Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is fundamentally changing the way of life for communities across the country. Businesses are closing, schools are closing, grocery store shelves are empty, people are scared.
As an industry, we fix things. We diagnose problems and implement solutions. In times like this it’s easy for us to feel helpless, but we’re not just going to roll over and wait for the storm to pass. Now’s the time to stand up and show leadership. We need to show our community, our customers, and our country that we can get through this together, and come out stronger for it.
The definition of “business as usual” is about to change
At the time of writing this millions of Americans are being laid off and millions more are under lockdown. As an essential part of your community, it’s time to put your emergency plan into action. Essential personnel still need to get to work, supplies still need to be delivered, people still need to drive to the store. Each one of those vehicles need to be serviced and maintained. Your business isn’t changing, but the way you do business may be about to change.
We’re in this together
In this blog we’ve compiled a list of resources and strategies shop owners across the country are doing to be proactive and reactive to the coronavirus. The first and maybe the most important thing you can do is get informed and stay informed. Think about how much has happened in the past 2 weeks. The situation is changing rapidly. Federal, State and local governments are announcing new guidelines and legislation daily. Staying informed is crucial, especially in the early stages of this pandemic.
Communication is key
Now’s the time to reach out to everyone you do business with and get their read on the situation. Call up your parts suppliers and check in. Ask them if they anticipate any closures or supply chain issues. If you can’t get parts, you can’t fix cars. Ask them what precautions they’re taking to keep their employees safe. Ask them about the ways you can reduce person-to-person contact during deliveries, preventing the potential spread of the virus. Some shops are setting up designated pickup and drop off zones outside of the shop for deliveries and returns.
Connect with your customers, especially your older customers
It’s time to connect with your customers and your community. You’ve invested in social media, your website, and other communication tools – now is the time to put those investments to work. Let your community know that you are open and ready to serve if the need arises. Tell them about the protocols and services you’re taking to keep them safe and your employees safe. Some shops are making it a point to check in on their elderly customers, not to make a sale but to see how they’re doing. A little humanity goes a long way.
Talk to your employees.
Have an open, honest conversation with your employees about your game plan for the coming weeks and possibly months. Their biggest fears are getting sick, and keeping their job. Plus, many families have the added pressures of having to figure out child care with schools being closed. Your employees are what keep your shop running. They want to know that you’re considering their health and livelihood through this pandemic.
Consider changing the way you handle vehicle drop-offs & pickups
If you can, close your waiting room. The CDC guidelines are urging people to stay at home and avoid contact with people. Shops are moving to provide services to work within these guidelines including vehicle pick up, disinfecting & delivery.
Showing your customers that you’re taking every necessary precaution to keep them out of harm’s way is invaluable. Winning their trust means winning their business.
Not every shop has the resources to double as vehicle delivery service. In those cases, shops are making use of key drops and scheduled pickups and disinfecting along the way.
Move to online/over the phone payments
Love it or hate it virtual payments are another way to eliminate possible exposure. Many shops already have the capabilities to approve work orders and process payment through their management system. Think about it, when’s the last time you cleaned & disinfected your debit card? Probably never right? Those little plastic rectangles are shaking hands with grocery store clerks, gas station attendants and countless POS terminals every day. The same principle applies to cash.
There are many safe, respected ways to take payment virtually (it may already be built into your management system).
Don’t risk it. Stay home, call your doctor.
This is important. We’ve all gone to work with the sniffles before but this is different. Along with strict hand washing routines, you need to make it clear to your employees that if anyone in their household is experiencing any of the symptoms listed here, or believes they may have been exposed to the virus, they need to stay home and call their doctor, period. This applies to management as well!
For employees who can’t afford to miss work, help is available. Federal and state governments are passing new legislation & relief efforts regarding paid sick leave and expanded unemployment benefits in response to COVID-19. Check with your state department of labor for the most up to date information.
Take this opportunity to connect with the community, at a safe distance of course.
Now’s the time to network! From shop owners groups on facebook, to online forums like Auto Shop Owner & The Automotive Management Network, there are hundreds of shop owners and industry professionals weighing in on what’s happening NOW in our industry. Check out this recent episode of The Remarkable Results podcast where they host a panel discussion on COVID-19.