As states loosen stay-at-home restrictions and the country slowly reopens, customers are beginning to return to the service lane. It has been a long and painful journey, one that has taken its toll on fixed operations.
But before we talk about where we are now, let's reflect on where we've come from and what's happened along the way.
Despite service departments being deemed essential by state government orders and therefore open, fixed ops business dropped precipitously in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, thousands of service advisers, technicians, parts runners and other employees lost their jobs.
Those still working likely took on additional roles, ones they probably weren't trained to perform. And chances are workers on the service drive will need to do their own job as well as someone else's for weeks to come until enough profit returns to allow workers to be rehired.
On top of all that has been the stress of having to interact with customers in the middle of a pandemic, of having to keep people 6 feet apart while also safeguarding their own health.
Given these circumstances, it would be understandable if an employee snapped at a customer or was less than courteous. Lee Harkins, CEO of the fixed ops consulting company M5 Management Services, experienced something similar while shopping at a national warehouse retailer.
Harkins' mind immediately went to the service lane.
He thought: I bet they're doing this at dealerships, too.
Consequently, when talking with service managers and fixed ops directors, he's been reminding them to get back to the basics of customer service. To remember, now more than ever, that the customer comes first.
His advice stems from what he witnessed at that warehouse outlet. "They've forgotten about taking care of the customer and how it appears," Harkins says.
He says people are scared right now — customers and service employees alike — "and they don't know what to do." Because of this, service departments have to show customers they are trying to take care of them, Harkins says.
All of these efforts go toward reassuring customers that it is safe to return to the service drive. Without this, it will take longer for service business to recover and for staffing to be full again.
And it won't happen unless customers feel comfortable handing over their vehicles — and service department employees get their priorities straight.
"If you're my customer, I have to adapt to your world," he says. "I have to give you what you want, not what I want to give you. And I think that's the big difference."
This is not some novel approach to customer service. In Harkins' blunt words, "It's the same [expletive] we've been talking about for years."
"You can have the lowest price, but if you treat people like crap, they're not going to come back," he says. "People want to do business with people they like."
That's the message Harkins has been handing out as service departments continue on the road to recovery.
"When it's all said and done, it's all about common courtesy," Harkins says. "Just be nice."