For most of 2020, Fixed Ops Journal has written about how the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted so many things at franchised dealership fixed ops departments. We know how they feel. COVID-19 disrupted something of ours as well — the 2020 Fixed Ops Journal Forum planned for Nashville in October.
But like so many service managers and directors did during the pandemic, we adapted. We changed our two-day, in-person event to one-hour recorded discussions over five Thursdays in October and November. If you haven’t seen them, you’re still able to watch them on demand. (Watch for free here.) Just pretend you’re binging some Netflix show, but instead of “Breaking Bad,” it’s more like “Braking Bad.”

The first week assessed the state of the industry and featured Carlisle & Co.’s Eliza Johnson unveiling the company’s 2020 North America Service Benchmark report. It showed service departments struggling with customer retention and satisfaction scores. Leveraging the pandemic, she said, offers an opportunity “to make a big paradigm shift now to really change how we have traditionally done business for years and years.”

Later, a panel of fixed ops professionals discussed a number of issues, including steps to improve customer retention, how to recruit and retain techs, and what the group would have done differently at the start of the pandemic.

The second week talked about what it is like to operate a service department during the pandemic. The segment featured a panel of service managers and directors from across the country. Francisco Mora, service manager at Esserman International Volkswagen in Miami, spoke for the group when discussing those early days of the pandemic.
“It’s hard to tell somebody, ‘You have to come to work’ when I can’t guarantee [their] safety,” he said.
In week three, panelists discussed how the pandemic accelerated changes in the service lane and what they have learned.
“Be flexible, be adaptive, be prepared for change,” Rick Wegley, an instructor at NCM Institute, told attendees. “If you don’t like change, you’re going to really hate extinction when it happens because if you’re not changing, eventually, the business is going to leave you in the dust.”

The fourth week’s discussion focused on what changes brought about by COVID-19 would endure long past when the pandemic fades. The panelists talked a lot about mobile service vans. David Bergamotto, service manager at Park Avenue BMW in New Jersey, said he thinks mobile service is the future. Then he corrected himself.
“Not ‘I think it’s the future.’ I know it’s the future,” he said. “There’s no way to get around it.”
The fifth week showcased technologies that are on the horizon. Stephen Gannon, vice president of business strategy at CDK Global, talked about voice assistants, augmented and virtual reality, self-diagnosis of vehicles and 3D printing. He said change is accelerating, and fixed ops departments will need to evolve and adapt.
“The good news is, it’s going to be something we’re going to be able to address with technology,” he said. “Technology isn’t the only answer, but it is certainly something that can help us do a better job servicing the customer and growing our business.”
While we enjoyed bringing you these virtual sessions, we are hopeful that next year we will be able to gather in person once again. Till then, stay safe and healthy. And keep reading Fixed Ops Journal.