As the country opens up and starts a new normal way of life, collision repairers need a plan to re-engage with their employees, insurance partners, customers and communities. Although deemed an “essential business,” our industry is still facing decreased car counts, new operations practices and an overall change in how we do business.
You can look at the past few months in a negative light, or take them as a positive learning opportunity to reshape and rebuild your business for the future.
At my three CARSTAR locations in Sidney, Troy and Piqua, Ohio, we’ve definitely faced our own difficulties through the pandemic. However, we’ve faced adversity before and learned a great deal about maintaining morale, keeping relationships strong and learning from the experience.
So, I’ve chosen the positive path and mapped out a plan for moving forward.
Getting Employees Back to Work
Finding and retaining technicians and team members is always a priority in our business. Many collision repair facilities furloughed employees and now need to rehire them to meet strict PPP guidelines. Some employees were laid off, and after finding the unemployment payment was bigger than their previous paycheck, they now need new motivation to return. Getting everyone back to work requires a structured plan to rebuild your operational performance and company culture. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Update team roles and responsibilities. This is a perfect opportunity to evaluate team members and roles in your facility. With new vehicle intake, cleaning and delivery processes, you need a new staffing plan with people who are trained in sanitization procedures handling these duties. It is also a good time to add or train someone with a technology background who can lead pre-and post-repair scanning and other IT needs. Finally, it is critical to sit down with each employee and map a career path for them and how they can achieve it.
- Set new standards. It’s a new world, and the standards for how we do things have changed. It’s smart to update your facility’s standards and business practices, while also eliminating old, inefficient processes. Clearly communicate to your team members the expectations for dress code, customer service processes, vendor interaction and job performance. Creating new signage throughout your facility can help reinforce this on a daily basis.
- Create a culture of teamwork. As many people have been isolated at home for several months, getting them engaged in a cooperative work environment requires some special attention. Holding a kickoff event (following your state’s rules) for employees to celebrate the return to work can create excitement and enthusiasm. Keep that momentum going with weekly employee recognition moments and events such as morning donuts or lunch. Create a suggestion board or box in the breakroom where employees can share their ideas on operating in the “new normal,” and reward the good ideas. You can also create committees on things like shop cleanliness, customer service, marketing and community involvement to encourage teamwork.
Reassure Your Insurers
Insurers are working hard with their customers to retain their business, and their business practices have changed too. Here are several ways you can ensure they continue to rely on your repair services:
- Sell your safe practices. One area where you can help insurers is by educating them on the new practices and processes you’re implementing to deliver a safe, clean environment. Create a flyer that outlines your policies that they can share with their customers. You should also post these practices on your front door and website.
- Embrace technology. Another area where you can strengthen your relationship with your insurance partners is by embracing online estimating and other virtual practices. Talk with your carrier contact about their technology plans and how you can train your team members to deliver them. If you’re part of a network like CARSTAR, work with the network’s insurance relations team to implement the new standards. The virtual model is here to stay, and the more prepared you are for it, the more successful you will be.
Connect with the Community
Your reputation in the community is one of your most valuable assets, and the support for local businesses has never been stronger. Connecting with the community in a positive, philanthropic way such as one of the following helps reinforce your reputation as a strong member of your local market:
- Recognize those who serve. Medical professionals, first responders and law enforcement are working extra hours on the frontlines. There are many opportunities to offer them assistance, from free vehicle cleaning and sanitization, discounts on some repairs and free vehicle refurbishment for deserving residents.
- Help those in need. In many communities, people are still struggling after being out of work. You can hold food drives with a community food bank, host book drives for students studying at home or collect gift cards to provide for those in need.
- Leverage national charitable partnerships. If you’re involved with the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) or the National Auto Body Council (NABC), explore the local programs they offer to help you serve your community. Teaching an online training class for the local technical school through CREF is a great way to share your experience and expertise and recruit future employees. Or, you can host training events for first responders or donate a refurbished vehicle through NABC.
Communicate with Your Customers
Your past customers are your best source of future business. Proactively communicating with them, even if it has been several years since they had a vehicle repaired, is an effective and efficient marketing tool. Remember, most people have an accident once every seven years, so you want to be their first choice when they need a repair. Here are a few tips for customer outreach:
- Offer additional services for valued customers. Knowing that many people’s vehicles have been parked for several months, it’s an ideal time to offer customers a free vehicle safety check to get them back in the door. Or, you can offer longer payment terms on deductibles or self-pay repairs or a free service like paintless dent repair or headlight restoration with any repair.
- Share your new services. Many of the new safe repair practices are also more convenient for your customers. Now is the time to compile or update your customer database from the past five years and reach out to them. Email them with the details on your new safe business practices and welcome them back to service their repair needs. Emphasize any new offerings they may find convenient, like online estimates, vehicle pickup/delivery and no-touch customer service.
The past few months have certainly been a challenge for everyone in this industry, and we still face hurdles as we rebuild in the months ahead. However, this has been a learning opportunity for everyone on how we can do things more safely and efficiently in the future. Looking at the positive outcomes rather than the negatives can help you regain control and create your own path back to prosperity.
Tom Martin is the owner of three CARSTAR locations in Ohio – CARSTAR Sidney, CARSTAR Troy and CARSTAR Piqua. He started working in a collision repair shop at 15, then went on to purchase the business. He joined CARSTAR in 2003 with his first location. He opened his second CARSTAR location in 2014 and a third in 2019. He has long been a champion of advanced technology and also training for his team. He also donates his time to a variety of volunteer organizations, veterans in need, the homeless and youth sports. He can be reached at [email protected].