Running a Shop Operations

The New Normal is Already Here

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It’s hard to forget the day we shut down because of COVID-19—that same day I closed the purchase on a new shop.

It was a Friday in late March and that day the mayor announced that come Monday, pandemic procedures would be put in place in Anchorage. We haven’t had customers inside any of our shops since. The experience of buying a shop right as the pandemic hit is a story for another column.

Now that it’s nearly November here and winter is knocking—we’ve already had 30-degree days—it’ll be time to let some customers inside our shops. As the cold and snow comes on, they’ll no longer be able to call us to let us know that they’re outside, or use the check-in kiosks that have been in our parking lots since spring. Others, those comfortable staying outside in the cold, well, we’ll be fine with that, since we’re already used to it.

We stayed closed through spring, summer and fall to take care of our employees, some of them high risk, and we’ll continue to do so once winter forces some customers inside. That’ll definitely mean masks for everyone and plexi-glass dividers and social distancing and maybe a new air purification system. We’ll see what we end up with.

While I’ve got a good idea of what the new normal is for customers, we already know what the new normal is for the insurance companies. We don’t anticipate seeing adjusters anymore—I’d estimate local insurance representation is down 95 percent, and I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen anyone. One insurance company, when the pandemic hit, said they’d do a daily conference call with us to go over cars—my nerves were so high. I said we’d do a weekly call, max. Now everything is on the computer, sending photos, etc. You know the drill.

Actually, I’ve seen at least one adjuster. He asked if he could park his company car at one of my shops, saying he’s sick of seeing it in his driveway, he never uses it. And it’s not just the insurance companies. I recently saw my banker, though I barely recognized him without his suit, he came by in his golf clothes. He said he only has to wear the suit when he’s at the office, and he doesn’t know when he’s going back in. He anticipates he’ll work from home forever.

As the busy season in Alaska comes on—December—I know we’re going to fix cars the same way we always fixed cars, but the way that we deal with customers, who are now living in their new normal, I don’t think it’s ever going to go back to what it was.

Tech tools were already advancing, then the pandemic lit a fire under them. I was recently talking to CCC, and they basically said when all this hit it made online everything top priority, and now we’re seeing it.

My customers can now book estimates and repairs strictly online, and it’s seamlessly integrated with our calendar. Texting updates is old news—there’s even less talking to customers now. That’s the new normal, and it’s here—we don’t have to wait for it any longer.

The way we’d already adjusted made it easier to deal with a secondary shutdown up here ordered this summer. And so as winter comes on and complicates some of what we’ve been doing, keep up the good work of working hard, and keep your customers and employees safe. Maybe this normal isn't so new after all.

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