Within days of the world starting to shut down operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, car dealerships found themselves in an exciting and challenging predicament. The entire act of buying a car is a high-touch operation. From the friendly handshakes between customer and salesperson to the test drive, and the passing back and forth of multiple documents, it’s hard to imagine purchasing a car in this new environment.
Car servicing is also a challenge. Those on the front-lines who still need to get to work can’t afford to be without their transportation. But how can one get their car repaired quickly without risk of infection from exposure to a service worker or during the pick-up process? And where does the customer wait if not in the usual waiting room, enjoying a cold bottle of water and popcorn during the wait?
Keeping car buying alive
Showroom sales have been the norm for car buying since the first car dealership opened in London in 1897. The idea of opening a showroom was a novel one and allowed customers the convenience of touching and feeling their new car before buying, and helped them avoid a long trip to a vehicle manufacturer to make the purchase.
Car dealership owners worked tirelessly to incorporate personal protection protocols (PPP) and vehicles’ sanitation before each service station visit. Employees have donned masks and gloves and will be seen with sanitation equipment to wipe down surfaces and tools after each use. These procedures, though they may seem extreme, have become the industry standard and are believed to be a proven method to help lessen the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19.
Leadership teams within the car dealership industry have strictly enforced these new procedures not only to stay safe but to help win over potential customers. Though traffic was lighter for many months as more people stayed home and didn’t venture out, people have adapted to their new normal over recent weeks and months. But there is yet another concern and challenge for car dealership owners that not all businesses face. This is the simple truth that customers have never enjoyed bringing their cars in for service. Now, with COVID-19 running rampant around the globe, this dislike for the process has done nothing but grow.
Customers won’t want to wait in a reception area. They won’t want to come back hours later, either (though by this point, most customers have adopted more patience than they ever had before). And customers won’t spend leisurely time walking up and down the aisles on the showroom floor, rubbing their hands over the hood or instrument panel of multiple cars as they did in the past.
Many dealerships have taken to the internet to make the pre-sales process easier for both customers and salesperson on the car sales side. Cars are now presented virtually on the internet using virtual car tour options, much like the virtual tours that customers can experience when looking at new home designs. Salespeople are offering video calls to discuss the vehicles’ features and work out details for the purchase. Though it’s not quite the same as being in person, both customers and salesperson appreciate the opportunity to chat face-to-face, yet behind the computer screen’s protection.
Personalized car sales and service for the win
Though the above strategies may seem easy, consider first that though many consumers have turned to online shopping over the years, car buying has been an outlier. Customers want that in-person interaction and want the ability to chat in person or face to face with their seller. But it is a time for a change. Coronavirus has challenged the way the world operates. Though many of these changes were initially viewed as negative, it seems that customer expectations and preferences are changing. This creates a new yet positive challenge for businesses of all kinds, car dealerships included.
Car salespeople are now in a position where they need to engage customers proactively. They also need to think creatively on how to make the car buying experience a positive one.
Car dealerships and service stations need to change – or go away.
With the car selling process largely figured out through virtual car tours and online conversations, the remaining challenge has been on the servicing side. Depending on the vehicle’s age, most cars today need an oil change every 3,000 to 7,500 miles. And tires need to be replaced every six years, and sometimes more frequently based on mileage and wear and tear. This means that services are going to have a steady stream of traffic.
During the first few months of the pandemic, less cars were on the road. This lessened the number of miles being piled on cars, meaning less service appointments needed.
But now, many people are back to work, meaning those miles are again accruing. Further, many people are getting back in the habit of vacationing, but are opting for road trips instead of flying. This, too tacks on the miles, and even more so, means customers want their cars checked over for maintenance needs and safety before heading out on their way.
Many customers are in a place where it is time to trade in their car towards their new vehicle. Customers with older cars want an easy way to sell their old junk cars to purchase new cars (or used cars with less miles and wear and tear).
Service stations and car dealerships have responded with safe yet personalized solutions to keep customers safe during the trade-in process and while cars are being repaired or undergoing maintenance. In many cases, customers can wait in their cars with windows down and masks on. In other cases, mechanics are on video calls with customers to troubleshoot problems before having customers come into the dealership.
Coronavirus has challenged the world in many ways. But perhaps one of the benefits this pandemic has brought is centered on the need to challenge traditional ways of thinking. By being creative and thinking out-of-the-box, car dealerships, service stations, and businesses of all kinds have embraced a new normal, all designed to take care of the customer.