Yes, I work in the car business, but I’m also a consumer. Man, this blog post is starting to sound like one of those hair club for men commercials already. It will get better, I promise. What I mean is that during this pandemic, I have had to visit the dealership for service and I want to provide my perspective as a consumer to help my friends in the business.
Firstly, I may be in the minority, I don’t know anymore, but I still think the pandemic is going on. Call me crazy but I’m in the camp that errs on the side of caution while the world figures this thing out and I’m doing what I can to take precautions for my family. I’m social distancing, I’m wearing a mask in public places when I can’t, and I wash my hands as taught by the doctors on YouTube. When i speak to people who have gone out to run errands whether it’s at the bank, the supermarket, the mall or a restaurant I have a curiosity to ask how it was. After all, it’s all new in the age of COVID-19. The response on whether it was positive or negative is largely framed around how safe they felt. For example, my friend sent me a picture of the bank teller behind glass and with a mask and texted “was weird but I felt safe.” Alternatively my other friend reported back after visiting her local supermarket that it was too crowded and she didn’t like it so she will stick with stores like Trader Joe’s who have been limiting the number of shoppers at the store and marking spots to ensure social distancing.
When the service light in my car lit up I sprung into action. I wanted to see how my neighborhood dealerships were doing and what my experience would like be from the customer’s perspective. Are the local dealerships well trained to respond to the customer’s concerns regarding their revised processes? I was pretty confident that they would be ahead of the curve since I’m in California, a state which was one of the first to close amid the pandemic’s outbreak.
I started by calling our usual dealership, where we initially bought the car. This is a Lexus dealership who are typically known for good procedures and policies. I asked them what precautions they were taking for COVID in the service drive,the receptionist didn’t know and transferred me to service. First vital mistake, the processes should be clear through the dealership and the receptionist should know the procedures for both sales and service. In service they informed me that they were sanitizing the steering wheels and door handles and wearing masks. I dug deeper and asked if they offer contactless service appointments — which was met with complete silence. They went on to say that I would go to the service advisor’s office to sign the paperwork and then wait in the lounge. I asked if there was an option for me to drop the car off and sign for it without entering the dealership and again, silence. The woman took my information and said she’d call me with an answer. Spoiler alert, she never called.
I contacted the second dealership and spoke with the receptionist who was also not aware of the procedures for service, so she transferred me to the service department receptionist who was only slightly more informed. When I asked if I was able to drop it off and have contactless delivery, she informed me that I still needed to sign and would be able to bring my own pen. Again, she was unable to paint a picture for me on what the appointment would look like and was only concerned with me signing the paperwork. If she’d have been able to effectively articulate the process they had in place, which I suspect they have, then I may have considered switching dealerships. However, their inability to effectively COMMUNICATE left me without the comfort that I needed.The third and last dealership I called was farthest from my house, so I was reluctant to even place the call. After all, most of what I do is within a five mile radius of my house. I know, I’m starting to sound like a neurotic hermit crab but I’m not. I think. Anyway, the way that this dealership explained their process was what ultimately led me to go out of my way and have my car serviced there. They explained that not only are they taking precautions in the dealership but they have it set up so their service customers don’t need to enter the dealership and it was all done seamlessly. They were able to detail out what I can expect from the visit in a way that I knew they were taking it seriously. First, they said I’d pull into the service drive where I’d be met with a person wearing a mask who will assess what I needed from outside the vehicle. After signing the paperwork (with my own pen) I would leave the keys in the car. After service they have it sanitized, I will pay for the service online and pick it up in the drive without interacting with a person. I appreciated that they were able to clearly explain what I could expect and even though I had to drive out of my way, I was willing to do so for peace of mind.
Keep in mind, this experience was specifically for the service drive but you should have similar processes outlined in sales, especially on how you’re handling the test drive where people will be most resistant to getting in an enclosed space with a stranger. Bottom line is, during this time you should cater to the most cautious shopper at your dealership. This extra level of caution will be appreciated by most, if not all, of your clientele. However, if you have all the precautions in the world and can’t communicate what you are doing, then it doesn’t matter. As we always say, the difference between making deals and losing deals is knowing what to say.
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