Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2009   by Tom Venetis, EditorTom Venetis, Editor

New Communications

Text, Twitter, Blogs, Facebook Are Just Some Of The Tools Your Customers Are Using To Talk With Each Other And About You

It was a story that caught a lot of people’s attention. The father of a California teenager got a phone bill that was shocking, not just for its length but for how it got that long in the first place. What Greg Hardesty found was that his 440-page bill was the product of his daughter Reina Hardesty’s incessant texting.

In a single month, Reina had produced 14,528 text messages, some 484 text messages a day, or one for every two minutes she was awake. These messages were mostly between herself and her friends.

Recent studies of online behaviour show people today communicate heavily through a variety of social networks, from the ever-popular Facebook and Twitter, to postings on blogs, to making YouTube videos and finally texting from their cellular phones. Today, young people use all of these kinds of technologies to keep in touch with friends, to gather information and to communicate with businesses. They also carry over this online-based communications into later life. In the U. S., 61 per cent of persons between the ages of 25-49 regularly use text messaging to communicate or to get information they need.

Take the popular site Facebook, where people young and old can communicate about themselves, their work, and maintain contact with friends and colleagues. Currently, it has more than 150 million active users, of which 13 million are accessing and using their pages every day, posting some 20 million pieces of content each month. This content includes Web links, news stories, blog posts and notes, which also includes a person’s feelings about businesses and services.

The power of social networks

The power of these social networks in influencing people’s perceptions about a business’s products and services has not gone unnoticed by big companies. Let’s look at two examples for a moment.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign program effectively used not just traditional print and television advertising, but also various online forums, blogs and YouTube videos to reach people. The company even created an online community that gave people access to special offers, free samples, health quizzes, and beauty tips. The idea was that by creating this community where people could talk about the company’s products it would get the company’s message out more effectively than traditional advertising alone ever could. It would allow the company to better manage their mandate and help promote its products more effectively. The thinking behind this was that by having people talk about the products and campaign amongst themselves by using new online technologies, this would not only be more effective but could be better monitored than simply putting up a billboard ad or buying 30 seconds of air time.

Nike used its Web site ( connect some 800,000 runners and got them to sign up for a 10K race that the company sponsored in 25 cites. Using a combination of social networking and new communications technologies, such as its Nike+, Nike was able to better promote its running shoes to these nearly million participants. The New Jersey-based SportOneSource market research firm says this strategy helped increase the sales of Nike’s running shoes by getting people talking about its products. Nike accounted for 48 per cent of all running-shoe sales in the U. S. in 2006. By 2008, that market share had increased to 61 per cent.

The First Steps Are Not Hard Or Expensive

So as an independent, does this mean going out and shelling out tens-of-thousands of dollars to use these new communications technologies in the hopes of increasing sales, customer service and loyalty? Of course not. In fact, the majority of technologies are free or very cheap, as well as easy to use.

Take the story of Reina Hardesty’s text messaging marathon. Almost all mobile phone carriers offer text messaging as part of their plans and it has become the preferred way for people to communicate.

Stan Bradbury, president of Dealer Text Solutions in San Francisco, Calif. people are sending and receiving more text messages than they are getting voice messages. Not only that, they can also respond faster with text messages than email or voice messages. His company makes texting software that can be integrated with a shop management system in order to instantly communicate with customers. He cites one study that finds that in the first two quarters of 2008, the average cellular phone user in the U. S. received some 357 text messages compared to 204 voice messages. He says independents need to use these kinds of communication technologies if they want to provide effective customer service.

“The highest level of customer service is communicating (with customers) in a way they prefer,” he says. “Texting is the preferred way of communications for many. Once you start using text, you don’t go back.”

The advantage of texting is that it’s easy to use and has a high response rate. Bradbury says, on average, a direct mail campaign produces only a two per cent response rate amongst recipients. Directly calling to tell a person about a new service opportunity or a tire sale has about the same response rate, but a text message has about a 30 per cent response rate, he says. As well, there is an immediacy that is not available with most other means of online communications. An independent can send a text saying a customer’s car is ready to be picked up or to confirm it is alright to go ahead with a certain repair, and be assured of a quick reply.

Blogging or using Facebook through an established company Web site is another way to keep in touch with customers more effectively. Blogs allow an independent to write about their services, answer questions from customers and initiate and develop an ongoing dialogue that keeps the business in that person’s mind and manages the message the shop wants to promote more effectively. As well, by soliciting such dialogue, people feel they have a stake in the business and are more willing to send their dollars and direct others to the business, which is the ultimate goal of this kind of communication technology. Remember, a decade ago few businesses had Web sites or email addresses. Today, it is a rarity for reputable businesses not to have them. Why would people bother to come to your business when they can’t see who you are? So if they can’t communicate directly with you or you can’t start a conversation with them, why would they send their business, or the business of others, to you?

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