ENGLAND’S second lockdown may only be until the start of December – but dealerships’ plans to deal with showroom closures need to last much longer than this, according to RTC Automotive Solutions.
Automotive digitalisation specialist RTC has cautioned that, with no end in sight to coronavirus-related disruption, dealers need to embed stability into their business models for the long term rather than expect to get ‘back to normal’ on 2 December.
Though many dealers are finding ways to continue car sales through digital channels, RTC has urged them to give equal priority to aftersales – a source of revenue that remains consistent regardless of the level of restriction placed on businesses.
The extension of the furlough scheme until March 2021, and the confirmation that – as essential services – garages can remain open even when retail premises are forced to shut, have given dealerships the confidence to keep operating the aftersales side of the business. In addition, the news that MOT deadlines will not be suspended during the second lockdown will have come as a relief to many in the aftermarket.
Richard Robinson, Chief Operating Officer at RTC, highlighted the value of preparation when it comes to doing business in lockdown: “Dealers know what to expect this time around, having already adapted their premises and business models to meet one extreme stress-test. They know what to expect now in terms of reworking their diaries and increasing flexibility in opening hours and staffing levels.
“But what we’ve been advising our clients is that simply making adjustments for the duration of ‘lockdown two’ is not enough.
“It is easy to think that your regular aftersales business, combined with online car sales revenue and savings from furloughing staff, can tide you over for a month before normal service resumes. But this line of thinking assumes more certainty than we really have. The second lockdown may last longer than four weeks – and even when it ends, we are likely to return to a series of targeted local lockdowns, in which retail premises can still be made to close at short notice in areas of high COVID transmission.
“The unfortunate truth is that we face a continued period of uncertainty, in which it can feel difficult to make any plans for the future. Amid this, aftersales becomes even more valuable. It is just about the only constant you can rely on – so planning around it is a sensible move.”
Three steps to making aftersales work
RTC outlined the measures dealerships can take to maximise their service, repairs and MOT revenue for the foreseeable future.
Robinson said: “Before you do anything else, you need to update your customer records and ensure they are continually maintained. A side-effect of the previous MOT suspension was that many dealers’ renewal records became out-of-date; this is something to pay particular attention to now, since you don’t want to waste time contacting the wrong customers. At RTC we’ve been working closely with clients on this – not just advising but actively supporting by cross-referencing with DVSA data and correcting any errors.
“Once that is done, you can use your customer data to proactively contact drivers and encourage them to book in for an MOT or a scheduled service now – even if it is a month early, it will be more convenient for them, since they’re less likely to need their vehicles during lockdown. Then they have the reassurance of an appointment, and you have the reassurance of a confirmed pipeline of work.
“Those two steps should help drive immediate business and help mitigate any uncertainty over car sales revenue,” he continued. “For a longer-term solution, focus on building a seamless digital journey for customers, covering the showroom and the workshop. When it comes to aftersales, this could mean online booking, self check-in, digital customer reports, and remote key handover.
“These solutions can give customers the confidence and transparency they need in today’s economy. More than that, they encourage repeat business and advance bookings. The more of these you get, the more reliable your aftersales revenue becomes – giving you greater visibility of your future income and allowing you to make a meaningful plan for 2021 that can survive whatever level of restriction is imposed.”