While the entire world seems to have hit “pause” as a result of COVID-19, dealerships have two options:
- Prepare for business as usual once things get back to “normal”
- Recognize that “normal” no longer exists — if it ever did — and get ready for new customer demands
With the enforced showroom closures that dealerships have been undergoing, the gulf between dealers who are open to new ideas and dealers who do things “the way they’ve always been done” has never been more apparent. When the market was hot, it was easy to hide poor execution and backward thinking. The “Sales Are Sales” mindset works when the economy is good, but the most successful dealerships are continually looking for ways to serve their customers well into the future.
This veneer of “easy sales” has now been stripped away, and dealerships stuck in the past are in danger of staying there permanently.
For example, where online sales were once considered a novelty, an option only younger buyers would choose, they are now a reality for every generation. The coronavirus might have forced the issue, but once the ease and convenience of such transactions became apparent, older consumers soon realized that the younger set might have had the right idea.
As an industry, we’ve been forced to connect with our customers in a different manner, and things are never going to be the same again. We can fight it, we can grudgingly accept it, or we can embrace it. The actions we take now — both as leaders and as team members — will be the first steps in facing this future.
If You Are in a Leadership Position
Check In With Your Team — Everyone is on edge right now, just as you are. As a leader, they look to you to set the tone, and if you take the time to see how they are doing and ask them about their concerns (and actually listen to them), they’ll remember your consideration long after this current crisis. Technology and new ideas are wonderful, but a dealership can only be as successful as the people making up your team.
Practice with New Technology — One of the major lessons this pandemic has taught us is that online shopping is no longer “the future”; it’s now. If you find that your dealership has fallen behind the curve, this is the time to catch up. Consumers understand that this form of shopping for automobiles is still in its infancy and will forgive a hiccup here and there. Still, there’s no excuse for presenting the dealership as anything less than professional. They are still planning to part with a significant amount of their money, and want to know that your dealership is worthy of their trust. Investing in simple things will go a long towards earning that trust. How’s your dealership’s internet connection? Do the team members who will be speaking with your customers have a good camera and microphone set up? Does the background in the video look professional, or does it look like a dorm room? Role play with your team and see their presentation as a customer would and ask yourself, “Would I buy what this person is selling?” If not, make a plan to fix the problems and smooth out the process.
Make Sure Everyone Is On the Same Page — COVID-19 has forced many businesses, including auto dealerships, to reinvent their business models on the fly. While this type of adaptability is something to be commended, it needs top-level guidance and coordination to succeed. Your sales, service, BDC, F&I and other departments need to have the same messaging, the same attitude and the same messages across the board. They need to have the same “feel.” Your customers don’t want to have several different types of experiences when they come to your dealership. You wouldn’t accept that if they were walking through your door; don’t allow it from online interactions.
If You Are in a Customer Relations/Service Position
Study Your Craft — This could be the time when you work on your skills and knowledge to enhance the personal value you bring to the table. You could take those online classes you’ve always been too busy to attend, or do the in-depth reading and research on the products or services you provide. You might have the time to listen to podcasts that interview industry leaders and get their takes on the current situation or the automotive sector as a whole. While your competition is sitting still, worried about the future, this could be your time to up your game and be ready when the bell rings again.
Stay in Shape — Stressful times can bring some of our worst habits to the foreground. Overeating, oversleeping and general lethargy are all signs that we need to take action and maintain our physical condition. One way that we are fortunate is that this pandemic started just as the weather was warming, so getting outside is often an option. Watch your diet and your habits, and you won’t have to worry about dieting or getting back into shape when it’s time to go to work. You’ll also have the energy to get things done.
Set a Schedule — Most of us have been working in our careers since we graduated (or perhaps even before that), so we’ve always had a structure set up for us. If we’re working from home or momentarily out of our position, the loss of that structure can affect us in ways we might not even realize. Set your alarm and get up at the same time each day. Build a schedule that gives your day that structure that we all crave. The key to not wasting time is first being aware of its passing.
It’s Okay to be Still — We’ve been raised to fill every part of our day with activities, especially in the sales game, because if we’re not moving, then we’re standing still (or backsliding), and that’s not acceptable. When we don’t have something concrete to accomplish, we’ll spend that time on our phones or other pursuits that kill time. There’s an increasing amount of research, however, pointing out that, to be creatively and emotionally stable, we need to be quiet at times and comfortable enough to be alone with our thoughts for a time. Being bored here and there, it seems, is key to renewing our efforts and coming up with new solutions. Use this time and be productive, but also take time to breathe. There are mediation apps and plenty of information available on the subject, but you don’t have to dive in that deeply. Don’t be afraid to spend some time with yourself and your thoughts; you just might surprise yourself.
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Car Biz Today, the official resource of the retail automotive industry.