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Online service bookings help car dealers to fight the fast-fits

online service booking illustration

By Steve Johnson

Companies such as BookMyGarage.com, MyCarNeedsA.com, AA Garage Guide – encompassing Automyze and WhoCanFixMyCar ­– are revolutionising the vehicle servicing and repair market.

In the same way that comparison sites have given choice and pricing power to the consumer for insurance, finance, utility and telco products, we are now in a similar era for motoring services. The customer mindsets can now be centred on seeing who really wants to do business, at the right price and with service promise to match.

Taking in independents, franchised dealers and groups who are signing up in significant numbers, along with manufacturer and partner support, there’s seemingly an unstoppable force sweeping away some long-standing practices.

The numbers speak for themselves. Lucy Burnford, director of the AA Garage Guide and Automyze, said: “Around 1,000 motorists per day are signing up to Automyze to receive prompts for when MOT, servicing and advisories are due and bookings – 40% of which are still made by telephone – are trebling month on month. We now have more than 3,800 listed garages.”

MyCarNeedsA.com, now in its third year, has in excess of 125,000 customers and approaching 150,000 jobs offered. WhoCanFixMyCar.com has recorded 300,000 jobs and 550,000 quotes to date and currently averages 1,600 quotes per day.

Co-founder, Alistair Preston, said: “Quotes and bookings have increased three-fold in the past year. To put this in context, we have processed 60,000 bookings – 6,000 of which have been in the past month.”

Far from being a tool to push business away from the franchised sector in favour of the independents, or vice versa for that matter, the emphasis appears to be on choice, value for money and good service.

Preston said: “It’s about levelling the playing field. Drivers leaving the franchised dealer network can be retained and the independent dealers; many of whom we consider to be extremely customer-centric businesses, can compete accordingly.”

Lucy Burnford “Around 1,000 motorists per day are signing up to Automyze to receive prompts for when MOT, servicing and advisories are due and bookings” Lucy Burnford, AA Garage Guide

Developments are marching ahead on technical and marketing fronts. The AA said that it is investing heavily in product development for both motorists and dealers. A new garage interface is currently scheduled for release this  autumn will have the ability to determine what maintenance a vehicle requires and price it accordingly. National outdoor advertising and radio campaigns are also scheduled.

“We are signifying the AA’s commitment to the Garage Guide proposition,” said Burnford. In June, MyCarNeedsA.com made two significant announcements – confirmation of a two-year deal with Halfords and a new partnership with Belron Group, owners of Autoglass and AutoRestore. The addition of glass and body repairs to the company’s capabilities is clearly strategic. Chris Eldridge, general manager of AutoRestore, has been appointed to the MyCarNeedsA.com board. Halfords trials went national in January, with promising signs of business generated soon being evident for its 300-plus locations.

In terms of other strategic developments, MyCarNeedsA.com is providing a route to market for Accident Exchange for its Zero My Excess product. The company recently announced a new offer which provides each registered user with complimentary accident aftercare.

On a technical front the company has launched a new group dashboard. Managing director, Scott Hamilton, said: “We have a number of nationwide franchised, independent and fast-fit groups and we must provide an efficient way of quoting jobs offered. The relationship with our network and ability to openly discuss how and where we can improve is something we are proud of.”

The company has also upgraded its AutoQuote service to include menu-priced quotes for all work types. Call centre investment earlier this year has improved customer service. “Every customer quoted receives a follow-up call. Garages do not have to allocate precious resource chasing quotes or customers,” said Hamilton.

The push for new product developments and service initiatives makes all this particularly exiting. No one is resting on their laurels by any stretch. One such initiative from WhoCanFixMyCar.com is certainly taking things out of the traditional box.

 “Every customer quoted receives a follow-up call. Garages do not have to allocate precious resource chasing quotes or customers” Scott Hamilton, MyCarNeedsA.com

Preston said: “In conjunction with Innovation Group, we have developed a service plan product for the aftermarket which involves parts procurement, work distribution and claims administration. Alongside this we have developed a bespoke branded solution for a vehicle manufacturer on new car sales that goes live this month.”

MyCarNeedsA.com is positioning itself to provide a complete marketing opportunity to extend to vehicle sales. “Members can access our marketing data to target customers who sit in the change cycle. We currently have the capability to promote new car offers and will launch our used car service and lead generation tool later this year,” said Hamilton.

As mentioned earlier, the franchised sector is certainly taking these developments on board and learning how best to maximise opportunities. WhoCanFixMyCar.com said that from its observations, those managed centrally yield better results than those passed into individual branches.

“Obviously there will always be exceptions where a particular service manager will just pick it up and run with it. Conversely some call-centre managers are more effective than others. It’s all about consistency of message, finding the right formula, then it just becomes a numbers game and as the ratings/profile grows, their win rate naturally rises,” said Preston.

In terms of penetration the AA Garage network said that it has signed up groups including Hartwell, Vertu, Marshall, Perrys, Parks, Renault Retail Group and Pentagon. In total, 67 of the AM100 are on MyCarNeedsA.com and WhoCanFixMyCar.com reckons to have around 1,600 dealers on board. The remainder of its 8,300 service base comprises independents and fast-fits. Significantly, WhoCanFixMyCar.com is working with Toyota, Lexus, Renault, Hyundai, Ford, Kia and BMW.

There are, it seems two essential ingredients for online service bookings to work for both ‘providers’ and customers. First is the quality of providers. How well they are presented, serviced and supported by the technology companies is key. Hamilton said: “At the outset, each provider has the facility to upload a profile, images and service information about their business. In our experience, 97% of jobs accepted go to businesses which have completed this information. We provide customers with the assurance that our network is fully moderated and approved. All complaints and negative reviews are investigated and to date three providers have been removed from our network.”

Second, customer reviews are really the acid test that will determine customer choice. “Customer reviews are key in guiding choice and selection,” said Preston. “As of now we can report that Stoneacre has more five star reviews than any other dealer. Our top performing garages are getting a conversion rate of around 40%, with the monthly record for a single-site business is 90 jobs won,” he said.

Before long, the majority of customers could be initiating car servicing and repair needs online with real choice like never before. The playing field will then be well and truly levelled.

The ‘technology’ providers each presenting a different flavour of approach are pushing forward and stimulating a shift for the industry. Dealers and manufacturers may well retain their own online service booking facilities, but those are just online equivalents of the traditional.

BookMyGarage maintains a two-tier approach – supporting its comparison site alongside the provision of booking tools for workshops.

Development director Jonathan Hermans said people are booking online with fast-fits and it wanted smaller garages to have the same opportunity to capture consumer information and take bookings at any time of day or night.

There’s nothing quite like the power of new technology to create win-win opportunities and a more competitive, trusted industry as a result.



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