Is Your Shop Ready? by Rob Ingram

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Rob Ingram. PHOTO Rob Ingram

As the economy starts to open up, is your shop prepared for it?

Most of us, at least here in Canada, have been enduring the COVID-19 pandemic for well over a year now.

There’s no question that for many shops while being deemed essential services early on, the business has been anything but usual.

In a lot of cases, we’ve found ourselves having to manage staff flow, determining which technicians should be working at the shop and on which days, as well as contending with times where we have adequate work and times when we don’t.

Delayed maintenance

Two things we have seen during the pandemic is that many customers have delayed maintenance work on their vehicle, especially if they are working from home, and second a huge increase in remote payment of services, such as e-transfers.

In our particular shop, we’ve seen more e-transfer payments from customers in the last year than we’ve seen since we first implemented them.

Prior to the pandemic, customers would often come in for a visit, they would chat with the service advisor or technician and crave that face-to-face contact before they settled the bill, often over the counter via credit card.

Today, we simply can’t do that but with the economy starting to open up, it is only a matter of time before the situation changes again.

There’s no question that some people will want to come back into your store again and can’t wait for the opportunity, while others may still want to conduct transactions remotely and remain hesitant about wanting to meet face-to-face.

Being adaptable

As an industry, that’s something we need to be aware of and must focus on right now, so we can adapt and be ready for whatever comes.

History has shown that the automotive aftermarket is extremely adaptable and using vehicle analogy, the physical versus remote contact approach reminds of the mid-1980s when cars were switching from carburetors to fuel injection.

Back then, we needed technicians who may not have known much about fuel injection, but they could certainly fix carburetors, and for the newer fuel-injected cars that came in, we needed techs that understood and could work on fuel injection.

Although we are talking about cars, I believe the same is true when it comes to working with our customers.

Today we have service advisors who work around the mindset of social distancing, while as we edge out of the pandemic and lockdown measures, we will also require those who are comfortable with and understand face-to-face contact with clients.

The question you have to ask yourself as you prepare for the economy to open and business to pick up again, is can you pick up on cues from your customers?

Can you identify those that want to be served in a remote fashion and those that want that one-on-one contact?

Then you have to ask yourself, what systems and procedures do you have in place to be able to work successfully with different customers and their varying needs and requirements?

You never want to be in a position where somebody leaves the shop because they felt the service advisor or the owner was too hands-on–conversely, you also don’t want to be so focused on remote service that customers who want personal interaction get frustrated and go somewhere else.

Controlling our options

Although we can’t control the behaviour, feelings and actions of our customers, what we can control is the ability to present options to them that fit their requirements.

Having a software system where you can manage each client’s information; where you can inform and educate them about what needs to be done to their vehicle, where you can effectively communicate via text and where you can provide different ways of interaction that best suits them is critical to ensure your shop doesn’t miss any opportunities or work that come along.

Rob Ingram owns and operates Eldon Ingram NAPA Auto Pro in Stratford, Ont. You can reach him at [email protected]

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