Zurich North America helps dealers adjust to ‘new normal’

Part of Daryl Allegree’s job right now is to help guide automotive dealerships through the COVID-19 maze they are navigating.

Allegree of Overland Park, Kan., is a portfolio management executive With Zurich. He focuses on risk management for dealerships, helping companies measure and manage their total cost of risk.

“My biggest challenge lately has been helping dealerships manage their businesses and operate as normally as possible during the pandemic,” Allegree said. ” Going forward in the short term, the challenge will be to help many of our customers to get prepared to re-open their facilities. Many organizations have developed resources to assist businesses to comply with CDC and OSHA guidelines; part of my job is to help our customers find the information they need.

“Auto dealer-specific information is harder to find, particularly when the industry is in transition,” he said. “The retail automotive sales and service environment has probably changed forever with fewer face to face interactions and more remote transactions.”

 “Our global network of Risk Engineering professionals works to identify areas where the greatest impact can be achieved and focuses on quantifiable results,” the company website states. “Whether a customer operates from a single location or an international enterprise, our Risk Engineers can help manage risk and protect the bottom line.”

“Part of my job is to develop auto dealer-specific articles for our customers, that focus on loss prevention and emerging risks, such as COVID-19,” he said. “My department, Risk Engineering, has been busy developing ‘Risk Topics’ to help a wide range of customers and industries get through the pandemic safely.  Some of these Risk Topics and other resources are available at Zurich’s Coronavirus Resource Hub.

The worldwide COVID-19 crisis has changed how and what he does, Allegree said.

“In my support role I often get requests for information on safety, risk management and auto dealer best practices,” he said. “During the pandemic most requests for assistance have revolved around COVID-19. I also coordinate onsite risk engineering services to our dealership customers, and those visits have been postponed  as a result of the ‘shelter in place’ orders across the country.”

The goal is to keep businesses functioning, and that is not an easy one to accomplish now.

He said automobile dealer-specific information is harder to find, particularly when the industry is in transition.

“The retail automotive sales and service environment has probably changed forever with fewer face-to-face interactions and more remote transactions,” Allegree said.

There will be numerous challenges in this “new normal,” he said.

“Social distancing will continue for some time and remote transactions will become more common,” Allegree said. “Remote transactions and loss of customer interactions will be difficult for dealers and present new challenges for them. On the other hand, these factors may offer good opportunities for dealerships with a strong online internet presence.”

When dealerships re-open they will need to be aware of all the requirements for protecting their own employees as well as the general public, he said.

“At a minimum, OSHA and CDC guidelines must be followed and implemented,” Allegree said. ” The NADA and other organizations have also published resources to help auto dealers and the retail industry in general. Dealers will need to be more cautious and ensure they have good procedures in place for completing remote and virtual transactions, especially vehicle sales.”

Sadly, there will be people targeting the automobile sales industry and precautions must be taken against them as well.

”Thieves will be trying to take advantage of dealerships who don’t do their due diligence during the sales process, and confirm the identity of potential customers,” Allegree said. “Pick-up and delivery of customer vehicles in the sales and service departments will increase the number of dealership employees and vehicles on the road, so hiring policies and driver monitoring will increase in importance as well.”

Adam Horst, Zurich’s Director of National Accounts-West, said the pandemic has altered how he works as well.

“It’s really put an increased focus on working with our clients digitally,” Horst said. “The majority of my work in the past was traveling through the American West and working with our clients face-to-face. That’s a big change to me. Delivering that content over the web has been a big change.”

“It has been a positive in that it has helped us realize some efficiencies of communication and collaboration with our customers.”

He has been with Zurich in a variety of roles since 2002. Horst was with the firm during the Great Recession more than a decade ago, but he said this is dissimilar.

“I would say it’s completely different, in my mind, because of what’s driving it,” Horst said. “This is impacting people in a different way.”

Some people dislike the idea of wearing masks and taking other precautions, he said, while others are apprehensive about stepping outside their homes. Horst is based in Kansas City, Mo., and talks with dealers across the West, and he is learning about adaptations they are making during the pandemic.

“What you may see in the future, more than now, is transacting business digitally,” he said.

Customers find a vehicle in an online search and call or text the dealership. An employee will walk around the vehicle, showing it online via Skype or another tool.

“People are buying cars, sight unseen, because they are getting a tour digitally, in a different way,” Horst said.

Once a deal is made, an employee delivers the vehicle to the home, wipes it down and sanitizes it and departs. The sale is made with no real contact between the customer and the dealership.

It’s not that easy with used vehicles, which usually require a test drive. But dealerships and customers are changing to match the times, Horst said, and some of those changes may become permanent.


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