As the calendar flipped to 2021, my email inbox became littered with story pitches from experts and analysts about how to make the new year great. Some of the pitches were tied to the service lane and typically included a bullet-point list.
Somewhere on just about every one was the advice, “Forget about 2020.”
I completely understand the sentiment. After all, last year was horrifically bad. Hundreds of thousands dead from a pandemic, millions unemployed and negatively impacted financially, a country deeply divided politically. Not a lot of Hallmark moments.
But hear me out. While 2020 was forgettable in so many ways, there had to be a few redeeming qualities as well. Right?
Jim Henne is the general manager at Performance Toyota in Sinking Spring, Pa., 90 minutes northwest of Philadelphia. His service business was off 40 percent last April. He had to furlough 70 percent of his staff at the start of the pandemic and deal with customers afraid to come in. He’d be right to want to forget 2020.
But Henne thinks about the things he and his staff accomplished against enormous odds, efforts that will be an important part of their 2021 operations. Expanding their service pickup and delivery. Initiating contactless payments. Offering free vehicle sanitizing to the community — whether they were Performance customers or not.
Henne says 2020 taught him how to be flexible, how to “change your course, really, at a moment’s notice.”
“I mean everybody has plans in place for a downturn of business, but nobody has a plan for getting a call the night before that your business might be shut down,” he says.
Henne’s service department was deemed essential and remained open, but a slowdown in business taught him some lessons for which he is grateful. He improved his internal communications skills — sending out weekly video messages to the staff, both those still working and those furloughed. The chaos of the pandemic also enhanced his understanding of how his staff was doing and to make sure to check in on their mental and physical well-being.
He also learned empathy toward stressed-out customers and how vital it is to be sure the service department is communicating with them.
“We get surveys and reviews all the time and if we got a bad one, it was no big deal — let’s move on,” Henne says. “Now we look at those surveys intently because that’s one thing we definitely took away [from the pandemic] is that you really need to relate to the customer and also convey back to them what you are doing.”
Henne’s business bounced back by summer, and he is looking to carry that momentum throughout 2021. He is strengthened knowing that he and his staff endured a year unlike any other and came out the other end smarter and more resilient.
And that’s something worth remembering.