As of March 23rd, COVID-19 has shown up in 54 jurisdictions across the United States. More than 33,000 cases have been confirmed of the novel coronavirus and it has shown no signs of slowing yet. Worldwide, tests have confirmed COVID-19 in 177 countries, according to the CDC.  

The illness associated with the novel strain of coronavirus has induced travel restrictions and extreme reactions from organizations, governments, and individuals, often bordering on panic. Bathroom tissue, for example, has become a rare commodity. 

There is a real health threat from the virus, and over 14,750 people have succumbed to their symptoms around the globe. Data from the CDC shows, though, that this new virus pales in comparison with the seasonal flu that kills between 291,000 and 646,000 people each year. 

Related: Is Coronavirus Affecting North American Auto Retail?

The Effect on Dealership Traffic

Regardless of the numbers reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the perceived threat by the public is enormous. It’s spurred the cancellation and postponement of complete sporting leagues and other public gatherings. It’s no stretch to believe it will affect the frequency of customers crossing the dealership’s threshold in every department. 

There’s bound to be an economic impact on the automotive industry, just like every other industry in the United States and globally. Auto analyst Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley predicts that U.S. auto sales could slip 9 percent as customers opt to delay non-essential vehicle purchases. 

What Dealers Can Do to Minimize the Hurt

It would be irresponsible to suggest that any dealership is immune to the effects. Each leadership team including the general manager and dealer principal should be included in the task of communicating with their team and their customers to reduce the impact as much as possible. 

Communicate Health Policy

If you haven’t already done so, draft a statement for staff and customers regarding your efforts to reduce the spread of any infectious disease. 

  • Encourage more frequent handwashing and put up posters in washrooms about proper handwashing techniques.  
  • Identify access to hand sanitizer stations, ideally near every entrance.
  • Urge anyone with symptoms to stay home rather than taking a risk unnecessarily.
  • For those worried about inadvertent exposure, masks could be offered while on site. 

Send out an email internally and to your complete mailing list to keep the dealership in a positive light.

Confirm Staff Availability and Hours of Operation

Customers may wonder who is available at the dealership for their visit, whether for service, sales, or otherwise. Dealerships may be able to quell the concern by daily listing online who is working in each of the departments. Or, if making the changes to the daily roster is too large and cumbersome a task, a tally or percentage of capacity for each department would be good to post. 

Should staffing become stretched thin or a lack of traffic warrants it, communicate any changes to hours of operation to your customer base? 

Related: February Kerrigan Report: How the CoronaVirus is Creating Uncertainty for the Buy-Sell Market

Extend Service Availability for Increased Mileage

With suppressed sales during a time in flux, and due to a decreased use of mass transit systems, car owners will inevitably be driving more. Additional mileage on vehicles will, in turn, increase the need for servicing. It’s reasonable to expect service departments to have a higher volume of customers the longer the pandemic extends. 

Service departments should consider the possibility of lengthening their hours of operation. This action will require keeping your technicians and front-end service staff healthy. Since these affected positions are often already stressed, it would be best for extended hours to be voluntary. 

More to come on addressing the coronavirus outbreak in future posts.

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