Like many businesses across the US and around the world, Dealerware is watching the spread of COVID-19 closely and thinking daily about the impact that a global pandemic has on the automotive businesses we serve.
It’s important to us that our customers understand we are open and ready to help. We built our company around excellent service delivered virtually. Our customer support staff is as ready as ever to respond to questions and offer advice. Support hours remain unchanged, and the support team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at (855) 777-4785
We know that, as much as possible, business must continue while daily life is upended for many Americans. In the short term, maintaining clean vehicles and facilities will be important to customer satisfaction and safety. In the long term, slowdowns in new vehicle sales and issues with parts availability may create headaches for dealerships. Planning now for operational flexibility later could help dealers retain valuable after-sales business and create new revenue streams to backfill for slow sales while maintaining customer loyalty.
Dealerships that intend to remain open during the period of social distancing need a plan to keep facilities and vehicles sanitized, to reduce customer touchpoints and limit the time customers need to spend in the service department. Dealers should also plan new ways to help customers address service needs while they potentially have more free time.
These plans should be proactively communicated to customers, particularly those with upcoming service appointments. To help you retain business and keep customers satisfied with service, we’re offering the following advice on how to adjust operations during the pandemic, and sample emails at the end of this post might help get your outreach started:
Many in our community are sharing social media posts describing extra steps they’re taking to show their work when it comes to sanitizing courtesy loaner vehicles for customers. Some suggested best practices include:
- Use vinyl or leather-safe disinfectants on interior surfaces like steering wheels, armrests, gear selectors, dashboards, sun visors, touchscreens, HVAC controls, window switches, window sills, etc.
- Use soap and water or disinfectant wipes to sanitize door handles, trunk lids and other exterior surfaces, like door trim, that may be touched often.
- Vacuum all cloth surfaces including the vehicle headliner.
- Consider wearing gloves when transporting the car around your lot.
- Use Dealerware’s vehicle status selectors to carefully record when a vehicle needs cleaning or is sanitized and ready for the next customer.
We are also recommending dealers leave plastic floor mats, dash covers and steering wheel covers in place when delivering a courtesy vehicle to customers. This way they can see that vehicle surfaces have not been touched since being sanitized. Leaving hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes in the car may also help put customers at ease.
Inside dealerships and service departments, we recommend employees follow the “recommendations for international travelers,” distributed by the World Health Organization as part of their global effort to reduce the spread of the virus, and the similar guidelines from the CDC on the proper hygiene and social techniques needed to reduce the risk of infection.
Dealerships should also print and post CDC resources for identifying COVID-19 symptoms and stopping the spread of germs in an effort to maintain awareness among employees and customers.
Finally, dealerships can use Dealerware’s mobile contracts and mobile payments to reduce the number of interactions required between customers and service employees, and to speed up paperwork so fewer customers need to wait inside dealerships.
Mobile devices used by service or sales employees should be carefully cleaned with disinfectant wipes at the beginning and end of each day, and while interacting with customers. Staff carrying mobile devices may want to carry device-safe disinfectant wipes with them so that they can wipe down screens and device cases before and after a customer needs to hold and use the tablet or phone, further increasing customers’ trust that their wellbeing is a top priority.
Service Schedule Changes
Many Dealerware users have indicated they plan to keep service departments open over the next few weeks. Some service appointments are bound to be rescheduled, however customers who have been holding off on service may now find themselves with time to address service needs.
Dealerships may want to proactively contact customers to inform them of plans to remain open and educate them on work being done to keep courtesy vehicles, showrooms and service departments germ-free. Reassuring customers that a plan is in place to protect their health may help dealers retain some service business that might otherwise be cancelled indefinitely while customers practice social distancing.
If dealers plan to reduce staff hours, communications with customers should indicate that service appointments may take longer than usual. Being transparent about staffing reductions and their impact on workflows can help realign customer expectations so that they do not report negative experiences.
Courtesy Fleet Changes
Providing or expanding courtesy fleets is another strategy that can help dealerships keep existing service appointments and encourage customers to address service needs now, while they may be saving time by not commuting. Again, proactively emailing or calling customers with upcoming service appointments to inform them of loaner availability may help prevent some cancellations.
Additionally, dealerships can consider offering pickup and dropoff services, either using existing staff to transport vehicles or working with partner organizations who focus on service pickups. Dealerware allows you to start and end contracts, including payment, from anywhere because we are PCI Compliant on mobile, making this offering feasible for any customer on the platform today.
In either case, it’s important that dealers thoroughly sanitize vehicles and present them to customers in a way that demonstrates dedication to preventing the spread of germs, like leaving protective covers and wraps in place.
Planning for Long-term Impacts of COVID-19
J.D. Power is recommending dealerships prepare for parts shortages throughout most of 2020. While in the U.S., the hope is that self-isolations will help us move past a public health crisis in several weeks, the reality of automakers’ global supply chains is that a full recovery of manufacturing will take much longer.
When customers can’t have their car serviced because parts are unavailable, there is a steep impact on customer satisfaction. More detail is available here but, put simply, about a third of drivers would be less likely to return to a dealer for service if the parts they needed were unavailable.
The same proactive communication that may help dealers maintain positive relationships with customers through today’s uncertainty and unease can help dealerships set customer expectations for service slowdowns later. Below are some email templates to help you get started with customer outreach.
Sample Email For Social Distancing Comms
Consider using this form email to educate customers with upcoming service appointments on your efforts to keep your dealership and vehicles germ-free, and how you can provide transportation to simplify service appointments for customers.
Subj: How we provide safe, sanitary service.
We hope you and your family are healthy and feel safe at this time. You have a service appointment scheduled with [dealership] in the coming weeks, and we wanted to explain to you how we’re adjusting our operations to prevent the spread of germs while we continue to offer maintenance and repair services.
- Extra vehicle cleaning measures
- Sanitizing of surfaces in waiting areas
- Pickup and dropoff is available for customers who wish to remain at home
We understand if you’d like to reschedule your appointment due to government-recommended social distancing measures. Should you choose to keep your upcoming service appointment, know that we value your business and are committed to keeping you safe and comfortable when you visit us.
Sample email for post-COVID-19 adjustments
Below is a sample message you can use as a starting point for outreach with customers after social distancing recommendations end, when dealerships and customers will need to adjust to a new economic pace.
Subj: Your continued business is important to us
Following the Spring disruption to normal economic activity around the world, all auto dealerships and service providers are adjusting to supply chain disruptions. Our service team is staffed with experienced technicians who do great work quickly, but we may experience delays in receiving parts needed to complete service appointments. Here is our promise to continue providing you a great service experience:
- You’ll know quickly if parts are delayed
- We’ve expanded our courtesy loaner fleet to make sure your life doesn’t slow down
- We can pick up and drop off your vehicle at your home or work so you don’t need to wait at the service department.
Thank you for your understanding and continued support. Please let us know if you have any questions about upcoming service needs.
Let’s stay connected
It’s important to come together in times like this. We want to continue to connect with our community and share advice on how to deal with challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you have any ideas that could help fellow dealers? Let us know on social media, or email us, and we’ll continue sharing what we learn through our blog and other channels.