The Text Heard Around the World: How TEXT2DRIVETM Changed the Auto Industry

Gregg Jr. and Gregg Sr.
Gregg Jr. (left) and Gregg Sr. (right)

The Idea, The History, The Future

You could say that American Idol is responsible for the existence of TEXT2DRIVETM. Well, indirectly, that is.

Gregg Owen, CEO, and co-founder of TEXT2DRIVETM noticed while watching the hit television show in 2008 that young people showed no hesitation in paying 99 cents per text message to vote for their favorite contestants. Their passion lingered in his mind.

Not long after Gregg made this observation, he noticed a woman in her eighties text messaging on a flight. When he inquired why she was doing it, the woman told Gregg it was the only way she could get her grandchildren to communicate with her.

Gregg realized that text messaging was causing a culture shift. Senior citizens were succumbing to Millennials and taking up texting because they saw it as the only way to communicate with those family members. And the popularity of this form of communication among the younger generation showed no sign of slowing down.

“I thought to myself, if Millennials and senior citizens are both texting right now, at some point, the trend will meet in the middle and the generations in between will start doing it, too,” Gregg says.

About two weeks later, Gregg met with a man who suggested that readers of Gregg’s magazine, Auto Guide, could send texts to obtain information about vehicles featured in the publication. The dealer would text a word via a short code and it would generate a hyperlink. A short code is a number that is less than 10 digits long and is easier to remember than a 10-digit phone number. When the customer clicked to get information about the car, they would be sent pictures of the vehicle. The dealer would then receive a message including the customer’s name, phone number and the vehicle in which they were interested.

There were just two problems. People needed a link to view information about the car, and few people had smartphones at the time. To further complicate matters, the man who approached Gregg told him it was not possible for the dealer to text the customer instead of calling them. Gregg did not like this, as he had found that most people preferred a text over a phone call if the exchange had started with a text message.

About one year later, Gregg believed they may have found a solution: someone who could write code that would allow a customer and dealer to text back and forth…two-way text communication. His son, Gregg C. Owen, suggested they obtain the short code “37483” which on the keypad of cell phone spelled the word “DRIVE.” This was actually how the company came to be called TEXT2DRIVETM!

Only short code messaging existed at that time, which turned out to be very fortunate. It is possible to send millions of messages using short code, whereas this is not something that can be done with a long code based text platform. Using a short code has allowed TEXT2DRIVETM to accomplish technical feats some of their competitors cannot achieve.

Gregg had a gut feeling that text messaging was going to take off in a big way in the automotive industry.

“My first thought was, if in fact, you could communicate in a way that the dealer could get the message and contact the customer about the car in which they were interested, it could conceivably put us out of business. (Gregg and his son, Gregg C had been in the automotive magazine publishing business for ten years at this point.) If people could text to find a car, why would they need a magazine? They could get all of the information sent to them via text. If anyone is going to put me out of business, it is going to be me,” he says.

Don’t Stop Believing

In the beginning, Gregg Sr. and Gregg Jr. decided to use the resources at their disposal – one of which was Auto Guide. They used the magazine, which was published in Denver, Colorado, as a testing ground. The father/son duo wanted to be certain that people would actually be willing to try a texting platform.

Utilizing the classified section, they inserted the stock number of each vehicle in the text message sent to readers after they called or texted the magazine about a car. Within months, 40% of readers were texting to get information about cars rather than calling to get it. When they texted, they received three photos of the car and they could exchange text messages directly with the dealership.

“No one had ever done this. We were the first,” Gregg Sr. recalls.

Despite these wins, TEXT2DRIVETM encountered some intimidating obstacles along the way. First, there was an issue with platform execution. Each dealer only had one phone to communicate with customers. They often became frustrated and overwhelmed when they received an avalanche of leads. Plus, if the dealer lost the phone or it died, all of the messages would be gone.

Gregg Sr. realized they needed to create an interface to solve this problem. TEXT2DRIVETM created its own interface, with everything integrated into the platform, in 2010.

