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Fixed ops implement lessons from pandemic

February 5, 2021
Dealers are putting into practice in their fixed operations a variety of lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, according to panelists at a January presentation by Cox Automotive.
"Service now is about options for the customer," said Josh Aaronson, dealer principal of the Island Auto Group in Staten Island, New York, who spoke Jan. 25. The group counts 31 dealerships and almost $1.2 billion in revenues.
According to the panelists, the options that dealers are providing include what’s now a familiar menu of customer vehicle pickup and delivery and sanitization, as well as a couple of new approaches that help dealers get more value from customer data than what comes in from the service department.
"That’s how we’re operating now," Aaronson said. "Over 60% of customers are never arriving at the dealership" due to pickup and delivery, as well as the ability to pay by phone or online, he said.
Customers who prefer to come in can also visit a dealership for service, drop off their car, get a loaner car and check themselves in and out via kiosk "without talking to a human being," if that’s their choice, he added.
John Malishenko, chief operating officer of Germain Motor Co. of Columbus, Ohio, said his group is now promoting its new service capabilities to all 1 million customers in its files, as the bulk of them haven’t been in to experience service since the pandemic started last year.
"The vast majority have no idea of these capabilities, the things we can do," Malishenko said. The first step was for the group to merge all of its customer data from its various Dealership Management Systems and Customer Relationship Management Systems, from all different brands and suppliers, into a single, cloud-based database.
That was "not too easy, or inexpensive," Malishenko said.
But now that the database is set up, communications are sent to customers consistently across the group and automatically, based on business rules set up by the dealership group, are keyed to where a customer is in their ownership life cycle.
"We can talk to everybody, all the time," he said. 
Damian Mills, CEO of Mills Automotive Group of Raleigh, North Carolina, said customer data from the service department can be used to cross-sell other dealership goods and services, and also to provide a competitive advantage over newcomers such as Carvana that don’t have as many profit centers, or as many different ways to interact with the same customer.
"We may have a customer who comes in with a Toyota, but they also have a Ford F-150. We can service Vehicle A, or Vehicle B. And by the way, we’d like to purchase Vehicle A, if you’d like to upgrade, or just if you’d like to sell," he said in the panel discussion.
Carvana and similar companies are "not concerned with the database of fixing the cars, or selling the parts. They’re only concerned with that one transaction" — that is, the used-car transaction, Mills said, adding that dealerships can turn those broader customer relationships to their advantage. He said, "We need to speak to the people who already know us."
 
 

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