My mom spent her entire adult-life managing or owning restaurants. I had the opportunity to observe the restaurant industry through her eyes. I’ve always been struck by the many similarities between restaurants and auto dealerships.
Customers love the idea where they can complete the entire process without the perceived stress of buying a car.
Managers in each industry are expected to work bell-to-bell. Both deal with a variety of customers, and customer complaints. The margins are not the greatest, at least not compared to the jewelry business.
The similarities between the two businesses came to mind this past weekend while having COVID-enforced social distancing dining experiences. Both experiences revolved around the traditional process of seating a customer and handing them a menu. At one restaurant, the hostess pointed to a QR code on the table that we used to scan our menu on our smartphone. Another restaurant replaced the usual cloth placemat with a paper one that had the menu printed on it.
Both restaurants found different solutions to comply with COVID-19 requirements to either sanitize or dispose of a menu after each use.
I suspect restaurants around the country are toying with similar solutions. I also suspect that as we escape from lockdowns, many restaurants will retain some of these processes. A menu available via a QR code is extremely cheap to deliver and easy to change menu offerings or prices. Using a menu placemat eliminates the laundry expense of a cloth and of printing elaborate menus in a binder form.
Changes In the Auto Industry
The auto industry accelerated many processes in response to COVID-19 as well. We had been moving at a sloth pace to digitize the entire process, and the industry faced many detours and closed roads on the road to digitization.
Many finance sources were either not willing to invest in the infrastructure required to receive the data or simply did not plan to be in the game long enough to support the ROI of such an investment. Some manufacturers prohibited retailers from delivering vehicles outside of the dealer’s brick and mortar premises.
Plenty of states required wet signatures on title and tag work. And finally, old car dogs simply did not want to change from sharpies and pulp to digitized pens and paper.
The Push From COVID-19
Then COVID-19 hit, and consumers would not leave their own home let alone visit a dealership. Now every roadblock that had previously resisted the move to digitization was suddenly scrambling to kluge together a process so we could still sell and finance vehicles and vehicle protection products.
The dealers who were already on the road to digitizing were able to quickly put digital remote delivery processes together. Other dealers, unfortunately, could not quickly patch together a working process and experienced lost opportunities, and in some cases, an uptick in identity theft.
Keeping Some Changes
Now, back to the moral of the story. Restaurants found some new answers to help save money and potentially provide a better customer experience. What did we change that we may keep in our industry?
During the lockdown, dealers found a way to provide remote deliveries. Most dealers I spoke with about the new process swear that the customers love the idea where they can complete the entire process without the perceived stress of buying a car. Some dealers even say that customers were so impressed with the transparency and ease of the new process, that they ended up selling more VPP than usual.
The potential downside to remote deliveries is that identity thieves love to buy stuff without physically showing up. Dealers who plan to continue with remote deliveries must have a robust process in place and adhere to it.
Also, e-contract and e-doc signing came into vogue during the last four months. These two processes certainly help with ensuring documents are properly signed, can digitally store the documents for both the dealer and the customer, and cut down on the expense and exposure of storing and safeguarding paper files.
While I expect some dealers to go back to sharpies and four squares, I believe many dealers will embrace the shift to digital retailing and retain some of the process changes.
Good luck and good selling!
Gil Van Over is the executive director of Automotive Compliance Education (ACE), the founder and president of gvo3 & Associates, and author of Automotive Compliance in a Digital World.