Each shop visit is another opportunity for your technicians to identify a problem in its early stages and fix it before it becomes a major safety hazard.
If you aren’t promoting a maintenance plan, this might be a great time to start. Maintenance services can be a high-margin offering, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also a good deal for your customers. In fact, any maintenance plan your service writers are selling should be structured in a way that makes them really believe in the value of the service. Otherwise, they’ll hate selling it, and your customers will know it and resent being upsold.
There’s plenty of talk about city workers moving hundreds or thousands of miles away to rural areas because they can work remotely. That will probably take years to happen – most corporate professionals aren’t moving to a farm three states away until they know that’s going to be acceptable in their industries over the long-term.
What will happen is that some employees who were not allowed to work remotely before the pandemic will now be allowed to work from home more often. These employees needed a repair shop near their office before the pandemic. But they may be looking for a shop closer to their house now, especially if it’s cheaper, less busy and more accessible.
If it turns out to be a year of higher-than-usual shop switching, that’s likely to benefit shops in the suburbs or residential areas. Make sure your marketing is reaching people who live near your shop! A strong showing on Google’s Local Pack will definitely help with this.
On the other hand, if your shop is near downtown areas or business parks, it might be more important than ever to build and maintain conscious customer loyalty.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you reach new customers and get them into your shop, call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.
Monday, December 21, 2020
Most companies make their money the right way – by making their customers happy. But there are always a few that find a way to make money off of angry customers. One famous example was a sunglasses company owner who determined in 2010 that negative reviews led to higher search rankings, and routinely threatened to hurt customers. (Google fixed the problem shortly after the story became public.)
Here’s another example. Lately, we’ve been talking more and more with extremely angry shop owners who are caught in “evergreen” website contracts – multi-year contracts that auto-renew forever, with only a short window before the auto-renewal period to cancel. Some owners never even signed the auto-renewal contract paperwork. When they asked for physical proof of the contract, they were emailed a document with a forgery of their signature. Others are given different auto-renewal dates on different phone calls.
The most shocking part of this scam is that these providers are multi-million dollar companies. Some of the shop owners caught in the scam have found success by contacting their state Attorney General’s office who has gotten back to them to let them know that the contract won’t hold weight in their state. But for good reason, many shop owners don’t want to fight against these giant companies that could drown a small shop in legal bills, or they just don’t have the time to take on one more thing. So for now the shop owners are resigned to paying to be held hostage by the shady website provider.
If you are currently looking for a website provider, or will be soon – ask every provider you talk to if they have an evergreen contract. If they say they do, you should think twice about doing business with them. If you want to proceed, make sure you have a copy of the contract and understand the details of when and how it renews, including if you will be subject to price increases. You may also want to put a reminder on your calendar 45 days before the contract will automatically renew to review how happy you are with your website provider so that you ensure you give yourself a chance to make a change in the window in which you can tell them that you aren’t renewing.
If you are uncertain if you are locked in a contract with your current website provider – contact them to ask. You may be as happy as can be right now, but it’s going to be to your benefit to understand the specific provisions of the contract and when your mandatory annual renewal date is. If you decide you want to review your happiness level with their service before your next renewal, you will now know when your window will be for doing so. Don’t be surprised if they stonewall you or take a while to reply to your requests for the contract. We’ve seen that happen especially when the renewal date is closing in.
If you are a hostage in an evergreen contract with an expiration date a long ways out – you do have options. We certainly can’t give legal advice, but as we mentioned above we’ve heard from shop owners who have been successful by sharing the contract with their state’s Attorney General’s office. If you have a lawyer friend, ask them to take a look at it. Some states have laws against evergreen contracts in certain industries or require the provider to notify the customer when the contract is set for renewal. Some shop owners have just stood up against the bullying of the larger company and told them they were done and moved on without paying another cent. And remember, with things like Google Reviews, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, Facebook, etc. you have a forum to voice your displeasure. By using those opportunities, you can build leverage to get the result you are looking for.
In the website business, it takes time for customers to become profitable. But we can’t imagine forcing unhappy customers to stay with us. It’s not good for business, and it’s certainly not good for employee morale. Just imagine what these companies’ customer “service” teams have to deal with each day. We bill in 90-day increments, and we don’t do long-term contracts. You can call to cancel anytime.
Stay safe – and be careful who you do business with!
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you get more customers to your shop, without a contract, call us at 866-665-1605 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.