Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that my team or myself are smarter than anybody else; we just have the advantage of working with hundreds of shops across the U.S. and Canada, which gives us a unique perspective of how the industry as a whole is handling this Coronavirus pandemic. That’s why, on this week’s special Live episode of Service Drive Revolution, I got together with my Coaching team and my friend Jeremy O’Neal to discuss some of the winning strategies we’ve seen in some of these shops. We’ve also compiled a bullet-points version of this list into this free PDF for you to use.

If you’re new to us, know that we’re here for you. Just email us at [email protected] with any questions, and we’ll find a way to bring you into the Chris Collins family. If nothing else, you don’t want to be alone right now. This Coronavirus situation is bleak, and you want to be a part of a community that understands your perspective and influences you positively. And if you're looking for ways to push your Service Drive even further, our OnDemand Training platform is the most robust and fully-featured Fixed Ops training on the market, and available for you to use at any time.

We hope that you’ll use these tools to lead your business through this Coronavirus crisis and get the results that you want to see. Remember: The average car on the road right now is nearly 12 years old. If nobody is selling new cars right now, then people will need to fix the cars they already have.

First: Be a Leader.

Ask yourself: Are you the type of leader who sits and waits as traffic falls off and your business slowly dwindles, or the type who attacks and fights tooth and claw to come out on top? 

In times of crisis like the present Coronavirus pandemic, leaders are truly tested. And with your Service Department open as an essential business, you have no choice but to perform your duty as a leader if you want to survive.

During our daily morning calls, I get together with our Coaching team to talk about some of the ways our clients are handling this crisis… and it looks like the pendulum is swinging both ways. We have some clients who are up, and others, sadly, who are panicking… 

Traffic is down! The sky is falling! It’s the end of the world!

Yes, we are in the middle of a unique and challenging circumstance. Times are tough, and the threat of Coronavirus is deadly serious… but as the leader of an Essential Business, it is your responsibility to push through the pain and find a way to lead your team to victory. 

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I love this quote because it does a great job of illustrating my point: You can’t waste time focusing on the things that are beyond your control. We may not have control over this crisis, but we can control how we respond to it. At the end of the day, this Coronavirus pandemic is merely an obstacle course, and you are the tool that your team uses to navigate it. 

We are not victims. 

So what can you control?  You can control how you go after customers, you can control how you train your team, and you can control the fundamentals of how you run your business. In a few months’ time there will be a lot of pent-up demand, and now is the best time to practice! If you don’t know where to start, and need inspiration, just look at how other businesses are adjusting their practices in response to the Coronavirus, even outside of the automotive industry. 

For example, I got an email from my Nutritionist the other day offering video conferencing appointments and in-home treatment. Peloton is giving away units at 0% interest and no payments for the next few months. These are just a couple of examples of businesses changing their practices to adjust to the ongoing situation.

Second: Control the Narrative.

This ties in to what I was saying above about leadership. If you’re the type of leader who is sitting back and seeing where this situation goes before taking action, then you’re leaving the door open for someone else to control the narrative. From what we’ve seen in our interactions with shop owners, this is the one thing that every successful business has in common right now: 

The leaders are stepping towards the crisis, rather than backing away from it. They are controlling their narrative with their customers.

You know the saying: “The customer is always right,” and there is some truth to that… but the reality is that it’s more about the customer’s perception than anything else. That’s the age-old problem with any customer service situation: the customer’s perception, or their understanding of the situation based on the impression you make. If the impression you make on the customer is based entirely on how you’re framing the situation, then whether the customer is right or wrong becomes irrelevant. 

What matters is your ability to tell a story to the customer, and how you frame yourself and your business within that story. Your business is going to be viewed in one of three ways: There is a world where you are the hero, one where you’re the victim, and one where you’re the villain. You don’t want to appear as a victim, and you definitely don’t want to appear like a villain.

When you conduct your business during times like the present, most people are going to default to framing you as the villain. Even when we advertised our Webinar on social media, we saw a lot of trolls commenting on our ads accusing us of trying to profiteer off of a crisis…. And that was for a free webinar! We aren’t even financially benefiting from this, we’re just trying to be a resource and build a community for our industry!

