Gary Kalk, executive chairman of service technology provider Dealer-FX, has created a checklist for operating a dealership parts and service department amid COVID-19. Here are his tips, in seven sections:
1. Open for business – ramping up and reopening
Provide all personnel with appropriate documentation to support them carrying on as an essential business provider. (Understand your local and state emergency measures.)
- Consider hours reserved for essential services workers or for “at risk” populations.
- Space out service appointment times. Social distancing will affect the number of appointments you can handle at a given time.
- Consider a second shift to assist spreading out your team. (Employees may be interested in working nights or weekends to ensure their safety.)
- Determine if vehicle pickup and delivery, remote servicing options will be offered to customers.
- Identify an individual specifically responsible for this process and the execution. Consider having greeters/advisers wear masks.
- Think about walk-ins and whether you should have an appointment-only policy.
2. Develop a comprehensive plan to sanitize customer vehicles
- Sanitize customer vehicles at drop off and pick up. Some dealers are using a defogger with an antimicrobial disinfectant used by hospitals to fumigate vehicles at drop offs and pick ups. (Consider doing this in front of the customer.)
- Alternatively, spray and wipe down the steering wheel, control panel, seatbelt, door handles with an appropriate solution. (It might make sense to do this step in addition to the defogger.)
- Leave a sanitized card in each vehicle after it has been cleaned, with details of what was done to ensure the vehicle is “COVID-19 CLEAN”. This will show customers and employees you are serious about protecting everyone.
- Place seat, floor mat and steering wheel protectors in all vehicles.
- Have designated people move vehicles off the drive, into the shop and back to the customer. Ensure they wipe down or defog where applicable. Cross-train for these new processes.
- Have your sanitation crew wipe down all building door handles throughout the day and all desks, phones and furniture each evening. (Some dealers are even doing this hourly.)
- Relocate customers from smaller waiting areas to larger waiting areas. (Scatter chairs throughout the showroom.)
- Have all personnel touching customers’ vehicles use rubber gloves and change them frequently. Change or wash gloves before working on a different vehicle. Note: Wearing gloves can be deceptive. Once you touch something contaminated, the gloves are contaminated; make sure everyone is washing their hands as often as possible.
- Place hand sanitizer in all customer and employee areas, including every desk, customer waiting area, parts counter, technician stalls, etc.
- Place signs and put tape on the floor (or use pre-made floor markers; some providers already have solutions) to remind everyone of social distancing.
- Consider installing protective shields for customer/adviser interaction. (Some feel this will not be optional in the post COVID-19 world to give assurance to advisers and customers.)
- Your sanitation processes and procedures should be reviewed on a weekly basis (if not more often) to ensure safety, distancing and stringent processes are being followed. This is not going away in the near term, and people are not going to forget about protecting themselves.
3. Devise a check-in process that is free of paper and person-to-person contact
- Email new appointment procedures before every service appointment. Be specific. This will reassure customers and your team you are taking this seriously. For example: -Greeters/advisers will approach customers from the passenger side of vehicle.
— Encourage customers to wait in their vehicle until you are ready for them.
— Communicate that you have discontinued shuttle service for the next period of time.
— Inform customers that you will have sanitizer available.
— Indicate that greeters/advisers will have masks.
— Highlight that you are committed to a contactless experience and explain how you are ensuring the safety of customers and employees.
- If using a rental car agency, advise them of your new processes. They should match your changes or provide their own processes.
- Multi-point inspections need to be paperless and allow the customer to review on their own device.
- Discuss approach for highlighting what you are doing to create a safe environment, showing the value you provide as well as any promotions (on detailing and disinfectant, or programs to benefit first responders, for example). This will give customers confidence and let them know you are open for business. Highlight your new sanitization procedures.
- Consider special discounts for customers who are essential workers.
- Align with vendors that can offer financing options for service and parts transactions.
- Ensure you have a service lane technology tool(s) that provide customers with a contactless experience in which they can use their own mobile device.
