The New, Post-COVID Greeting
The pandemic has caused the world to adapt to the so-called “new normal.” According to the Ratchet+Wrench COVID-19 Business Impact Survey Follow-Up, 68 percent of businesses have changed processes in their shop, which includes implementing sanitation processes and creating distance and barriers between you and your customers. The biggest change for many, if not all, however, has been the lack of physical contact; a lack of hugs, handshakes, and the space between one another. So, how are shop’s handling the lack of contact, while still ensuring they’re building a relationship with customers?
The greeting at Ken’s Auto Service pre-pandemic, for example, was pretty personal, as owner Tina Louise Erickson believes building a relationship with customers starts as soon as they pull their vehicle into the parking lot. A service advisor would meet the customer outside, shaking their hand and inviting them inside the shop. From there, they would check the customer in and give them the option to wait in the waiting area or take their shuttle service home or to work. Now, it’s a whole other story.
Ratchet+Wrench sat down with two shop owners—socially distanced, of course—to dive into exactly what the “new normal” looks like and how it differs from their old processes.
What They’ve Implemented...
To Ensure Safety
Ken’s Auto Service
When Colorado shut down around March 25, Erickson took immediate action, especially because her shop services many in the elderly community.
Right off the bat, she built a makeshift check-in and check-out station for customers with clean pens and a cup for dirty ones and a credit card machine. She also installed the service counter with plexiglass hanging above it, signs on the walls and chairs about social distancing and requiring employees and customers to wear a mask, ,and sanitation procedures, like cleaning customer’s keys and inside of the vehicle before and after the service. She also only allows a minimum of two customers in the lobby at a time—three if they are from the same family—and at one point, the bathroom wasn’t open to customers either.
While customers do have the option to wait in the lobby, the shuttle service has especially been popular among clientele, and Erickson says it seems to be a lot better for everyone at the shop that they are giving out more rides. To still ensure the safety of her customers and employees, the front passenger seat of the shop’s Honda Pilot is blocked off, both parties are required to wear a mask, and only one customer can be shuttled to and from the shop at a time.
Yeck’s Tire & Auto
According to a news report from KOLN 1011, Nebraska was just one of seven states in the nation that hadn’t put any stay-at-home orders in place until later. Even if there weren’t any direct orders to do so, Yeck’s Tire & Auto owner Mark Lowe came up with a plan to keep his staff and customers safe.
Instead of greeting customers outside, the CSR now stays indoors, where the customer goes to drop off their keys, to then go back out to the vehicle to grab the vehicle’s mileage.
Like many shops, Lowe put up a plexiglass barrier, or what he likes to call a “sneeze guard,” at the front counter, and has implemented sanitation procedures throughout the shop, ensuring to disinfect the lobby and front counter multiple times per day and having technicians disinfect vehicles before bringing cars in the shop. And while they don’t require customers or employees to wear a mask 24/7, staff is required to put one on if a customer walks in wearing one.
One of the main differences between pre-pandemic and now, however, is not allowing customers to wait in the lobby. Lowe gives them three options: either customers can take a loaner vehicle; the shop can pick up and drop off their vehicle at home; and if neither option is available, he will personally give the customer a ride home or back to work. Lowe says the shop does a lot more pickup and dropoff, since most customers are working from home.
To Build Customer Relationships
Ken’s Auto Service
The most important aspect for Erickson is maintaining a relationship with customers, especially new ones. While her shop practices social distancing, little acts of kindness, like holding the door open for them as they leave, now goes a long way. As the months have gone on, they’ve adjusted their tactics and adapted to customer preferences.
With some customers, it’s just a verbal, formal greeting welcoming them into the shop. For others comfortable with it, Erickson tries to make it more personal.
“A couple of months ago, we were bumping arms, or reaching out and doing virtual hugs,” Erickson says. “This was important to do, especially with long-standing customers.”
Another focus for Erickson? Following up. The shop does have a follow-up process already in place, but now it’s something that’s at the top of their to-do list. Erickson also wanted to add her own personal touch after a service was complete. She now sends out handwritten thank you cards to customers, and some even have a gift card attached. It’s all about doing those extra touch points to keep communication going.
“We are trying to maintain everything we have always done, but add in that extra assurance,” Erickson says.
Yeck’s Tire & Auto
At Lowe’s shop, one of the only aspects he says is lacking with his usual greeting is the handshake or an around-the-counter personal greeting. While the staff ensures to greet them with a smile, it’s been a challenge not having that physical greeting involved. However, the shop fills the void with more communication and transparency.
For Lowe, it’s about striking up a small conversation, asking about their day, and going out of the way to let the customer know verbally that they are doing everything they can to keep them safe.
Digital vehicle inspections have been a huge help with both aspects of communication and transparency. The shop is utilizing them more than ever, decreasing touch points between the staff and customers with a click of a button to send their diagnosis straight to their email. Staff then walks the customer through the full inspection, utilizing pictures and information collected from the vehicle to give them the full picture.
What They’re Keeping
Ken’s Auto Service
One of Erickson’s most successful implemented processes to her shop has been providing customers with what she calls a free vehicle essential check. Anyone, customer or not, can drive through one of their service bays to top off their fluids, test the battery, check the tire pressure, and make sure windshield wipers are up to par. This has yielded praise for the shop, and has helped them receive more customers.
“We’re trying to give back a little,” Erickson says. “We’re really letting people know that we are here and can help them through this tough time.”