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COVID protocols have helped convince customers that car dealers really care

Professor Jim Saker

In his latest 'Viewpoint' opinion article for AM, Professor Jim Saker reflects on the positive impact that COVID-19 safety measures have had on customer experience in car retail.

Read on to find out why he feels it has been important to make showroom customers know that the sector cares.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it is that people and businesses that are prepared to evolve and change will survive.

Having been a judge on the AM Awards for several years I have always been impressed with the resilience that the sector has shown in responding to challenges.

A number of companies have continued to prosper, reflected in their refunding of furlough money received from the Government.

Different ways of working have been tried, the drive to do more online has been achieved by most, and customers seem to feel safe to come back into the showrooms and aftersales service areas.

Having visited a range of dealerships over the past month, and having spoken to several customers, the impression that I am getting is that the pandemic has actually improved the perceived level of customer service that is being delivered.

I am not saying that the level of service was that poor before, but in a bizarre way the COVID safety protocols that have been put in place appear to have shifted the focus more onto the customer.

With the pandemic there was a need to rethink the process and how customers would feel coming back into showrooms. The safety measures needed for COVID required staff to concentrate on how customers were treated and how they interacted with them.

I know that the processes that were put in place were to protect both staff and customers, but the overall impression was that the staff were genuinely caring and attentive to what was happening.

It may sound stupid but having someone clean your car keys before handing them back to you gives the impression that they are taking care of both you and your property. Prior to the pandemic I never noticed such care taken with my keys.

The fact that after a service I was assured that the car had been sanitised and wiped down (the steering wheel was still slightly sticky) again gave reassurance that a level of care had been undertaken.

Now I still don’t know whether the quality of the actual car service was any good, but throughout the process the focus appeared to be on me.

Having spoken to customers from other dealerships the consensus was that the dealerships were trying hard to ensure that customers were safe and as a result felt that the overall service quality had improved from before the pandemic.

It has always been acknowledged that customer service quality is difficult to measure but it is slightly bizarre that a liberal application of hand sanitiser can have such an impact on how customers rate their car service. If only we knew this before.

Author: Prof Jim Saker is director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University’s Business School and an AM Awards judge. He has been involved in the automotive industry for more than 20 years.

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