Which changes will stick around?

Doing things the good old way might not work anymore.

By the time you read this article, some 18 months will have passed since the dominance of the pandemic took over our personal and business lives in March 2020.

Rolling the calendar ahead, as we move into fall 2021, we now have a highly vaccinated population and are able to regain some of our lost freedoms. However, normal as we once knew it, could be quite different.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on lives that will take more than a few months to overcome. Collectively we will be building a new normal; hopefully a new and improved normal.

Automobile dealers have been largely fortunate these past 18 months. Sure COVID-19 had an impact on our businesses, but not nearly as severe as businesses in other industries. We were designated as essential very early in the pandemic, and in many ways, that put us on a favourable track compared to others.

The CEWS (wage subsidy) program was a welcome relief and certainly helped us manage the downside risk that this pandemic created. But the pandemic also gave many of us an opportunity to look deeply at ourselves, reaffirm our values and principles, and identify changes we needed to make to get back on track.

In a world where fears unfolded right before our eyes, it quickly became clear that we needed to demonstrate the safety net necessary to overcome the general distrust that was developing.

As we pivoted to embrace different ways of doing business, somewhat being pushed by federal and provincial health and safety protocols, we knuckled down to brass tacks and re-examined all of our customer-facing processes and procedures to continue delivering on our customers’ expectations.

On top of that, we examined what people were actually doing, what roles were adding value, and what roles simply added costs with no clear positive outcome. We reinvented basic blocking and tackling in a new world context.

In a world where fears unfolded right before our eyes, it quickly became clear that we needed to demonstrate the safety net necessary to overcome the general distrust that was developing.

It was not, however, just about business. People were changing. We all changed to a certain extent. Employees, customers, prospects, suppliers, parents, children, and families all have adopted temporary and not-so-temporary characteristics. There is a lot of discussion around getting life back to normal.

I believe that desire is more about freedom than going back to the way things were before. Many things from before will not return, but the feeling of normal will; a new normal shaped by the good and the bad we learned during the pandemic.

We will think twice about certain things where before we did not think of them at all. In many ways, we took many aspects of life for granted. Not anymore, or at least for the foreseeable future.

The core of everyone’s life is similar, but the fringes that defined us and made us feel whole might be dissimilar.

One of the biggest changes has been working from home. For most of us, it has been wonderful. No commuting, much less unproductive time, and a refocus on what matters most in our lives.

We are still very productive, but in many ways much more balanced. We do miss social interaction, but a lot of the other stuff that just seemed to accumulate over the years—well, many of us can live without.

We learned to communicate via phone and video conference. We converted travel time to useful time. This will present challenges to return back to the physical normal of yesteryear, while seeking the efficiency and value creation of the new virtual way. It will be a new happy medium.

Another big change has been shopping from home. Many local small businesses pivoted to provide valuable services. Things like grocery home delivery, curb-side pickup of pre-ordered items of all categories like lumber and hardware and alcohol, for example, were all exciting reasons to get out of the house.

Dealership “by appointment only” was extremely well received. Customer satisfaction rose as customers received the individualized services they desired.

All these changes will impact our dealership businesses. From human resource management to customer service, people will demand a different experience, both inside and outside our dealership family. The pandemic taught them that a different way is possible.

As dealers we have businesses to run. The running of that business just became simpler and more complicated at the same time. Simpler, in that we have all trimmed the fat and built a new focus to do only what is absolutely necessary to produce positive value.

What’s more complicated is that people come in all shapes and sizes, and keeping them engaged will occupy more day-to-day attention.

As dealers we must deliver online, offline, omnichannel, digital, manual and more to keep our employees and customers coming back again and again. It’s not easy. It will take the right business focus, training, support partners, and human resource management to win at the game.

The brands we represent are all struggling to define a clear future for themselves. They are the furthest away from human capital touch points, yet they expect you to deliver on their sales and customer satisfaction mandates. They are investing heavily in new vehicle technologies with at best a cloudy vision of the goal line. Daily they ask themselves: “if we build it, would they buy it?”

Forced change is happening big time for brands, and as a consequence, change is happening to you as one of their dealers.

The time has come to get out of the weeds and put some careful planning into your dealership’s future.

Never has working on your business been more important. Our natural instinct is to put our heads down and get things done. However, the time has come to get out of the weeds and put some careful planning into your dealership’s future. Then take the time to get ready for that future.

As we move forward firstly to the months ahead followed by the years after that, we must realize that some things will return to normal and some things will not. Doing things the good old way might not work anymore as you troll for the opportunities the future might hold.

About Chuck Seguin

Charles (Chuck) Seguin is a chartered accountant and president of Seguin Advisory Services (www.seguinadvisory.ca). He can be contacted at cs@seguinadvisory.ca.

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