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Saker: Put the relationship before the process

Jim Saker

I was writing this article as our industry started to make its first steps in getting restarted after the COVID-19 lock down.

There are still many unknowns, but it has to be recognised that the industry has just gone through the biggest peace time disturbance in the last hundred years.

The scale of the disruption has been global and this presents challenges in both finance & logistics but also in the protection of the health of everyone involved. Manufacturers have introduced new standards of working in the factories and our own sector is exploring ways in which it can operate safely giving confidence to both customers and employees.

The one thing of which I am certain is that if our organisations can come through the financial challenges then we have the wit and wisdom to come up with a way of doing business both safely and effectively.

Whatever we thought was the way to do business before COVID-19 the initial indications show that there is both a need and opportunity to change.

It’s very easy for me to sit here making bold predictions about change but it is in the granular detail of the operations that most of this will be worked out. Selling cars online or through a click and collect process is already in place. Contactless drop offs and collection for servicing has been pioneered in France since last year.

In reality most of the basic functions that a car retailer does can be conducted remotely or with limited contact. There could be certain challenges such as how to conduct test drives but eventually these will be resolved.

To me the biggest threat comes in a different form. Historically successful car retailing has been based on building relationships with customers both in the sales process and after sales.

The concept of being customer centric has been a mantra for many years.

The fear is that COVID-19 will drive us to be ‘process centric’ and in so doing change the relationship we have with customers. Once this happens the gates are open for the likes of Amazon with their process driven efficiency to step in and start to eat into the market.

Whatever changes are introduced they should not detract from our ability to build relationship with customers, a relationship which adds value in their eyes and means that they want to do business with us.

It has been interesting to watch how other organisations have responded to the challenge of maintaining relationship while operating online.

Churches who traditionally ‘meet’ on a Sunday and are not known for radical change have discovered the potential of being online. Perhaps one of the most interesting impacts of this new attitude was when 65 of them joined together and launched ‘The Blessing UK’ which went viral and had 2.6mill views globally during 10 days in May.

If we can embrace the changes in a similar way and use them to maintain and build relationships then maybe we can turn COVID-19 from being a curse into  quite literally a blessing.

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