Over the last several months, since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve talked primarily about how this would affect sales and finance, but what about service? They’ve also had to change the way they did business in order to generate profit. So I’m going to switch things up a bit and talk about service.
A few months ago, the streets of NYC were pretty empty – something most of us has never seen. Cars weren’t sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, nor did pedestrians crowd the streets. As we are all well aware, the coronavirus crippled New York City, and everything was shut down – including dealerships. Every owner handled their situation differently from the next. While most had to shut down and lay off their employees, some decided to keep the doors open for service. Now that they were the only department “physically” open, what can they do? Some dealers were appointment only, keeping physical contact to a minimum. Some dealers offered discounted/free oil changes (for example) to front line workers. And some were only available for emergencies.
Though outside our area, a dealer in North Carolina took the time to readjust themselves to become more efficient. They worked with a leaner staff but were able to gross $30,000 more in June as compared to 2019. They also converted to a system called Xtime CRM, which allowed them to be more digital – from online bookings to video walkarounds, to payments. Customers wouldn’t even have to come into the dealership to view or approve repairs.
Two things we’ve always emphasized in the sales department is the importance of a walk around and developing customer relationships. As amazing as technology is, Almog Veig (who works for an automotive consulting firm) states that service also needs to get back to these basics. Something as simple as doing a walk around with the customer on their vehicle and asking questions can teach you a lot about how the vehicle is used. The more you learn about the customer, the better position you are in to make recommendations.
On the other hand, there were dealers who completely shut down their stores and found another way to stay relevant. This dealer stood out to me because it is a feel-good story, and if you couldn’t tell, I’m a sucker for those. Empire Automotive Group, unfortunately, had a “high” number of their employees fall sick to the coronavirus, so CEO Michael Brown decided to close his doors temporarily. He had a skeleton crew working to field phone calls and quickly learned that many people in his community simply needed help. They “opened up” a toll-free 800 number that the dealer group had and used it as a gateway. They sent out blasts to their communities, stating that they were there to help – customer or noncustomer. It didn’t matter what people needed – they were willing to help, from running groceries to spreading mulch. In fact, it was such a great initiative; they had more volunteers than was actually needed. Of course, they weren’t the only group out there doing good; many dealers used this time to help out their communities as well.
What can I say? I love feel-good stories, and I love when people do something different. It shows the community that we are more than just a business and hopefully brings out a different light to the car business. Why is this so important? Things like these hammers in Gerry Gould’s famous DIMTY – showing people that you care. And that’s all people want - to know that you care about them.