Digital Dealer: Going the Extra Mile During the COVID-19 Crisis

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By Dave Woodland, Service Director, Toyota of San Bernardino

No one ever expected the country to come to a near-complete halt. But that’s what COVID-19 has done to America. And as essential businesses, many dealerships are going the extra mile to assist our customers with their car’s service needs.

Like every auto dealership and repair business in the country, we’re open and ensuring that our customer’s cars are safe, and our critical workers are protected. But, in addition to the basics, here are three best practices we have implemented that have meant a world of difference to our customers.

Our leaders have outlined a plan and strategy to offer additional services and support for our customers and we are being flexible with our business as the trajectory of this pandemic can change course at any time.

Reduce the Stress at the Register

According to AAA, it costs an average of $1,186 per year to maintain and repair an automobile. And GoBanking Rates found that 69% of consumers have less than $1,000 in a savings account.

This downturn in the economy has left many wondering how they will pay for necessary auto repairs. We know that unexpected repair bills can cause stress, and we are working to alleviate that stress.

In 2017 our service department first partnered with Sunbit, a technology company that enables car owners to split their purchases into monthly, manageable payments. With this technology, it takes about 30-seconds for our customers to find a short-term payment plan that fits their budget, and rates are the same or better than credit cards. And, there are no loan origination fees, ever.

Applicants only need their driver’s license, debit card, and email address/phone number to apply, and Sunbit facilitates the approval of approximately 90% of applicants across the credit spectrum. This means more of our customers have the option to pay over time with fair rates.

Our customers love the ease of splitting their payments (nearly 30% have taken advantage of these payment plans) over time and our service advisors like giving their cash-strapped customers fair payment options. It’s a win-win.

Concierge Pick-up and Drop-off Service

We start each customer transaction by offering pick-up and delivery service. We know that our customers are mandated to shelter-in-place and aren’t quite ready to go out unless necessary. By offering to pick up their vehicle from their home and return it when the work is completed, customers can be assured that they don’t need to leave their house, potentially putting their health at risk.

As part of our white-glove delivery service, we are sanitizing our customers’ vehicle interiors, and our delivery personnel is using personal protection equipment to double down on customer health and safety. For customers who prefer to bring their car in, we offer individual shuttle services and a clean, sanitized waiting area – assuring them their health and safety are a priority with us.

We’ve also recently extended additional vehicle services to first responders and essential workers. By providing services like free inspections, car detailing and pick-up and delivery options, we are allowing this critical population to focus on what’s important right now – without worrying about when they’ll have time to get their car serviced.

Refocusing on Recalls

Another shift in our prioritization is helping our customers to get necessary recalls completed during this downtime. Many customers do not know that their cars have recalls, so this is a great way to bring in additional vehicles, see customers returning to the shop, and offer up a variety of additional services while their recalls are being handled.

We know that right now there are a number of recalls on different Toyota makes and products, so our team is going through Toyota’s database of recalls. Simultaneously, we’re reviewing our customer database and alerting those whose vehicles may be affected by a recall. This is a good time for all service departments to review their OEM’s recall database to see how they can help their customers during downtime.

By making recalls a focus, our department has seen a dramatic increase in activity during the second half of March alone, when you would have expected business to slump a bit.

Health and Safety Is Always a Priority

We know that this crisis will pass, and we must keep both our customers and our employees healthy and safe during these uncertain times. Our leadership has worked aggressively to assure our employees that we’re here for the long-haul to continue to offer an amazing service to every customer; as well as to remind our customers that we’re open and operating essential services for their cars with a renewed focus on health and safety.

We know that we’ll get through this and we know our customers will have the assurance of not only their car being safe for the road, but that their health is of paramount concern as well.


Dave Woodland is Service Director of Toyota of San Bernardino.

Read the article at Digital Dealer here.

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