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How Customer Perception Impacts Business During COVID-19

Integrating Safety Practices & Protocols for Automotive Dealerships to Ensure Optimal CX

The sanitizer is stocked, the plastic barriers are up, and your team members are masked. All of the new protocols have been executed, but are you sure your customers feel safe walking into your dealership? Whether they’re visiting for routine maintenance or to shop for a new vehicle, their perception of safety is one of the most important factors right now when it comes to attracting and retaining their loyalty.

Let’s take a look at how customer perception impacts business during COVID-19 and what you can do to keep your customers feeling secure, relaxed and eager to advocate for your services.

Customer expectations during COVID-19

As the world opens back up and customers slowly adapt to their new normal, a pre-pandemic shopping experience may feel like a distant memory. While local bylaws vary, many dealership visits today involve staff and customers wearing face masks, practicing social distancing in the showroom, sanitizing hands frequently – or perhaps opting to shop from home if online services are available.

With heightened customer expectations around safety and sanitization, the risk of falling short has increased to new levels. For dealerships, the stakes are high. Failing to meet safety expectations can be detrimental to both your reputation and your revenue.

Analysis of our global customers reveals that, when customers feel unsafe or uncomfortable, net promoter score (NPS) is significantly impacted. And while just over one third of customers will still recommend dealers that falter, this is not because they are satisfied, but because their expectations are low to begin with.

Factors that impact performance

In evaluating customer surveys over the past several months, we found that over 11% include unstructured feedback related to COVID-19. Our analysis shows that these key components of the customer lifecycle are driving dealership performance down, as it relates to customers feeling safe and comfortable:

  • Dealership facilities
  • Finance and insurance communication
  • Test drive experience
  • Features and controls walk-through
  • Post-service vehicle delivery

With such a strong correlation between perceptions of safety and NPS, dealerships have a significant opportunity to convert passive or detractor customers into recommenders by ramping up their COVID-19 practices and protocols.

Best practices for dealerships

What, specifically, are customers looking for when it comes to safety? To answer that question, we used the Clearview text analytics engine to compile and analyze thousands of unstructured COVID-19-related comments. We combined that data with our industry expertise to put together the following recommendations for dealerships looking to maximize customer satisfaction and improve NPS.

Setting up your facility

  • Proactively communicate to customers about what has been done to keep them safe and what to expect during their visit.
  • Create a one-way foot traffic system to avoid contact with others, including one-way entry and exit.
  • Have a greeter for each customer to help maintain spacing and inform them of how to enter and exit the building.
  • Place social distancing markers on the facility floors to help maintain proper spacing.
  • Place signage around the facility that provides clear instructions to customers.
  • Always limit the number of customers inside the facility and plan to see only one customer at a time.
  • Set up sanitization stations throughout the facility.
  • Ensure each customer is wearing a mask when indoors and offer masks to customers that do not have them.
  • Set up plexiglass around each seating or desk area to keep customers separated from one another and staff.
  • Keep washrooms available, clean and stocked with hand sanitizer.
  • Space seats appropriately in the waiting area and mark them with a flag for cleaning once vacated.
  • Offer disposable coffee cups and bottled water.
  • Remove TV remotes and magazines from waiting areas.
  • Use antiseptic wipes often on surfaces and let customers see you cleaning frequently.
  • Most importantly, help customers avoid contact altogether by making information available online and offering concierge


Facilitating test drives

  • Arrange to bring the requested vehicle directly to the customer.
  • Sanitize the vehicle prior to handing it over to the customer using antiseptic wipes on the steering wheel and key fob.
  • Ensure staff wear a face mask if they will be sitting with the customer.
  • Cover the driver’s seat in plastic.
  • Wipe down the steering wheel and key fob with antiseptic wipes after the customer is done their test drive.

Coordinating finance

  • Have the finance manager send videos and emails with finance information to customers.
  • Present pricing options electronically, either over email or through an online system.
  • Enable contactless online payments.
  • If customers have to pay in person, use antiseptic wipes on any equipment, including card machines and pens, after each use.

Reviewing features and controls

  • Require sales consultants to use a messaging app to show customers videos that demonstrate feature functionality and use.
  • Follow up with customers post-sale to remind them where they can watch the videos.
  • If videos are not available for a feature, sales consultants can record themselves demonstrating the feature functionality and use.

Returning vehicles after service

  • Wash and vacuum each customer’s vehicle after service.
  • Sanitize the vehicle prior to handing it back to the customer using antiseptic wipes on the steering wheel and key fob.
  • Remove the plastic from the driver’s seat.
  • Put the windows down to allow the vehicle to air out.
  • Place a placard in the vehicle communicating how the vehicle was cleaned and sanitized.

The extent to which dealerships integrate safety practices and protocols in these key areas can make or break the customer experience. And that, in turn, has a significant impact on whether or not customers are willing to recommend your business to friends and family.

The only way forward for dealerships during COVID-19 is to do everything in their power to keep customers safe and their minds at ease. While adapting your operations to incorporate these measures may feel onerous, think of it as a new opportunity to delight every person who walks through your door or visits you online. Right now, it may even be the most powerful way you can differentiate yourself from the competition

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