Point is: Our customers’ impressions of us are pliable. You can be the hero of this story. We have been designated an Essential Business, and we can use that to control the narrative of why we’re open. During this time, think of yourself as a public servant. For example, a Service Manager in our community recently has been reaching out to customers on Facebook, actively visiting hospitals to deliver meals, and offering his help to first responders. Show the customer that you’re not only open for business, you’re open for the right reasons. Social media usage right now is up 25% over average, so if you aren’t utilizing these platforms to communicate with your customers, then you’re missing out. It is impossible to over-communicate right now.

People are afraid to do business or even leave their homes during this Coronavirus crisis, so you can’t drive traffic if the narrative isn’t a positive one. Run promotions, offer discounts, and engage with your customers in such a way that they know you are here to serve them.

This is about more than just fixing cars or trucks: This is about being human, and being a good shepherd during times of crisis. If you’re not controlling the narrative and establishing yourself as the hero of the story, then you’re the victim at best, and the villain at worst.

Third: Help Other Essential Businesses.

Our coach Steve’s wife is a nurse at their local hospital, and one of the things she’s told Steve is that there is a lot of tension in the workplace right now. She and her peers are working over twelve-hour days. The rules for sanitation are constantly changing. Resources are extremely scarce. Everyone is worried. Who is coming in with Coronavirus? Who is going to get Coronavirus? Will I take Coronavirus home to my family?   

What can you do to help the people who are helping our communities the most? What can you do to take even the smallest amount of worry off of their plate? Steve’s wife doesn’t have time to get her car serviced, and what would happen if it broke down on her way to the hospital? 

Contact your local hospital, try to get a hold of their Human Resources Department, and let them know that you are here for their employees. You will pick their car up from the hospital, perform service, disinfect it, give them a free steering wheel cover, seat cover, and floor mat, maybe even a bag for them to toss their dirty clothes into at the end of their shift, and take it back. 

And don’t stop there. 

Contact any Essential Business that is open during this time. Contact any business that uses fleets. Contact delivery services for restaurants, Amazon deliveries, Postal Services, plumbers, Supermarkets, municipalities such as Police and Fire Departments, anything that is still open right now… and offer them your services. 

Pick up for them, drop off for them, store vehicles for them, disinfect for them…. Anything that is necessary and serves the community. Any make, any model, any time. Be open. Be ready to help. Some of the shops that are really succeeding right now are the ones that are running valet systems. Focus on all the little ways that you can add convenience to the transaction.

And if you think you don’t have enough people to run a valet service, or think your R.O. is high enough without running a valet service… go back and watch our episode with Brian Benstock. He was making $600 per R.O. by picking up and dropping off cars. The circumstances of daily life have changed. You need to change with them.

If you are a branded dealership, you probably don’t want to flip your brand identity from being a specialist for a certain manufacturer to accepting all makes and models. That’s fair. You don’t want your customers to perceive you as desperate for traffic, and it is a very fine line to tread. There is absolutely a craft to working on every individual brand of vehicle.

One thing that you could do, as Jeremy suggested, would be to have your lead technician with general knowledge record a quick video touting their certifications, and post that to social media. Show that you are not only open to all makes and models, but that you are also qualified to work on all makes and models. Don’t just tell the customer you’re going to work on all makes and models, show them how you work on all makes and models.

Fourth: Mine Your Database.

Remember: You have so much information in your shop’s database that you’re sitting on a mountain of opportunity. In general, most manufacturers push for service in six-month intervals. If you go back six months in your database and find that you generated 50 R.O.’s, then chances are 30 of those are due for service…. At least an oil change.

In times like the present Coronavirus crisis, customers aren’t thinking about servicing their cars. That doesn’t mean they aren’t due for service! Reach out, be proactive, and contact customers! Our Head Coach Christian came up with a great process that you can use:

Pull exactly six months to the prior date of business. Check history to ensure that the client hasn’t come in for service during the intervening months. Review service recommendations and decline lines. Then, call the customer.

