Bill Fennell, Chief Ombudsman and Managing Director at The Motor Ombudsman, looks at how adversity can be turned into a series of positives for today’s garages

As we enter unchartered waters due to the proliferation of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s important that, as a business owner, we adopt a positive mindset and look at how businesses are going to navigate this period of uncertainty. When facing an unforeseen challenge that few would have ever predicted or imagined, there’s a need to step back and look at what you’re offering customers now, and what you can do to provide even greater value once a stable trading environment resumes.

With the government recognising the important role that garages play in helping to keep the country moving, vehicle repairers and tyre fitters have been classed as an essential business in recent guidance. For those that are struggling with their cash flow in the immediate term, there is also assistance to call on to help pay wages, and loans to bridge any gaps in income.

In fact, there’s a strong case for beating the drum to show customers that you’re open for business, and maintaining relationships with them during this temporary pause of daily life is as crucial as ever. In the modern age, we are fortunate to have the advantage of technology to help us stay in touch with consumers and key stakeholders, all at the click of a button, and often at very little or no cost. Although non-urgent vehicle maintenance work may have to go on the backburner for the time being, this is the time when a difference can be made, and where thinking outside the box can pay off in what is becoming a ‘contactless’ period.

New measures, if they are not already in place, can be as simple as having MOT and servicing e-mail reminders or an online or phone booking system, to make it easy for consumers to arrange a service or MOT without the need for personal interaction, and to help keep a continuous business pipeline. In addition, a vehicle drop off and collection service will be particularly beneficial, as long it is of course safe to do so, and the necessary precautions are equally taken by staff. Reassuring motorists that you have a clean and hygienic environment whilst the car is in your care, and that staff are acting in their interests to protect both them and their business from the risks of transmission, may also prove to be a good way of helping to maintain custom in this more trying period. And finally, once the work has been completed, an online invoicing and card payment system prior to the return of the vehicle will once again avoid yet another chance for what could now be deemed an ‘unnecessary’ contact point.

Aside from the more process-driven initiatives, there is also the need to get more creative, in order to keep your business front of mind and balance sheets healthy. Cost effective promotional activities can be online video tutorials on things like vehicle maintenance and its importance, providing advice and regular updates on social media and demonstrating any USPs such as award wins and local accolades.

Furthermore, your business will be influential in ensuring key workers stay mobile, and if there is spare capacity to do so, lend a helping hand to the emergency services, such as the police, ambulance service and first response paramedics, as their regular repairer may have pulled the shutters down.

To conclude my thoughts in what is an unprecedented chapter of modern society, it’s just as important to plan for the future as it is for the present, as a new era will emerge once the virus has eventually subsided. By the time you read my next quarterly column in July, I would have hoped that there will be a greater element of security, and that something resembling ‘normality’ would have resumed. In the meantime, if any of our accredited businesses require our support, we would encourage them to contact us when they are ready to do so.

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