- Online scheduler: Control appointment timing, shop loading and reduce walk-ins and waiters.
- Appointment Management: Set custom appointment intervals to space out your customers.
- Customer Self Check-In: Allow customers to check-in and sign for service using their own mobile device.
- Digital MPI: Communicate technician recommendations via mobile phones so customers can approve and sign estimates remotely.
- Self check-out & online payment: Find a touchless payment option to reduce physical contact with cash, credit card machines, etc.
- Service workflow dashboards: Provide an efficient way for parts clerks, technicians, and advisers to visually determine process workflow with limited employee interaction.
- Service CRM: Communicate regularly with customers via text, email, and phone.
- Be flexible with customer cancellations during this time but add these customers to your follow-up lists.
- Ensure you have enough oil, gas and parts (eg., cabin air filters).
- Cross-train employees: Some staffers may have to stay home to care for a family member
- Keep employees updated on the latest CDC health guidelines.
4. Closed/preparing to reopen – lockdown or preparing to open
Remember to review these same steps and undo or redo when you reopen.
- Disable online appointments or adjust appointments to align with limited hours.
- Update your phone system and website and post notices on service drive, parts and body shop doors.
- Let the OEM know you are closed for roadside assistance.
- Inform tow truck companies you are closed.
- Contact customers with vehicles in the shop and communicate your plan of action.
- Track down all loaner vehicles.
- Cancel or suspend services of vendors, such as uniforms, waste pick-up, parts delivery, etc.
- Create individualized productivity plans, where applicable.
- Make sure each person has a clear focus on their current, adjusted role and responsibilities.
- Let technicians know they can leave toolboxes in the dealership and they will be secure.
- Freeze all hiring except for upgraded talent.
- Do a physical parts inventory or bin inventory.
- Hold key meetings remotely, at least once a week.
- Require all employees to brush up on their factory and vendor training during downtime to be prepared for a surge in business when things get back to the “new” normal.
5. Review & act on (Can also be done if you are open)
- Pay plans
- Receivables (including warranty receivables)
- All schedules
- WIP (Check repair orders that need to be billed to Warranty, Ext Warranty, Internal)
- Vendor ivoices (such as additional mats on the uniform invoice, uniforms from past employees)
- Inventory settings (Ensure you are stocked correctly for when things ramp up. Parts supply may be an issue, especially of certain fast-moving or essential parts such as cabin air filters.)
- On-hand used cores (Return everything that you can.)
- Warranty parts scrapping (This has the potential, if not done properly, to be a huge liability.)
- Other dealer and aftermarket invoicing (Review discounts against what you are receiving vs. what you are giving. It is not uncommon to find that you are selling to another dealer at cost +10% yet receiving from the same at cost +12.5%.)
- Factory maintenance and dealer recommendations and pricing
- Team-building activities (Do you need to do what you have been doing, or do you need to do more?)
- Mystery shop competitors: Online and by phone to ensure that you are competitive
- Take the opportunity to coach employees.
- Train all employees on the NEW processes and procedures.
- Clean up the facility – makes everyone feel better.
- Book fewer appointments and space them out more as you prepare to open until your team is comfortable with the new processes.
6. Ongoing operations
- Keep employees updated on the latest CDC health guidelines.
- Ensure your customer waiting area strategy for social distancing is working.
- Update service and parts strategy as to whether you are changing hours.
- Enhance plans to sanitize customer vehicles when they drop off and pick up their vehicles.
- Update and/or enhance vehicle pickup and delivery options (where applicable).
- Update approach for discounts/free oil changes to keep customers coming in (as required).
- Follow-up on oil, gas and parts supplies
- Update auto parts ordering.
- Shift ad spend to Facebook or Instagram. It’s targeted, content-specific and a better value for smaller spends.
- Set higher expectations and hold your business and people to a higher standard
7. Ongoing communications
Update COVID-19 message as needed. How will you protect customers and employees? How will you make customers aware of sanitation processes?
Credit: Automotive News