This phone call has to be from the heart. Before anything, make sure that the client is okay. They might live in an area where essentials like water or toilet paper aren’t readily available. Who’s to say that you couldn’t help them with that? Remember that the client is, above all else, a human being first, and a client second. 

If the client is due for service, make it easy for them! Valet, loaners, night drops, whatever! Inform the customer of exactly what precautionary measures you’re taking. Show videos if you need to. Then, exceed their expectations on the service.

Now is the time to blow your customers away. Treat every service as if you’re setting a new standard for your shop, and then raise the bar every time. Then, give them a personalized token of appreciation to make sure that not only does the customer know that you’re there for them, you’re trying to go above and beyond what is typically expected of you.

Finally, set the next appointment. Treat it like you’re the dentist and the patient has just finished their check-up. Don’t make them think about it, just have them set the next appointment as if it were a routine. 

You don’t need to spend a single cent on marketing. Everything you need is in your database.

Fifth: Recalls and Missed Ops.

It’s usually perceived as a negative to have recalls coming in, so let this be a lesson to you: We need to be doing everything we can to drive traffic. Especially the things we know we should be doing, but don’t want to. 

Whenever our Coaches are reviewing a Miss Ops report with a Service Manager, they can always tell which R.O. was a recall just by looking at them, because there’s no work recommended on the R.O. 

Remember: Pet the Dog with every customer. Treat every single person who steps through the door as a welcome guest, and wow them with the quality of your service. Whatever you do now is what they’re going to remember. Get creative. Provide a rental car or Uber for them. Wash their car. Create an aggressive return offer. If you give them a positive experience, then they’ll want to come back.

All of those Missed Ops that you don’t usually have time for? Guess what, you have plenty of time for them during the Coronavirus shutdown. Write declines down on the R.O. so that you can track them. Create a piggy bank in your log book. Do live Missed Ops with the Service Manager in the driveway of your shop, meaning that every time an Advisor gets a “No,” the Manager is on standby to diagnose the customer’s reason for declining. Is it due to price? Time? Presentation? Negligence?

Take every decline as an opportunity to train and roleplay with Advisors. Now is the best time to experiment and create new processes.

Sixth: Follow up.

Consider the impact that you’re having on a customer during their time with you. When the customer gets their car and drives away after completing their service, this is the peak of their emotional journey. Be sure to thank them with a note in the car. Text them a few hours after they leave thanking them again. 

Two days later, mail them a thank you card as a follow-up. For first-time customers, give them something extra in the card to sweeten the deal. Jeremy likes to include a $5 Starbucks gift card, but any sort of token of appreciation you can give them, give them. Also, make sure that the card includes a heartfelt, handwritten thank you message.

This follow-up message isn’t about making them an offer or trying to secure future business from them. Jeremy doesn’t even include his contact information when he signs the card. They know who you are, they know where it came from, and they will appreciate it.

This is the icing on the cake. That little emotional token that will really separate your shop from the competition. If you do this, not only will your review scores explode, but you’ll save a fortune on marketing because you will earn word-of-mouth praise.

When you send a follow-up message, don’t tie it in to the cost of the R.O. Be consistent. It doesn’t matter if the customer spends $50 or $5000, their business is always appreciated.

When you set the next appointment, try to get the customer to actually pull out their phone and set a reminder for themselves in their calendar. If you get the appointment into the customer’s system while they’re with you, then you have trumped every other form of appointment-setting. 

Ask the customer if there’s anybody in their life who could use your help right now. You won’t always get an answer, but you’re subconsciously establishing a sense of urgency with the customer with that one simple word…. “Help.”

During this Coronavirus shutdown, cars will be sitting idle, batteries will die, and people will, eventually, need your help. By getting a personal referral from the customer, you’re forming an instant emotional connection, and ensuring your shop’s success. This also applies to business fleets and municipalities as well, not just individuals.

Just remember: Just like everything on this list, following up isn’t about the money, or the cars.

This is about the people.

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