Openbay Sits Down with NAPA AutoCare Center Owners Brandon Harrell and Tim Hollenshade
Consumers are online more than ever and over 60% expect a real-time response. Is your automotive service business ready to engage? And how can an intelligent chat and messaging platform help?
Jim Gregoire, Openbay Head of Product, AI, recently sat down with NAPA AutoCare Center Owners Brandon Harrell of Harrell’s Tire and Auto Service and Tim Hollenshade of Hollenshade’s Auto Service for a virtual round-table about adopting new technology to grow their NAPA AutoCare Center businesses. They discuss how they use the intelligent chat and messaging platform Openbay Otis to engage today’s digital-first consumers.
First, Jim reviews the expectations of today’s consumers and why being available real-time matters (3:05). Then, Tim and Brandon share how real-time communication improves their businesses. They discuss how Openbay Otis intelligent chat strengthens the customer experience (7:29), improves operations (15:24), and helps increase tire services (20:00). From there, the group discusses how they measure success (24:23). Finally, they wrap up with what the future holds next for customer engagement in the automotive service industry (34:17). [Note: discussion excerpts have been edited for clarity.]
Watch the entire webinar here.
How Do People Make Shopping Decisions Today?
How do people make decisions about shopping and buying? And, how do we take advantage of that to be more successful? 64% of consumers out there expect a business to be available in real-time. This is not just about Gen Y anymore. The number for Boomers is 62% and it’s 66% for Millennials from the Salesforce study the State of the Connected Consumer. Why this is happening is because so many companies out there, and other industries, are raising the bar on real-time communications and how they are making themselves available.
By the time consumers engage with our industry, they’re used to this kind of behavior and they’re looking for it from us. And, you can imagine that businesses are seeing an improvement in their metrics. 80% of them see a measurable improvement in customer satisfaction when they use real-time messaging with their customers. If you can meet somebody on a channel that is preferred by them, give them what they need, and help them do their business and get on their way, then you’re going to have a great outcome.
Another metric that’s really important to keep in mind is how long people are willing to wait for you to respond: 45 seconds. We’ve built this expectation that will be available in real-time and real quick. And if we’re not, then those prospects move on. What we’ve seen in our own data of Otis conversations is that about 40% of decisions are blocked by an open question. We see that consumers usually start a conversation with a question. They’re trying to get through that question so they can get to a decision and solve their problem.
What Are the Benefits of Being Instantly Available to Consumers?
Tell us about your experiences with regards to consumer expectations, Brandon and Tim. I know that you talk to customers and you think about how to solve their problems. You think about how to serve them better, how to make them happy, and how to get them coming back. What’s been your experience?
First of all, I think across the board that for consumers, as well as users on the internet, their attention span is significantly shorter and this is accelerating. Making your business instantly available help. I think most people watching this right now know we’re all on the front lines and the industry feel the same way.
So Brandon, you all have four locations there in the heart of North Carolina. You’ve been in business for a long time – since the Forties. Tell us what customer expectations are at your locations. What does your staff tell you about what they’re experiencing?
We’re seeing the exact same things. We do have a unique situation with our customer base. We are near the largest military installation in the U.S., Fort Bragg, with about 60,000 troops on the base. There is limited internet access on base and soldiers often don’t even have access to their phones. A benefit Otis gives us is to create an open dialogue, with questions being answered when we’re not open. Many of our customers don’t have the ability to access us during the day. We see a lot of our traffic in the night hours and really early in the morning. Sometimes we see it during their lunch breaks, too. It takes the pressure off my staff on the counter from fielding those phone calls. And, we’re actually seeing a longer time they’re staying on our website than previously.
How Do You Use Intelligent Chat to Start a Lasting Customer Connection?
Online visitors are more engaged with your website as a result of this interactive tool. That’s a nice change in behavior for your website as an asset for your business. What do you think?
