All across the world, auto shops continue to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Auto shops were deemed essential services by local governments in the US and Canada. However, just like other industries across the globe, the automotive repair business has taken a hit from the pandemic. Many customers are playing it safe and putting off repairs in favor of their own personal safety. With fewer cars on the road now, there have also been fewer accidents and collisions. This means fewer repairs for garages and auto shops. According to McKinsey, auto repair garages in Germany have reported that business is down 50 percent.
In response, many auto repair shops are looking for a way to proactively grow their business while also keeping up with best practices for handling the coronavirus. For auto shops looking for a way to bring in new customers while keeping everyone safe and healthy, we wanted to provide a list of current best practices and recommended steps.
Understanding Your Customers
Before we proceed, let’s take a moment to understand the mindset of today’s auto shop customers. Currently, industry experts are only recommending people go to auto shops if their vehicle is unsafe to drive or if it has serious mechanical issues. In other words, the average customer going to an auto shop right now really needs work done on their vehicle.
To add to this, automotive repair is already a trust-based business. With the insecurity of the current pandemic, customers are drawn to businesses they trust more than ever.
What Does All of This Mean for Auto Repair Shops?
Customers that need critical repair work done during the coronavirus are looking for trust indicators more than ever. They’re looking for businesses that are proactively looking out for their needs. They want a repair shop that has mitigated any potential risks to their health and safety.
It’s crucial that auto repair shops look for ways to build trust with their prospective customers. As in any professional relationship, trust is key in ensuring that customers feel safe and valued. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a few recommendations for repair shops to build trust while also attracting new business.
Gloves, Masks, and Personal Protective Equipment
Customers may be leery of venturing to an auto repair shop due to possibly contaminating themselves or their vehicles. To help appease customers’ apprehension, it’s important that auto repair shops take visible steps to protect their customers from the virus.
Besides protecting your shop employees, latex gloves, masks, and face shields will also show any visiting customers that you are taking the situation seriously. Personal protective equipment is a simple, visible way to show customers that you are anticipating their needs.
Sanitizing Vehicle Interiors
After a repair is done, auto repair shops can distinguish themselves from their competitors by going the extra mile and sanitizing hi-touch areas inside the car. Using a simple disinfectant wipe on the steering wheels, dashboards, shifters, door handles, touchscreens, and hand brakes will leave an impression with a customer that you care.
Today, there are numerous ways for auto repairs to accept contactless payments. Many credit card readers offer the option for proximity readers such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.
Many auto repair shops are also accepting payment over the phone, by simply having customers read out credit card information that is then manually entered into a payment system by service writers.
Finally, many shop management software systems today allow for integrated payment solutions, which allow customers to pay invoices directly from their phones or web browsers.
Setting Up the Waiting Room
Many repair shops have taken to conducting all business over text, phone, or email. However, if your auto shop is still using a front desk and reception area, consider installing a plexi-glass partition or sneeze guard to separate your service writer from your customers. These clear barriers provide one additional layer of protection against the virus. Your service writer that works at the front desk will also appreciate the added protection.
As mentioned before, hopefully you’ve been able to make the switch to paperless invoicing and payments. If not, and you are still using a credit card reader with paper receipts and invoices, then remember to sanitize card readers, pens, and desktops after every customer transaction with a simple disinfectant or cleaning wipe.
In keeping with current safety guidelines, be sure to place any chairs in the waiting room at least 6 feet apart from one another, or better yet, have customers wait outside until their car repair is completed. Remove any magazines, newspapers, or shared physical objects like coffee machines or water coolers from the waiting room too.
Extended Hours for Elderly Customers
Many businesses have made an effort to set up special opening hours for senior citizens. For example, an auto repair shop owner could open their business doors an hour earlier than normal specifically for older customers to drop off and pick up their cars. This reduces the risk of elderly customers coming into contact with other customers during the middle of the day.
Contactless Drop Off
Adding an after-hours vehicle drop off and pick up system is another way to anticipate your customers’ needs. For example, you can install a drop box for car keys so customers can leave their vehicles at your shop at their convenience. Customers will then have the option of leaving their vehicles at an auto shop outside of normal business hours, avoiding any risk of human-to-human contact or contamination.
Home Drop Off
Really want to go the extra mile for your customers? Some auto repair shops are offering to drop off repaired cars at customers’ homes at no extra charge to their customers. After the cars have been repaired and delivered, customers then have the option to self-quarantine their cars for a couple days to ensure that a vehicle’s potential exposure to the virus has been remediated. While this does require an additional investment in time and labor, auto shops benefit from this system by not having repaired vehicles take up extra space in their garages or parking lots.
For minor repairs and services such as oil changes, auto shops can give customers the option of remaining in their vehicles while service is being completed. Many oil change businesses have already been servicing vehicles like this pre-coronavirus. These types of procedures provide an extra level of confidence for customers, who don’t need to worry about the hassle of having a stranger entering and driving their car. Before offering this service to customers, shop owners would be wise to work with their repair technicians to come up with a list of repairs and services that can be easily performed while a customer remains in the vehicle.
Communicating Changes to Your Customers
If you’ve gone to the effort to implement any of the above recommendations, it’s crucial to communicate these changes to new and existing customers. Here are a few examples of recommended methods of communication:
Update your website with a banner message on your homepage to let customers know about your new sanitation procedures.
Add signage and posters to your auto shop’s doors and windows to educate customers about contactless drop offs.
Use your Twitter or Facebook pages to let customers know about accepting contactless payments.
Send an email to your customers giving them a full list of all the steps taken by your shop in response to coronavirus. This a surefire way to build trust with past customers and generate repeat business.
Here is a template you can use when sending an email:
“To all of our valued customers,
We hope you and your loved ones are staying safe during these unprecedented times. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, we wanted to let you know about several new procedures we’ve recently implemented to protect our customers and our team. Your safety is our biggest priority, and we try to uphold the highest safety standards here at [*** INSERT AUTO SHOP NAME ***].
Here are a few of the updates we’ve made on behalf of our customers:
Requiring shop employees to wear gloves, masks, and face shields.
Sanitizing vehicle interiors: steering wheels, dashboards, shifters, door handles, touchscreens, handbrakes, etc.
Social distancing and frequent sanitation within the waiting room.
Open one hour early at [***INSERT OPEN TIME HERE***] for customers over the age of 65.
Contactless dropbox for customers.
Home drop off service.
Stay-in-your-car oil changes.
If you have any questions or concerns at all that weren’t covered in the list above, call us at [*** INSERT AUTO SHOP PHONE NUMBER ***]. We’d be more than happy to provide any additional clarification.
Thanks again for your trust and support!”
Sunny Ashley is the founder and CEO of Auto Shop Invoice. Auto Shop Invoice provides shop management software for independent auto repair shops and garages.
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