How auto firms plan to woo customers, motivate sales staff post lockdown

Topics Coronavirus | Auto firms | customers

The dealerships are also carrying out complete sterilisation of the test-drive vehicles
Arecent survey, The Invisible Car Salesman, by EY suggests that the number of people using public transport, such as buses or metro trains, may drop by half after the pandemic-induced restrictions are lifted, while the number of those using private vehicles may double from 34 per cent to 66 per cent.

As India eases some restrictions and many automobile dealerships restart operations after over a month of keeping their shutters down, what will be the primary target for brands? Offloading idle stock or regaining the trust of the customers? How are they wooing customers to come to their showrooms as a first step and then loosen their purse strings? More importantly, how are they motivating their sales staff?

Most companies see this as a fresh start. Rather, as a great opportunity after sales slumped all of last year and in the early part of 2020. So each  of them — from scooter manufacturers to luxury car makers — has its post-Covid playbook ready and that includes things like following the hygiene and social distancing guidelines issued by the government, as well as giving customers a good reason why they should trust one brand over another.

The build-up started during the 40 days of the complete lockdown. Yadvinder Singh Guleria, director, sales and marketing, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI), says, “Those 40 days gave us a lot of time to introspect on the way we need to approach the customer going forward. The clear guideline to the dealers was to first continue the interaction with their existing customers as well as seek out prospective buyers who had enquired about their favourite brand before the lockdown. Approaching with empathy and checking their well-being rather than pitching for any product would be the first line of action.”

Now comes the interaction on the shop floor. HMSI, which had opened around 275 dealerships till last Wednesday, has relaid the customer interaction area and the waiting area in its showrooms and workshops, keeping social distancing protocols in mind. There are markings on the floor to denote safe distance between two people.

Even during the lockdown period, these brands kept working hard. They kept their products visible through commercials and social media activities as there was no other way of reaching “We also explored ways of expanding our digital interface and relooked at the media mix,” says Guleria. “So that once the lockdown was lifted, we were ready with a fresh perspective to take on the new way of business.” A spokesperson from Hyundai Motor India says the crux of its strategy during and after the lockdown is to ensure the customer is at peace even when the car is parked idle. “So we shared tips on how to take care of a car during the lockdown. We have also activated our emergency service assistance for all the Covid warriors who are using Hyundai cars.” The company has launched a Hyundai Cares initiative to enhance customer confidence while ensuring a safe showroom and workshop environment, he says.

The Korean carmaker is trying to move the bulk of its service work online so customers can book an appointment through the Hyundai Care app, WhatsApp, the company website or a call to dealers. Customers will receive digital updates through WhatsApp and can also make online payments. They can also have their cars picked up and delivered at their doorstep and six high touch points will be sanitised at the time of pick-up and delivery.
The dealerships are also carrying out complete sterilisation of the test-drive vehicles. And, only one individual is being allowed to take the test drive with the relationship manager sitting at the back, says Maruti Suzuki. Even its new cars would be fully disinfected before delivery, the company has assured its customers.

Staying focussed on the customer outside is, however, half the story. Looking inwards and addressing concerns of its production and sales staff is the other — no less important — half of the story. After they opened their dealerships last week, the first thing that companies ensured was basic sanitisation of the premises — showroom, workshop and warehouse – besides providing personal protective equipment like masks, hand gloves, aprons and anti-bacterial clothing to the staff.

For Maruti Suzuki, the country's largest auto brand, the health of its employees remains a key concern. So employees who reported good health for at least 14 consecutive days prior to the date of opening the showroom were allowed to resume work. Once they joined, the company started monitoring their health through a wellness app that works in conjunction with the government’s Aarogya Setu on a daily basis. The company has also instituted a system of staggered lunch timing to avoid crowding.
Maruti had also used the lockdown period productively. It had conducted a detailed training workshop for its dealership staff across the country that gave them valuable tips on maintaining a hygienic environment for customers. Honda Cars India is also undertaking some basic medical checks of its staff every day before work.  It goes without saying that most brands have turned to the digital platform to reduce physical interface. “This is going to be the new normal,” says Guleria. “In the lockdown, it was the only option, now, it’s going to be a key tool to keep customers engaged.”


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