This past week I was surprised by a request from a new potential client to develop a monthly e-mail newsletter for him to send to those customers, agents and DRP coordinators who had given him their e-mail address. This has to be the ultimate in inexpensive marketing. With the touch of a key or two, the e-mail newsletter is zipped off to everyone in a selected on-line address book - free of charge! This client may have been among the first to seize this futuristic advancement in body shop marketing.
Adding a new task to customer service
Although a number of my clients have agreed that it's a good idea to ask each customer (and prospect) for an e-mail address, the task of actually doing it is left to office personnel, customer service representatives and estimators. In the rush to get a customer's information so an estimate can be written and hopefully the job and the keys to the car obtained, asking for an e-mail address is often omitted.
A book I've read recently called "The Path of Least Resistance," by Robert Fritz, provides a clear explanation of why this new task (and many others) are not carried out and put into practice by employees. Fritz says, "Structure determines behavior." If behavior isn't changing, the problem is with the structure. To illustrate this fact, he describes someone driving a car with a structural problem, out of alignment. If the car is pulling to the left, the driver steers slightly to the right to keep the car moving straight ahead. Telling the driver to steer straight ahead will not improve the situation.
Similarly, giving an employee a new or additional task to perform, without changing the structure to facilitate the task, will seldom result in the employee consistently carrying out the task. From his or her own point of view, the employee may feel the task is "out of alignment" with the structure of his or her job. Or it may threaten the structure of his or her work day or work flow.
Changing structure to get the job done
A vehicle's structure must be corrected and aligned so it can be steered straight ahead without having to compensate for a pull to one side. Fritz points out that to make a change that will be accepted, the change must be structural. In our industry, we are keenly aware of the importance of structural integrity. Regardless of how many panels are being repaired, a frame or unibody that is out of alignment must be corrected or a repair won't be complete. Similarly a procedural or marketing change must be based on a structural change.
We're all familiar with the structure of a vehicle, but what are the structural elements of an employee's job? To begin with, time is an obvious element. If an employee's day is fully scheduled and you add more time-consuming work without reducing something already being done, he or she will either reject the new task, or drop out some other task arbitrarily. In this case, time must be restructured to accommodate the new task.
Another main structural element, from the point of the view of the employee, is compensation. A typical attitude is, "If I'm not being paid more to do this, why should I do it?" Adding a bonus or commission is a structural change that will motivate many employees to take on an added task (if it's profitable enough for them). And, of course, if it's profitable for you!
Re-structure to facilitate new growth
Some re-structuring is similar to the "replacement principle" used to help smokers quit smoking. Cigarettes are replaced with gum, a patch or perhaps some oral item to bridge over the change. In the Atkins diet, carbohydrates are replaced with proteins to bring about weight loss. Robert H. Waterman, Jr., co-author of the blockbuster 1982 book, "In Search of Excellence," that spurred business managers across the country to new heights of performance, followed with his own book entitled, "The Renewal Factor." Waterman says, " . . . habit is the main adversary of renewal." He notes that ". . . we change habits by substituting a better habit for the one we're trying to change."
Some habits are so ingrained, we're hardly aware they're habits. Recently I've been retained by a couple of shops to upgrade their marketing activities and their images. Both shops have spray booths that are seriously out of date. The problem is, both shops have been turning out good quality work for a long time with their existing spray booths. Why should they have to change?
For one thing, insurance companies are becoming more demanding every day. Long-term repairs keep an insured in a costly rental car and may reflect badly on the insurance company. So companies are pushing for faster and shorter cycle times. Newer spray booths keep the air cleaner and facilitate faster drying, thus shortening cycle time. If these shops are serious about growing and acquiring new insurance business, they will break the "old spray booth habit" and replace it sooner rather than later.
Addition and subtraction
If a shop's paint supplier isn't stepping in to recommend - and perhaps assist with - upgrading paint and painting facilities, and possibly subscribing to their value-added program, it may also be time for the shop owner to break the "old-supplier habit." A good step toward renewal may be seeking out one who will contribute more to helping him or her stay current with newer, faster technologies. Renewal requires new thinking on many fronts.
When we think of renewal, it's natural to think of adding new equipment, new facilities, and new procedures, but first it may be necessary to engage in some subtraction. Even the snake who sheds his old skin to display a new one, has to first get rid of the old skin. Old bookkeeping methods, old advertising strategies, vendors who no longer give you the best discount, or personnel who no longer produce more than they cost may all have to go to make way for a renewed structure. To paraphrase an old proverb "it's necessary to clear the lot before constructing a new building."
Re-structuring your marketing
What brings in new business today? Large, affluent shops and shop chains that can afford radio and TV advertising have an opportunity to create a lasting image in the public mind. Repetition, stories and color all work well in the mass media, but they are expensive. Full-time sales personnel calling on agents, dealerships and insurance executives can make a major difference, but once again are very expensive. What can a shop owner with a limited budget do to get marketing results?
One answer can be found in the concept of "structure." The structure of a vehicle is a fixed base. It doesn't change from day to day. Effective marketing must go on day after day. Contacting referred business prospects monthly is a must. Mailing, e-mailing, or otherwise communicating with prior customers on an on-going basis is a structural necessity. If a good structure is in place, renewal may not even be necessary. Otherwise the first step toward effective renewal is creating a lasting structure.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I see the most successful shops in my area looking to a future of change. Technicians are being trained to repair new variations of plastics, fiberglass and aluminum. New computerized systems speed up the transfer of data between shops and insurance companies, taking advantage of the internet and high-speed communications. And, more in my field, some shops are taking marketing beyond the usual calling on insurance companies to get a DRP, calling on local agents and companies to get referrals, or mailing an annual greeting card to prior customers to encourage repeat business.