Friday, February 21, 2014

Looking Under the Hood of

Three of us mystery shopped a startup service called Openbay over the last few weeks. Openbay is a website/mobile application designed to help vehicle owners compare prices and amenities when they need maintenance. We didn’t know much more than that when we undertook the research. So we’ll take you through the experience from the beginning and share the strengths and weakness of Openbay. This blog is written from the point of view of one reviewer, and it includes anecdotes from our other mystery shoppers.

When one of my coworkers told me about Openbay, I figured I was in the perfect position to mystery shop. My wife’s vehicle (a 2005 Toyota Prius) needed a 75,000 mile service, but not urgently. It was a simple service to perform, so I wasn’t concerned about using an unfamiliar provider.

I created an account on by entering my email address and a password, and clicking on a confirmation link that I received through an email a moment later. Then I added my vehicles to my Openbay profile. I was impressed that Openbay asked for my VIN – I imagine this might make estimates more accurate, but I didn’t have my VIN handy so I went on without it.

Strength: Openbay allows users to quickly add their vehicle information and accepts that users may not have all available information. Users only have to do this once, rather than explain it to every service provider they call for a quote.

Once I had the Prius on my vehicle profile, I clicked to request service to the vehicle. The site asked me to search for the service I needed. I typed in “75,000 m” and the site actually auto-populated with the rest of the text – “75,000 mile service”.

Strength: By auto-filling, Openbay gives unfamiliar users the perception that it’s experienced – almost like a service advisor is on the phone saying “Oh, you want the 75,000 mile service.” This raised my level of comfort, and I imagine it would do the same for others who may not be familiar with some of the terms of vehicle repair.

Openbay also let me select amenities I wanted the shop to have, so I selected “loaner car” because I was curious about what would happen.

Strength: By allowing users to select amenities, Openbay saves its users a great deal of time.

I pressed the “Submit Your Request” button (somewhere along the way I gave Openbay my credit card info) and almost immediately I received an offer. Openbay is so new that I wasn’t sure I’d receive any offers, so I certainly didn’t expect to see one so soon. And it was a great offer. I figured I’d wait a bit to see what else came in, but knew I’d take that first offer if it’s all I saw. That’s when I started getting bombarded with emails from Openbay.

Weakness: If dealer customers think dealers are pushy, Openbay is bound to be a shock. Openbay sent me 11 emails the day I signed up and a handful over the next few days. They even called me to see if I wanted to schedule service. If the price wasn’t right, I would have unsubscribed; the emails were too much.

At least one of the emails Openbay users receive holds additional offers from service providers on their requested service. For the most part, this works. I received quite a few reasonable prices on an air conditioning service I requested, and one of our other mystery shoppers received good offers on a tire rotation and filter change.

But when the automatic offer email system doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. Our third mystery shopper received an email with offers ranging from $0.00 to $100.94. This range included offers for $0.06 and $6.00. And on the 75,000 mile Prius service I requested, I only received one timely offer.

Weakness: When new users see outrageous prices – either high or low – it makes it tough to trust the Openbay service. And if users don’t get many offers, this is also an issue. What’s the purpose of using a price comparison tool if there’s nothing to compare?

I eventually accepted the offer on the Prius service (at an independent, non-dealer repair facility). I was expecting an appointment scheduling process, but…that never happened either. I had received (another) email saying that I could come in whenever I wanted. But the Openbay person who called me previously said he’d call back to set an appointment once I made a decision. This eventually happened, but I’m not sure why I couldn’t make the appointment online.

Weakness: I still ended up on the phone at someone else’s convenience to set up an appointment.

I chose the first available appointment on a Monday. I never got an appointment confirmation. I tried to use Openbay’s chat function, but no one responded, which was surprising because I’d chatted with them before and it worked fine.

Weakness: Right when it was time to finally convert a user into a customer, Openbay dropped communication.

When I showed up for my appointment, I was greeted by the service manager; he said “You must be the Openbay customer.” That was a nice touch, but I can’t give credit for that to Openbay. This service manager was one of the good ones (and he came from a Ford dealer).

The shop did indeed have a loaner car for me (from the local Enterprise). I went to work, and came back after the service manager texted to let me know the car was ready. When I walked back into the shop, the service manager had my keys ready, and all I had to do to complete the transaction was give him a six-digit code that Openbay had sent me after I paid online.

Strength: Dropoff and checkout at the shop was extremely easy – easier than I’ve ever experienced. Openbay did a great job of sending my information to the shop.

Before leaving, I had a conversation with the service manager about his experience with Openbay. He mentioned his shop had gotten a few customers a month from the service. He also told me something important: he said they “lowball” their prices on Openbay in the hopes of attracting new customers. This is so critical I’ll go straight to the bottom line.

Bottom Line: I’m keeping an eye on Openbay, but I’m not overly concerned just yet. Setting appointments quickly and conveniently is an important driver of customer satisfaction, and it’s also one where non-dealers win. Openbay makes it easier for customers to get quotes and schedule appointments – and dealers aren’t playing. We know (based on very limited data) that the aftermarket is using a combination of Openbay and price discounts as tools to convert customers. The rise of this service (and its inevitable imitators) presents a risk to dealers who are neither using Openbay nor submitting quotes for service next to their price-conscious aftermarket competitors.

Why am I not more concerned? The service still has some critical bugs that may cause some users to write it off as spam. But mainly, it’s that “lowballing” comment I heard. As a customer, I don’t want to be surprised by the price the second time I walk into an Openbay shop. This service manager’s comment tells me that convenience (which Openbay surely provides) may matter, but we know price is still king when trying to retain customers. And that’s just what we see on our Consumer Sentiment Survey.

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