BY BRIAN BYRNE
WELL, the car showrooms are back open rather sooner than was expected. Good for the hard-hit motor trade as well as for those who were delayed in getting a planned new car. But the customer experience in dealerships is going to be a completely different one than before.
In some respects, it’s easier for the motor business to manage Covid issues like the requirements for social distancing, with relatively large showroom spaces for generally occasional customers. But there’s traditionally a lot of close interaction with various members of staff and those same customers, whether browsing or as part of the buyer process. Reception, sales and service staff not only need to converse with the customer, they are also taking or handing over a product which by its very nature has a lot of direct touch contact at both ends of the physical divide. The car showroom you are entering these days has the now familiar yellow Covid social distancing markings, hand sanitising stations and plexiglass shields at counters.
Some dealerships are using remote temperature sensing units that pick up on individuals’ body temperature when they come in.
Sitting into a car on spec is not being encouraged. When it is allowed, disposable covers on the seats, gearshifts and steering wheels are in place. Staff are on hand to change these, and disinfect key touch points on the vehicles whenever someone has been in contact with them.
There is now much less direct contact between the business’s staff themselves, with local video-conferencing via smartphones replacing getting together for discussions.
Video brochures and
For the customers, pre-appointments are encouraged. Much of the pre-buying process from here on will be remote, with sales staff video-conversing with customers. Volkswagen Ireland dealers, for instance, will send out a customised video brochure after discussion with an enquirer’s needs. Volvo Ireland is implementing a Live Chat feature on its website to enable enhanced pre-buying discussion by remote.
Toyota has established new ‘virtual showroom’ tools, which include a range of virtual sales and browsing resources, and video interaction with Toyota product experts.
Apps have been developed for the finance side, through which a customer can provide the details and receive individual quotes for purchase or lease.
Service and repairs
Behind the scenes, there are changes too. In general, service bays do lend themselves to physical distancing. But varying levels of personal protection equipment are now going to be a standard matter, depending on what level of cross-contamination risk there is in the various technical services.
Cars left for service will now also be getting much more than the familiar basic valeting. Operatives in full PPE will be undertaking deep cleaning of a car before it is given to the customer, with particular attention to an extensive list of key touch points.
Many dealerships, including Opel, Peugeot, SEAT and Skoda, will offer cleaning ozone systems which will destroy any germs and bacteria which may lurk inside the car.
Pick-up and delivery of new or serviced cars will also be a feature option of many dealerships, in a bid to maintain low infection risks.
Test drives and rentals
Customer test drives of new and used cars will be unaccompanied, as flagged earlier this month by Renault Ireland. With cars sanitised on delivery and when left back.
The car rental industry is following similar procedures. Enterprise, for instance, has a Complete Clean Pledge applying to all its vehicles, disinfecting 20 key areas in its cars as well as overall cleaning.
All in all, it’s a brave new world of car sales. And like all other area of business, will have to continue to adapt in order to stay in business. Only one thing is certain ... that for the rest of this year it is certainly going to be a buyer’s market in an industry which, almost literally, was driven off a cliff in the last two months.