DETROIT — While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed business at auto dealerships nationwide, it also has given their service departments time to thoughtfully and intentionally lay groundwork for better long-term productivity, customer retention and financial results.
Some fixed ops departments used the downtime in late winter and early spring to improve service-lane processes or develop new "touchless" protocols. Others drilled deeper into existing technology to boost efficiency and revenue, reevaluated employment levels and made tough staffing decisions.
"COVID made us do a lot of things to become more efficient in many areas — things that we should've been doing anyway but never had time to because you get caught up in the day-to-day operations," David Blackburn, service director at Scott Clark Toyota and Scott Clark Nissan, said.
The two dealerships are among three owned by Scott Clark Auto Group in and around Charlotte, N.C.
Mr. Blackburn said the pandemic-related downtime in April and May gave him time to evaluate staffing levels. As a result, the fixed ops staff at the Toyota store was reduced from 112 people to 93 — a 17% decrease. Most of those let go were service advisers and lube techs. Smaller staff cuts were made at the other two dealerships.
In June, the Toyota service department generated $30,000 more in gross revenue than the same period last year, he said.
"We're a leaner staff, but we're also more efficient," Mr. Blackburn said.
The business slowdown also gave the two dealerships time to more fully convert to an Xtime CRM system that allows for everything from online scheduling and video walk-arounds to photos and videos for suggested maintenance items and online payment.
"Customers can see and authorize repairs on their smart phones and tablets without ever coming to the dealership," he says. "Everything is better for customers when they don't have to spend time in a waiting room."