Shop Life Columnists

Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Outbreak

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As you’re well aware of, the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak has forced businesses in every industry to adapt on the fly. And that’s on the top of my mind lately. 

Take a look at how the restaurant industry is adapting now that every American is concerned with “social distancing” and avoiding contracting the COVID-19 virus. The other day, for instance, I got takeout from a very popular pizza place up here in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. They have developed a pretty impressive, streamlined process for picking up your order now. You call in your order, they tell you what time to enter the parking lot, they tell you which table your meal is sitting at, and then every customer flows in and out of there in one direction. 

As body shop operators, we need to take note of this innovation and also adjust on the fly. We need to cater to customers in a different fashion in the weeks and months ahead. Because I disagree with people who say it’s going to be business as usual in no time as our country comes to grips with this COVID-19 outbreak. 

I think there could be a major impact felt by body shop owners in the foreseeable future. Think about it: the more potential customers you have that are unemployed, the more people you have working from home, the worse things could get for us as shop operators. 

If miles aren’t driven, accidents don’t happen. 

In our area, body shops were considered essential businesses, and we’re still working on cars that were wrecked late last winter. But we’re probably going to feel the effects of this virus outbreak in a month or so. With many Americans staying close to home and also tightening their purse strings, I fear you’re going to see body shops close down in the next year or so … and close down for good. You’re going to see a big impact. 

That’s why, at our facilities, we’re trying to streamline our processes to make customers as comfortable as possible. We closed our offices, and all our business is done in our parking lots right now. We use technology like Docu-sign, we use Podium, CCC, Body Shop Booster, we do photo estimates. Customers can text my entire staff, for example. 

Right now customers can email us, they can call us, but no customer or vendor can enter our facilities. 

I noticed some uneasiness from my staff as the Coronavirus crisis started dominating the headlines. So,we took the route, early on, of explaining our safety precautions and letting our employees know that we’re going to change the way we do business—and that we’ll continue doing that as long as I feel it’s necessary. 

And, honestly, these new processes are working flawlessly. 

Customers are very appreciative that we’re still fixing their cars. We’re still able to write estimates, and we’re able to use technology to make any necessary adjustments. 

I think shops that don’t get on that technology bandwagon and make adjustments might struggle in the months ahead. Because, yes, in theory, this Coronavirus outbreak could be over almost as fast as it arrived, but it could also go on for the next couple years. 

For the foreseeable future, body shop operators need to adapt and ease the concerns of both customers and employees. Fortunately, the technology available to make those adjustments is readily available—and I believe you have no choice but to use it. 

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