Absolutely. Today car dealers swear by their online presence. Rolling that concept, and some of their best practices, over into service on our side of the street has been really helpful to how we take steps to engage with the customer. But, the biggest factor is the follow-up afterwards. The number one reason a customer is going to leave us is because they think at some point we don’t care. So we’ve put in place more steps to be engaged after the first interaction. For example, following up with the conversations that happen at night in a timely fashion. If we don’t follow up first thing in the morning, we can potentially be out of the customer’s mind and lose out.
Can you talk about how you see technology playing a really important role in the customer experience and about the concept of real-time communication?
I’ll start off with the point that Otis is the biggest value-added technology that I’ve added to our business recently. On-site we’re busy managing regularly 60, 70 plus cars a day. At best I can get to a computer once in the morning, maybe checking it around lunchtime, and then once at the end of the day. A new inbound lead involves conversations and a back and forth. If the questions and answers take too much time, you run the risk the prospect will find the answer elsewhere.
So the advantage of a solution like Otis is that the two-way communication it creates lets them know we understand their need and we are working to get them the answer. Then we sit down at the end of the day, review the request, or may even refer the work out. We have a good network from being in business for eighty years here in the area. Most consumers expect that when you stay to your ground, you will deliver great services. When we get them in good hands it builds a connection.
How Does Intelligent Chat Improve Operations and Two-Way Transparency?
That’s a great point. This is another example of how this type of technology helps your business, which is that it helps you smooth your operation in lots of different ways. You said something that is really interesting: that this online-to-offline transition is one of the benefits of using this type of instant communication capability in your business. And, I’m assuming the intake is smoother and it helps your operations?
Any of the shop owners or managers watching this right now realize quotes, especially when you haven’t seen the vehicle, is a double-edged sword. Otis is able to be tailored to the needs of a business. For us, we find it provides more ‘opening up’ and increases the transparency around our prices with the customer. If we have a new lead from Otis, the pricing conversation gives us two-way transparency. The consumer has a better understanding of what they may be coming in for, and we understand where their mindset is.
Yes, it’s an excellent point. It does start and facilitate the conversation because a lot of customer service, is a two-way conversation.
How Do You Use Intelligent Chat to Effectively Compete and Grow Tire Services?
Brandon, I know you’re using our tire integrations. Can you talk a little bit about how that’s helping you and your team? I’m assuming that is an example of how Otis smooths your operation and makes things a little bit easier.
Well, absolutely. We’re not a tire discounter. It is a good part of our business, but it’s not the main thing we do. So having the ability to compete by having price transparency, as Tim was talking about, helps. A lot of customers assume because it’s not our main thing that we can’t be competitive with the big chains. That’s just not the case.
To be honest, we’re not ones to really give quotes over the phone as a general rule of thumb within our business, but we are transparent with everything we do. If a customer wants the information, they can go get it. Either over the phone with a service advisor, or online, there’s always that disclaimer of ‘well, you know, we really need to see the car.’ Because the one thing we don’t want to have happen is the customer to try to be the person diagnosing the issue. But in many cases sharing pricing does head off that potential issue of that sticker shock that a customer may have because they don’t always know what they’re getting into.
It’s in this theme of ‘it’s a conversation starter.’ We built Otis because we think that engagement on a real-time basis helps a business close more opportunities and make customers happy. This is because you’re meeting them on their terms and giving them something that they want, which is information. You’re unblocking them from making a decision. They’re trying to make a transaction. And, in the end, even if they don’t transact with you but you’ve helped them along the way, you’ve improved your brand, haven’t you?
How Hollenshade’s Auto Services Measures Success
Let’s talk for a moment about what types of metrics you keep in mind for how this type of technology helps your company. In our webinars, we talk on a regular basis about customer satisfaction. Is customer satisfaction something that’s on your mind about fighting margin compression? And which measures are most important to you, Tim?
I like this topic and I’m smiling now because in our industry there is a recent fixation on maximizing ARO. For Hollenshade’s, maximizing ARO is not the primary KPI. It’s customer retention and satisfaction. We have customers that we have served over generations, just like our business. So this is where Otis comes in. Customers are able to engage with our website through Otis at any hour. And now we’ve seen a close rate that has increased at least 20%.