TEXT2DRIVE Interface from 2010
TEXT2DRIVE Interface from 2010

Secondly, dealers – who tend to be traditional when it comes to business practices – were simply not buying into the idea for the first few years.

“I was the only salesperson at the time, and when I talked to dealers, they looked at me like I was out of my mind. They told me it was the dumbest idea I had ever had,” Gregg Sr. says.

That same year, in 2008, the automotive industry nearly went bankrupt. No one wanted to invest in any new auto-related business because there was a great deal of uncertainty around the future of the industry. However, people were still buying used cars and Auto Guide benefitted from the trend. The Owens used revenue from the magazine to get TEXT2DRIVETM off the ground.

The Service Department Takes Center Stage

In 2011, a dealer unwittingly changed the entire focus of TEXT2DRIVETM when he told Gregg Sr. he was losing revenue in his service department due to low Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) scores. The auto industry had started linking CSI scores to car sales to create a direct correlation. Dissatisfied customers were the only people responding to the surveys, thereby driving down CSI scores.

The dealer asked Gregg to send customers surveys via text message. Much to the dealer’s delight, the service department’s CSI scores improved within 30 days of the initiative’s launch.

Texting yielded successful results because while fewer people were answering phone calls or checking email due to etiquette and busy schedules, they checked their text messages frequently. Text messaging reached people who refused to open the surveys when they received a phone call or email about them. And reviews from happy customers suppressed the negative feedback.

This series of events showed Gregg Sr. that parts and service are the real source of revenue for dealerships and that TEXT2DRIVETM could make a real impact there. Motivated by this revelation, the father/son team pivoted and decided to target service departments.

“Our business changed dramatically when we realized the value of the service department. Now we are known for our communication platform for the service and parts department,” Gregg Sr. says.

An Unstoppable Force

TEXT2DRIVETM has consistently grown on a massive scale since 2014. In addition to working with 1,300 dealers, TEXT2DRIVE currently employs 40 people including 15 Customer Success Managers.

TEXT2DRIVE Dealer Map
TEXT2DRIVE Dealer Map

The title of this role is deliberate; “customer success” is one of the company’s top priorities. Those in this position are hands-on and attentive. They visit the dealership and make sure customers are well taken care of, answer all of their questions, provide initial training and offer ongoing training.

“We do everything within our power to help our customers excel at using the solution. The Customer Success Division is a very integral part of our business,” Gregg Sr. says.

This may be due in part to the unique way TEXT2DRIVETM platform subscriptions are managed.

“We do not require customers to sign a contract; subscriptions are month-to-month. Our Customer Success Managers consistently deliver the highest level of service, therefore, our customer retention numbers are outstanding.”

TEXT2DRIVETM released its video (MPI) feature about one year ago. Service advisors can record videos in which they show customers exactly what needs to be repaired on their vehicle. The videos are sent via text and customers can communicate with the service department about the repairs. Sales have increased dramatically for dealerships who use the video MPI feature.

Delivering videos of service suggested to be performed to dealer customers builds trust. Anything TEXT2DRIVETM can do to improve the dealer’s customers experience improves relationships overall.

Future Predictions

As for the future, Gregg Jr. believes it will revolve around customer service. He foresees fewer people buying cars due to services like Uber and Lyft, self-driving cars, taxis and various forms of public transportation including buses and speed trains. This places the onus on the service department of dealerships. In order to increase the amount they generate, dealerships will need to provide what he terms “invisible customer service” on the repair and parts side.

For example, a service advisor could drop off a loaner car at the customer’s house to use, picking up their car and return their car back when the work is finished – without the customer ever stepping foot in the dealership or interacting face-to-face with a dealership staff member.

“There will be a trend toward less face-to-face communication with people because this is what customers want now and this is the direction in which the world is headed. I believe dealerships that provide this level of customer service will achieve wins in terms of revenue,” Gregg Jr. says.

Whatever the future may hold, dealerships can rest assured that TEXT2DRIVETM has it covered. From texts with short codes sent via smartphones to capabilities including reporting and automation, the Owens have proven themselves visionaries in the automotive world.

TECH TIMELINE

TEXT2DRIVE Tech Timeline

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