The New Deal

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As I write this shortly after Memorial Day weekend, I’m hearing shops say “the switch got flipped on,” or even “the damn burst” in terms of leads and appointments. I hope this is the case for you and your shop! A lot of people felt cheated out of their Spring, summer is here, and now there’s making up to do. I wish I had a crystal ball to see how this will play out. Hindsight will be 20/20, as always. But until it passes completely, we’ve got to be on our A-game. Oh, and speaking of the game… it’s changed. Again. 

Remember before digital marketing when the Yellow Pages was a central part of a marketing strategy? I do, and I hated it. Shops that had the most money ran the largest ads effectively buying their market position. Digital marketing changed that game forever, leveling the playing field. Smaller shops that did the right thing and were authentic, gained market position without money alone. 

There is often a nimbleness of a smaller organization (think indy shop vs. dealer or chain). You and I will be able to change and adapt quicker to this new game. Yeah, it’s going to be work. More work than we were expecting in 2020, but there’s also tremendous opportunity. And if you’re reading Ratchet+Wrench, you are the type of shop owner to learn and grow, so you got this.

Over the past few months I wrote about Lean Methodology, which looks at getting more with less resources. To do that, it helps to define exactly what your customer values. This is super relevant now. What are our customers valuing right now? Same as before, they want a shop they can trust and the work done correctly and on time. Aaaand…. Yes some of your customers now also want to feel safe from the you-know-what-virus.  

I suggest putting yourself in a customer’s shoes, one who has viral concerns, even if you do not. Walk through their entire experience, how does it start? They need service, what do they do? They Google. Does that expose them to any virus? No, but I hope you didn’t stop marketing. Next step, they call you. Does that expose them? No (I heard someone say you could get it through the phone, but I don’t believe them!) OK, so it’s the logistics of getting the vehicle to and from the shop that is the largest hurdle. I’ve seen shops use their night-drop off as a day drop. For pickup, key lock boxes bolted securely to the building with a code that can easily be changed for each customer. That alone can ensure no physical contact with your shop during pickup and drop-off. If they do want to come inside, the suggestion is to modify your counter in some way (hopefully tasteful) as to ensure 6 feet between people. Some have also installed sneeze guards (hanging ones look much better in my opinion). Limiting wait appointments to as many people as your lobby can hold at 6 feet apart is the standard and hey, take a cue from restaurants and why not offer some outside patio seating? If you do offer rides or are willing to pickup and deliver customer cars, your staff can wear a mask and wipe down surfaces they’ve touched. If you have loaner cars, sanitize and wash them between every use. Whether or not all of your staff wears masks is dependent on how bad the situation is in your area.

Hopefully you’re able to acquire a sanitizing product, supplies are slim. Whatever your personal beliefs are on surface transmission, this is a classic example of customer perception. Those of you who have offered complimentary car washes for years understand this. The customer can’t see the hard work we did under the hood but they can see a clean car and it matters! In a similar fashion, they can’t see germs but if they pickup their car and there is a rear view mirror hanger that says “this car has been sanitized,” they feel safer about the interaction. If you have Lysol wipes or sanitizing product for your counters, they can be left out in plain sight or post signage that explains what your sanitizing practices are. 

I had an interesting experience last week ordering some food to go. When I picked it up, I had to hand my credit card to the employee. When he was done, he wiped down the card before handing it back to me still in the wipe. It showed me that this business did really care and had carefully thought out a process. Many shops are taking credit cards over the phone and offering text-to-pay options. This combined with digital repair order approval through your POS (if they offer it) or through third-party sites like Docusign or Dotloop help to complete the touch less experience. 

Whatever your practices are for pickup, drop off, sanitizing your facility, distancing, repair order approval and payment, your marketing needs to mirror that. Website updates, email blasts, social media posts and any other marketing channels you use need to be explaining what steps your business is taking.

Those processes are quickly becoming the new standards. At the same time, shoring up the tried and true best practices for shops couldn’t be more important. Fully inspecting every single car, presenting all the work, asking for reviews, training, and recruiting are all vital. Why? If your car count is down, you need to make the most of what you have. And if it’s up, you need to be ready for an influx if it happens. 

There’s more than enough evidence to support the fact that we’ll be ok. People will likely buy fewer new cars while also traveling less on planes, trains, and rideshare. All of this points squarely back to individual transportation in a personal car. And that car and owner need us. So buckle down on your essential shop practices while keeping in mind that many customers values have changed, and we need to cater to that. Do this and I guarantee you not only survive but thrive in the coming months and years. 


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