Mr. Mackell said he believes contactless options will continue to grow in popularity since customers don't like standing in lines, waiting on the phone or handling cash.
"The consumers are going to drive that, and the shops are going to recognize that," Mr. Mackell said. "The adoption that took place in 2020 is going to help them run an efficient business as well, when you create a workflow that is not necessarily contingent on folks waiting around or being in the shop. And you can actually get things done by having them, even being at home, able to connect and communicate with them.
"I think that is going to continue to grow, especially when you talk about text-message communication and how easy and efficient that is for businesses and consumers alike."
Text messaging is most popular among the younger generation, who are becoming a larger percentage of the consumer population.
"Text-message communication is really where the millennials are starting to prefer to be connected. It's instant, it's easy, it's flexible, they can communicate wherever they want," Mr. Mackell said.
The older generation of business owners are starting to adopt digital technology, as well, he said.
"I think they're getting there because, again, their consumers and customers are setting the tone. You do still have sprinkled throughout the U.S., some of the old-school, old-style work where folks are still handwriting repair orders.
"But we are starting to see some of the older individuals that have been in the industry recognize how important it is to change and adopt change because some of these services and all of these solutions that are coming out now are all the better for the business," he said.
"Their business is starting to benefit significantly, financially from it and if you're able to adopt a communication mechanism that your customers prefer, they are going to be more inclined to do business with you. If not, then it could alienate some customers and lose out on some business.
"So some of the older shop owners are starting to recognize that. And plus they are starting to bring in (employees) from the younger generations who really start to educate the older service writers and older owners on the need of adoption and gravitating toward the new technology," Mr. Mackell said.
The tire aftermarket historically has not been known for being trailblazers. But the impact of the pandemic prompted some shops to overcome their reluctance to adopt new technologies.
"In the last 24 months I could tell you that technology-driven solutions have basically boomed," Mitchell's Mr. Mackell said, noting that digital vehicle inspection and text messaging have been popular.
"Shops are purchasing these solutions because they know that the world is moving forward, and technology-driven solutions are definitely going to be the way of the world. So the adoption rate is getting better," he said.
"And I see that continuing to get better and continue at a high clip mainly because there is no turning back. As their consumers start to come from the GenYs and GenZs and millenials, their consumers are going to set the tone, and they are definitely the ones that are asking for these types of solutions. So the adoption rate is getting better, most definitely," Mr. Mackell said.
"Within the tire and repair business, adoption today I would say is close to 75% of every shop having web and CRM solutions of some type," Epicor's Mr. Landrum said.
"And that has grown tremendously in the last four to five years. Everyone is realizing they have got to get into this business of being able to communicate with the customer electronically. … We are definitely seeing that most everyone in the tire and repair shop business are getting online somehow," he said.
"The fact that text-to-pay is our second most popular feature kind of tells you where it's headed," Bolt On's Mr. Cifelli said, adding, "Most people have a cellphone, and they communicate on their cellphone. They respond to text messages much faster than they do emails, definitely much faster than they do with phone calls. That's how consumers are communicating.
"In order for shops to be relevant and to communicate with them in a timely manner and get timely responses, they need to do the same thing. …
"The consumers are telling us by their actions how they wish to communicate and if you want to be relevant, you should communicate with them in kind," Mr. Cifelli said.
All three software companies claim that digital communication can boost sales.
Mr. Landrum said that, just as credit card customers tend to spend more money, the average consumer tends to spend more when dealing with electronic transactions.
He attributes it to customers being presented with the inspection report and photos, the option to take care of other necessary services while the car is in the shop and being able to approve a work order quickly via text.
Tire dealers who have Epicor Integrated Service Estimator have experienced on average a 25% increase in mechanical repair sales, Mr. Landrum said, since the estimator, built for POS systems, allows tire dealers to look up labor times and parts from multiple vendors and then provide an estimate quickly for the customer. This can instill customer confidence and shop efficiency, he said.
Mr. Mackell said the digital technology has a positive impact on service writers and technicians, as well. With Mitchell's Manager SE MessageCenter, service writers can send customers an update or adjust an estimate without needing to pick up the phone, and customers can approve the estimate via text.
At the same time, sharing photos/videos of the vehicle inspection enables the customer to understand the problem better vs. trying to describing the problem verbally. Thus it drives more engagement and more opportunities to increase sales, Mr. Mackell said.
"So even if they don't understand the lingo, it's pretty easy to tell (via photos) the tread on this tire should be this deep, but in reality it's this deep, and this is what it looked like the last time you were here ...," Mr. Cifelli said.
"Then they are much more likely to trust your recommendation and approve whatever work you're recommending because it's right there for them in full color. So it helps improve the trust as well," Mr. Cifelli said. Bolt On recently introduced cloud-based NextGear that provides digital inspections, text-to-pay options and future appointment scheduling.
He encouraged dealers to set up future appointments electronically to ensure the customer returns for more services.
"The dealership is able to book that future appointment for that customer, which goes right into the calendar on their phone, and then sends a confirmation text before the appointment as a reminder. And it brings the business back," he said, adding, "Your dentist does it. Your doctor's office does it. Your hairdresser or your barber do it. Why wouldn't your repair shop do it?
"These are examples of digital contactless technology that is obviously appropriate for the times that we're living in right now. But more to the point, it also helps to improve the relationships, strengthen the relationships between the dealers and the drivers because you're reaching them faster, you're showing them what you are recommending, not just telling them what you're recommending.
"You're presenting it in a way that is much more understood by a novice. … You're not leaving a rambling voice mail with a bunch of lingo they don't understand. All they hear is the number, how much it's going to cost. … It makes them more comfortable, more confident and more likely to say 'yes.' ...," Mr. Cifelli said.
"It really brings the relationship into the 21st century. But it's not mobile technology for mobile technology's sake. It actually improves the business. It increases sales. It increases repeat visits. It increases car counts — all the things shop owners and dealers are constantly saying they need more of."