A different environment requires a different approach to business.
When the full brunt of the COVID-19 hit home in March, it changed our industry and our businesses overnight. There is no doubt that many of us who ran busy shops prior to the pandemic felt that there were times where we were guilty of working in our business and not on it.
When the lockdowns came, for us at least, a serious rethink of how we did things was necessary.
Although like many collision centres in Ontario we were declared an essential business, the dealerships that we worked with had to close their showrooms which meant fewer cars were being sold and with stay at home orders mandated there were drastically fewer vehicles on the road, which meant less work for many collision shops.
In addition, many shops not only had to review their processes but also their financials and staff situation. In our case, because less work was coming in, we had to cut back our staff.
We wanted to make sure we accommodated everybody as much as we could offering people leave if they weren’t comfortable working amid the pandemic and paired back full-time staff until we were sure of how much work was coming in and how much was predicted in the near future.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes witnessed with the onset of lockdown and COVID-19 safety protocols was the relationship we had with our customers.
Prior to the pandemic, we were booking vehicles in two or more weeks in advance, but with COVID-19 many customers weren’t comfortable bringing their cars to the shop or liked the idea of other people driving their vehicle. To help identify the key issues we talked to them and asked them about their specific concerns.
From that, we were able to put a game plan together, which included valet services, pre and post sanitization of each vehicle as well as perform appraisals with the customers remaining in their vehicle outside the shop and where permitted– minor tear downs in a designated area in our parking lot.
We also offered complimentary full vehicle details to our customers and guaranteed an appraisal turnaround of a day and a half.
Dealing with deductibles
Additionally, as time went on and more and more people were furloughed or laid off, paying deductibles became an increasing challenge for many of them. To get around the issue, we implemented a pay as you go initiative, allowing them to make monthly payments instead of collecting the entire deductible upfront.
The thing is, for as, as with many other shops, going through this pandemic was completely new and unknown, yet what we found was that by communicating consistently with our customers and asking them what their biggest concerns were—we could put a plan together and move forward.
Additionally, because many shops like ours rely extensively on training to keep our technicians and staff proficient our OEM partners worked with us to implement effective online training.
The benefit was because we saved on considerable travel expenses and downtime, we could keep our existing employees at full pay instead of reducing hours or salaries and in turn, we consistently and frequently asked our customers to share their concerns to help reassure them and in turn, earn as much business as we could.
There’s no question that things are likely to remain challenging for the foreseeable future and while the economy will grow again, we as an industry need to take this time to reassess our businesses, look for opportunities and make the investments in facilities, training and staff now so that when the economy does come back we will be there, stronger than ever.