How Harrell’s Tire & Auto Service Measures Success
That’s great. Brandon, on the subject of business metrics, which measures of success are you most mindful of? How does a product like Otis help you?
Well, you know, we’re in the same boat Tim is. We’re not a company that focuses on maximizing every car that comes in. We are truly focused on making sure we are providing value to the customer. And that’s through a lot of ways. Every time the vehicle comes in, we’re checking it bumper to bumper. It gets a complete check all the way through. We want to advise the customer on what they need done now, and what they’re going to need in the future. We want to be their trusted advisor. With our four locations, we have specialists in each one of our locations. So we’re able to really truly be the dealership alternative.
And that’s our goal. To be the group in our area that can handle just about anything. We want to be that problem-solver for the customer and not give another group an opportunity to woo that customer. Because at the end of the day, the customer – our customer is at least – is willing to pay for good service. We view this as ‘we’re going to charge a professional price for professional service.’ The KPI we really focus on is the customer retention piece. We are focused on the number of times a customer comes into our facility and their average spend when they come in.
Some other KPIs we will look at simply boil down to process. If we’re doing the process right, the process will take care of the business. And that’s from A to Z. It starts with Otis and with the customer engagement at our website. It starts with SEO optimization. You can’t only focus on one part of your business. It’s the complete front-to-back view.
That’s a great point that you make, which is that there are so many touchpoints with a customer and your business. You have to make sure that there’s quality and consistency at each touchpoint because any one customer can engage at any point in their journey with you.
What’s Next for Customer Engagement in the Automotive Aftermarket Service Industry?
In the few minutes that we have left, I’d love to hear from both of you on what you want next and where does this go? What are your hopes for where Otis goes and where the category in general heads? What directions does it take to really catapult your business forward from where we are right now with the technology? Why don’t we start with you, Tim?
I believe that over time, you are going to be able to develop this product to be even more tailored to unique users. One other one that I’ve noticed is that a lot of those users don’t necessarily make that first engagement. They felt comfortable on the site, and then they return later, once they are ready to actually get that service completed. How do we have Otis pick up where the conversation left off?
That’s great. We try to design the product in such a way that gives them an opportunity to be reminded. We allow them to send things to their phone, like a quote. And we allow you to know that that’s happened because we understand the customer journey has many touchpoints and that not everybody is ready to transact when they approach you. Otis facilitates those kinds of conversations.
Over to you, Brandon. How do you think about where this goes? Whether it’s what you want out of Otis or what you want out of the category in general.
For me it’s more, how do you manage it going forward? For example I think the technology is going to go to video chat instead. I think it will have a true interaction, because a lot of our customers don’t really know what’s wrong with their vehicle. So, I think it’ll be more interactive in the future.
And how do we manage these interactions going forward? I truly think that I have to scale my business to the point to be able to have someone on staff that is managing this full-time across all my stores. To manage all the customer interaction – whether it’s CRM, the ‘after-the-sell’ part, or the other messages we send out. I do think the customers are going to continue to have the expectation for information now and answer now. So how do we in the aftermarket provide that to them? I think Otis is a tool that’s going to help us get there. And, I do think it’s going to be more interactive as we go forward.
In some of our other webinars, we talk about how automation works for your business: How do we use computers and data and automation to enable your human staff? If your human staff has more time to focus on those human interactions, it makes those relationships better and stronger. This is because a product like Otis and the automation that it offers takes a lot of the menial, repetitive tasks off their hands. That’s how we think one way the automation through our products can help you. To get your staff more focused on high leverage problems.
We really appreciate you being here, Brandon and Tim. This was a lot of fun for us to have this conversation out in the public like this, and really kind of get an idea of how it’s helping your businesses on the ground.
Want to learn more about advanced online chat? This article from Openbay founder and CEO Rob Infantino explains the benefits of the latest chat technologies. Or, listen to Rob discuss online chat platforms with Tire Review Managing Editor Madeline Winer.