I have been receiving numerous phone calls, emails, and text messages from service centers asking what I believe the “New Normal” will be. To address this properly, I am writing a two-part article. In Part I, I will present a snapshot of the immediate future. In Part II, I will address a long-term outlook and how you will be able to maximize the opportunities that thousands will face each day as they report back to work and to a full re-opening of their service centers.

First and foremost, do not to get caught up in the hysteria of believing that your business is going to need to change drastically to survive.

As you plan for your new normal way of doing business, keep this in mind – no one is excited about the new normal. I have not witnessed anyone saying, “I can’t wait to get out of this lockdown and for businesses to get back to 100%, so that things can settle into the new normal. What I have heard people say is that they are anxious for things to get back to normal.

Let’s take a look at the top six ideas that are being thrown around about the new normal. As you read them, ask yourself if they are necessary, practical, possible, wanted, or needed:

·     Vehicle Pick-up and or Delivery: This is an idea that is not new, and many have offered it over the years. It may or may not be a good one for you. The pros are that customers can get their vehicles serviced and/or repaired and never have to leave their home or office. The main con is in the limited number of vehicles that can be picked-up and delivered in a day. Who is going to assume this task? How many people will this require? Can you get these employees trained to a level that professionally represents your business, since these individuals will have to interface with customers?   Do you calculate a daily cap of the number of customers this service is offered to? I am on the fence about offering this type of service. I might offer it coming out of the pandemic, but I would definitely baby-step into it to determine if it is something that truly increases your profits and grows your business. I would also take a hard look at charging extra for this service. At this writing, we are being told that service centers who began offering this service in response to the virus, found that only five to eight percent of their customers took advantage of it. I do not believe that number will change when the quarantine is fully lifted.

·     Dispatching Technicians to Customer’s Home or Business: This idea is also not new and has been attempted by more than a few. The pro is that you can truly offer full service to your customers. They don’t have to leave where they are, and they don’t have to surrender their vehicle.  It is great for marketing. The cons, however, are numerous. How many techs can you dispatch in a day? What level of work can they preform? Will a tech be happy spending one-third to one-half-a-day driving and not turning hours? Will they be willing to work outside in the elements, lying on their backs on the ground under a vehicle, versus working in a temperature-controlled shop with a lift? What happens when they need a part that they do not have with them? For this to be successful and profitable, it will need to be set up as an entirely separate department, with its own managers and technicians. The techs will need to be trained in the art of selling and customer service. When you offer this service to your customers, you will need to be crystal clear about what you can and cannot do in their driveway, time frames, and the extra fees that might be charged. This is one of those ideas that sounds great in theory, but is very hard to put into practice, as very few ever have successfully.

·     Waiting Rooms: Many are asking if the waiting room has seen its final days. No. At the very most, you may have to reconfigure your waiting areas in order to distance people. This may require investing in some new furniture, but completely eliminating your waiting room would be to foolishly overreact. Over the years, I have visited places where dealerships have tried to eliminate waiting rooms and each time it has resulted in a significant drop in survey scores and a loss of business.

·     Partitions: Partitions are something that you should have had in place prior to the virus. Frequently, advisors need to discuss money, payments, and plans for a customer’s vehicle. Privacy is always a good idea, especially if there is not a separate office or designated space for an advisor to speak with a customer. If you did not have partitions prior to the virus and you have not yet installed them, do so immediately. They provide great value to the workplace.

·     Greeters and Porters: You should absolutely employ people in these positions when and where your payroll permits. Outside of providing a bit more distance between customers and employees, these two positions play the important role of keeping things moving and organized. In addition, their presence allows your advisors to focus more attention on your customers. Just as a receptionist frees up vehicle salespeople to be and stay in front of customers without the interruption of having to answer phones, a greeter and a porter will do the same for your advisors and managers.

·     Uber/Lyft, Shuttle Buses, Loaner and Rental Cars: Is this a time when you can eliminate your shuttle bus and replace it with Uber/Lyft? Should you discontinue your loaner service? Should you have customers rent vehicles? These are not easy questions to answer. Let’s take them one at a time. First, Uber/Lyft versus a shuttle bus will depend on how many customers ride your shuttle bus. We have found using Uber and Lyft redirects the responsibility for passenger safety away from you. It also has the potential to remove the heat from the scheduling aspect of this service. Since most customers have used Uber/Lyft, they understand the time it takes for a driver to get to them and they have control over that – not you. The “when will your driver get here” question disappears immediately, which helps in the survey area. Customers like this option because the ride is all about them. It’s not about a bus load of people needing to be dropped-off at various locations requiring the customer to endure a longer transport time. This could be the best time to make a switch. Second, loaner car versus rental cars can be summed-up pretty quickly. If you partner with the right rental car company and can set- up a spot on your lot for them to have a few of their vehicles ready to go, do it. You will never have enough loaner cars. Partnering with the right rental car company will ensure that you never run out of vehicles, or at the very least, you will have more vehicles to offer than you ever did before. Bottom line, it takes less skill on the advisor’s part and less management effort when you use rental cars versus maintaining a loaner car fleet. It also saves and protects your resources.

Clearly, there are many other areas to be discussed regarding the new normal. The most important thing for you to understand is that you should not overreact or over think our current predicament. The situation is fluid and changing daily. No one is excited about the new normal, but we are excited about the day when things return to normal.  The sooner you can make that happen, the better you will be in the long run.

You don’t need to look any further than to one of the giants in our industry for guidance in how to prepare for the future. Roger Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the Hulman family, who owned it since 1945. Mr. Penske knows that what makes the Indy 500 the biggest single day sporting event in the world every year, is not only the race itself, but all of its rich traditions and the three-week lead-up to the actual race. The race did not take place this past May, as it had 103 times prior. It has been postponed until August – with one major stipulation demanded by Mr. Penske. It is to be run with fans present and every last tradition taking place or no race. On top of that, if the race cannot take place under these conditions, all tickets will be honored in 2021. As of March 2020, 175,000 seats have been sold. Ticket sales ceased in March because of the virus. That is a ton of cash to float.

Why would Mr. Penske do that? Being the wise man that he is, he knows that when people go to the Indy 500, they want to see it all. They want what is normal for that event, not a reasonable facsimile. It will be the same for your business. As your customers return and pay their money, they will want as close to normal as possible. They may currently abide by some new rules that have changed your service in the name of safety, but when the virus passes and it will, they will want normal. In the end, I think the changes that will need to take place for your business will alter what you were doing before the virus by five percent, give or take.

I will be back in about a week with Part II of this article where we will discuss what your business should or could look like after the quarantine is lifted and things get back to normal. Until then, don’t overreact. Keep calm and carry on.