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Pandemic Playbook

Follow these three steps for maximizing resources and providing top-notch service during COVID-19.

As I write this, we’re approaching two months of our lives being upended by COVID-19. Between stay-at-home orders, skyrocketing unemployment and economic panic, it’s been an incredibly difficult two months for shop owners, who have seen a dramatic change to their car counts, their sales and – in many cases – their entire way of life.

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This crisis has forced shop owners to make some critical and incredibly difficult decisions about every dollar. We’re forced to maximize every resource at our disposal, from the employees fixing the vehicles and advising the customers, to the marketing dollars we spend. Getting the biggest return on our marketing dollars is always critical, but it’s absolutely dire when customer visits are at a premium.

So right now – and during any period of uncertainty or crisis – we should be intensely focused on increasing customer trust and loyalty; providing immaculate service; and, most importantly, communicating clearly with the right tone and message.

Step 1: Marketing

It’s imperative you don’t stop marketing right now. While it’s natural in a crisis to cut back on spending, shutting down communication to your customers in times like these is the worst step you can take. You can’t save money by cutting your marketing budget during a crisis!

Here’s the thing: Your competitors are cutting back on their marketing spend, which is which recessions and times of crisis are exactly the right time for you to put your foot on the gas. According to Forbes, “The ‘noise level’ in a brand’s product category can drop when competitors cut back on their ad spend,” meaning you get a better ROI from your advertising dollars by marketing when your competition is cutting back.

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Money isn’t the sole factor either. Yes, keeping the customer pipeline flowing to your shop is critical, but there’s a bigger picture. Right now, your customers need to feel confidence and trust and hope. They need to know there are businesses out there working hard to keep them safe, to keep their community running, to keep first responders and hospital workers and essential services safely on the road.

This goes hand-in-hand with what Harvard Business School says about communicating during times like this: “When economic hard times loom, we tend to retreat to our village … greeting card sales, telephone use and discretionary spending on home furnishings and home entertainment will hold up well, as uncertainty prompts us to stay at home but also stay connected with family and friends.”

In other words, your customers want you to communicate with them right now. They need hope, and they’re hungry for somebody to give them a reason to be hopeful.

This is why tone and message are so vital, however.

At the beginning of a crisis, nobody wants to talk about life after the crisis, or think past the moment they’re in. Being able to walk that line, and convey hope without minimizing loss, isn’t a task easily accomplished. It’s always a good idea to use a marketing agency to create professional, orchestrated communication, but this is especially true when trying to walk the fine line between hope and overconfidence.

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Of course, attracting customers is only part of the picture. Once we’ve brought them into the shop, or we have them on the phone, it’s critical that we do everything to win their trust and turn them into lifelong customers.

Step 2: Policies and Procedures

A significant step toward building that trust is to have policies and procedures for every phase of check-in, inspection, write-up, estimate, advising, checkout and follow-up. When your team has perfect processes, and they’re held accountable for following them, they can operate near perfection even in times of crisis.

Even if you’re short-staffed – even if the team is filled with stress and panic and doubt – following the process should be automatic so you can provide top-notch customer service with every customer and every vehicle.

According to a recent Multiview article, “Your reputation … precedes you, so you can’t just stop providing value your customers have come to expect.” In order to provide truly superior customer service, you have to make sure you have the policies and procedures in place to ensure your team is caring for every customer, every visit, no matter the situation.

The first goal for establishing any policy or procedure is to make sure the entire team is aware of it and trained on how to follow it.

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This starts with educating your entire team on their responsibilities. Now, when your staff understands the gravity of following procedures and the criticality of caring for every customer, is when you should be implementing the policies that will make you successful long after this crisis has faded away. Your team is ready to buy in; they just need you to set the policy for how they’ll handle every phase of the repair order.

When you’re implementing policies and procedures, you must train the entire team at the same time. If you try to train pockets, or single employees, you’ll be stuck repeatedly correcting the team to follow a policy they didn’t know they were supposed to follow. This creates chaos, and it creates inconsistency – two things we need to eliminate in order to provide excellent customer service.

The added benefit of creating policies like this is that it creates accountability and builds culture. When the whole shop knows that they’re responsible for car count – by following the processes that cause customers to become trusting, loyal, lifelong members of your family – they will hold each other accountable to following the process, every time.

Step 3: Community

One more thing I recommend for creating a culture that provides top-notch customer service during a crisis is to find ways for your shop to provide direct help to your community. According to Multiview, “Now is not the time to change who your company is or forget your mission, but rather, it may be time to change the way you reach that mission.” In other words, use this crisis as an opportunity to work with your team to help your community.

In this COVID-19 crisis, hospital workers are on the front lines. They’re driving to work every day and putting themselves in harm’s way to care for others. My shop is just blocks away from a hospital, putting us in a unique position to offer direct help to doctors and nurses. By offering special discounts to these neighbors, and services like vehicle sanitization that they can’t get at other shops, we don’t just help critical members of our community. We also create a culture that prioritizes helping others. We make it our mission to care for others, not solely to fix vehicles. And that culture and attitude aren’t just critical now, during this crisis; they’re key to providing superior customer service every day of every year.

COVID-19 will burn out, and shops will return to normal. But you can survive this crisis and be on the path to long-term success by growing trust with your customers now, and by ensuring your team has the policies and processes needed to provide excellent, top-notch customer service, no matter the situation. You can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever and prepared to grow!

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