Auto Repair Marketing brings prospective customers to your business. But it is your reputation that converts them into paying customers. Your reputation provides the trust factor required in moving people from prospect to customer. Shoppers use the Internet to investigate your reputation and decide if they want to do business with you. Social Media is quickly becoming the key component of your online identity and the reputation people create for you. What people are saying about your business online is a major factor in how well your marketing works.
Social media is connecting people like never before. The number of people social media can reach in seconds is astounding. And with this connectivity consumers have gained the power to improve or destroy your business reputation with the push of a few buttons. All that is needed is for someone to get angry enough to go online and write a nasty review about your service (or a bunch if they are really mad). The real scary part is that these negative comments remain there FOREVER and are available for anyone that does a search on your business name. Anything written about you online becomes part of your online “social reputation” which people use to judge your trustworthiness. No matter what type or form of advertising you use your online reputation will impact on how well that marketing works.
I have a prospective auto repair website customer who has been pondering whether to improve his auto repair shop website. He feels a better website will improve his auto repair marketing effectiveness. While I agree a well crafted auto repair website will convert prospects into paying customers, a website is only single part of a company's online identity. The company's reputation and trust factor needs to be supported by external, third party reviews to help people believe what they read on their website. This is where Social Media has the power to control how well auto repair marketing works.
The auto repair shop owner in this story has been in business for 25 years. He has worked hard to built his shop into a smart looking, well equipped 15-bay facility. The shop has a great location in a large bedroom community next to one of the few large cities that has a reasonably good economy today. The local auto repair business is still good. But he is finding the overall market is getting very competitive. Unfortunately this shop is in a situation where business was very good for many years but has been on an escalating downhill slide over the last 5 years, and especially in the last three years.
Historically the business has prospered largely on walk-in customers. The owner has experimented with advertising over the years but has spent almost nothing on marketing. However, that is not working any more. Car counts are steadily dropping and he knows he must do something to attract new customers. In the last year he has tried a number of different types of advertising, such as newspaper ads, direct mail, radio at quite a high cost, but response is almost non-existent. He is now even more convinced that advertising doesn't work and especially reluctant to spend anything on a website.
While speaking on the phone with him I did a quick online search on his business name and within seconds could see why his advertising wasn't working. And why advertising, of any type, will never work for him.
The first three pages of my search on his business name were mostly bad reviews from unhappy customers. Some reviews went back as far as early as 2004. The large number of negative reviews combined with the shop's lack of online response indicates to everyone a business that is not concerned with customer satisfaction or their reputation. The shop owner acknowledged that in the past the sheer volume of business compensated for their bad business practices. And from a quick look I could see a connection between the increasing number of poor online reviews over time and the decreasing volume of business at the shop. Not scientific, but a reasonable deduction.
To further discredit the shop's poor online reputation their company website is listed way down in the middle of page 5 for a search on the company name! The website was self made by the owner about six years ago and hasn't been looked at since. It has major HTML code errors and uses programming code considered obsolete by modern search engines and are the major reason for such poor placement in search results. Also, the website's content does not represent the company very well and no doubt confirms the poor impression of any prospective customer who got past the large number negative reviews.
Basically the shop's poor online identity is killing any response to their advertising. No matter how good the advertising is at attracting people once they check the shops online reputation they are quickly turned off. With the Internet becoming shoppers' number one source of information this shop's marketing efforts will be forever handicapped until they heal their online reputation.
As I spoke to the shop owner on the phone I suggested the following course of action:
- must do damage control and clean up their online reputation before any further spending on advertising;
- impose rigid quality control of auto repair work. With such a long history of poor performance this would probably mean getting rid of most employees who now have bad work habits (maybe this is why there are so many poor performing techs floating around?);
- implement customer satisfaction follow-up after EVERY job to catch ANY service failures. This can be done by phone, email, or a thank you card placed in every vehicle after every job. Directing people to a satisfaction survey on your website can make it easy for them to let you know how your doing. But more importantly, keeping comments from unhappy customers on your website allows you to deal with the issue BEFORE they publicly voice their dissatisfaction and tarnish your reputation;
- damage control of online negative reviews. You must respond to negative reviews. Yes, this is a lot of work, but it must be done! Spend the time or hire someone to track down every negative review, no matter how old, and respond to it.
Claim your social media company listings/profiles and reply or comment on negative reviews in a supportive rather than defensive manner. Apologize for past issues and resolve current ones both online and by directly phoning the individual. Even if it isn't your fault, take responsibility and resolve the issue. If you do a good job of making the person happy they may go back and make a positive follow-up comment on how you stood by your work. These 'problem solved' reviews can be even better than a plain positive review. They show your commitment to customer satisfaction and built trust.
If the person behind a negative review is being unreasonable, then take the time to thoroughly explain the situation and what you did to attempt a solution in your comment response. Generally people recognize that some people are unreasonable and are impossible to satisfy.
- Ask for positive reviews. New reviews from your happy customers will eventually push negative reviews down into search results were people don't see them. Also, five negative reviews look like far less of a concern if they are mixed with 50 positive reviews.
Make review requests part of your routine customer satisfaction follow-up. Review request response rates are much higher if done shortly after the work is performed. You can also ask customers for their email address and send them a thank you for their business and links to your review listings where they can write a review your shop. You should also place links to review websites on your website.
- Get a website that truly reflects your business and is the focal point for ALL your marketing. There is no sense driving people to your website with expensive marketing if that website does not 'convert' viewers into paying customers.
Your website must be structured and built with correct HTML. Search engines want to present quality websites to their customers and will push your website to the bottom of the search results if it is riddled with bad programming.
When someone does an online search for your company name your website should be listed at the top of page one! If not, it has serious problems. Being the first listing for your business name gives you the best chance of getting people onto your website where YOU have control over what is said to them.
With short attention spans and an endless number of options on where to take their business you need to make every potential customer contact count. The goal is to remove any reason for them to go to your competitors.
Your online reputation has a huge impact on your business. Auto shop owners need to establish and protect your online identity. You should be monitoring and reacting to what is said about you. Social Media has given consumers enormous power and auto repair shops must make sure their customers are satisfied with the service they get. Defending your reputation is costly but the effort will be more than paid back in increased return on auto repair marketing expenditures.