Service with a Smile
As the impact of COVID-19 intensified, retail shelves were decimated, and the “new normal” staples such as gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and toilet paper often can’t be found at any price. But thanks to advance planning, creativity, and a little help from supplier Cintas, John’s Automotive Care in San Diego and La Mesa, California, provided all these items to customers and business partners – all for free, and all with a smile.
“We just hit up all our resources,” said owner John Eppstein, whose NAPA Gold Certified AutoCare Center recently celebrated its 22nd anniversary. “We ordered gloves early on, and sometimes we had to order two or three times before they were in stock, but we knew gloves would be important. We also networked, and sometimes sent someone to the store every day to pick up whatever could be found. Once we had enough gloves and masks for our shops, we offered to share the rest. We know how hard it is to find these supplies, and we didn’t want our customers running around for example without gloves, getting gas when they didn’t know who had already coughed or sneezed on the pump. We do pretty much anything for our customers .”
Thanks to a Cintas-donated disinfectant station installed at his La Mesa shop, Eppstein and his team mixed up industrial grade disinfectant, and invited customers and vendors to fill empty bottles at both sites.
“A lady from the transmission shop we use didn’t have any spray bottles, so she bought a bottle of window cleaner at the dollar store, discarded the cleaner, and had us fill the empty bottle so she would have disinfectant for her store,” Eppstein recalled. In all, his shops have donated enough disinfectant to fill roughly 25 bottles, plus more than 200 pairs of gloves, 50 masks, some hand sanitizer, and yes – even a few rolls of that precious toilet paper.
“One of our employees has a sister in Texas who couldn’t find any toilet paper, so we shipped a couple of rolls off to her,” Eppstein said. “In times like these, it’s a huge thing.”
Spread Smiles, Not Germs
Eppstein and his team have also taken a deeper dive into customer service, taking to Facebook Live to post videos to keep their audience informed and engaged.
“Not everyone knows that automotive repair and parts businesses were considered essential,” he said, “so right away we needed people to know we were open and ready to help with anything from working on their car to filling a bottle with disinfectant.”
But Eppstein soon realized that he needed to address a much broader concern.
“We normally have very few customer issues, but in the first couple of weeks into the pandemic, we had more issues than we had had in the six months prior,” he explained. “We’re all usually pretty laid back, and we’re not used to people being on edge, and suddenly so many people were worried that they might be out of a job, or that their hours were being cut, or that they might get sick. We were struggling with that, and we had to remind ourselves to try a little harder to keep each other and our customers calm, to be friendly, to be kind, and to smile . Since we did that, we’ve had very few problems. That’s why we also started using our videos to remind people to take the time to smile, be nice, and help each other out.”
Helping each other out is advice that Eppstein and his team take personally. In March, a customer made an appointment at John’s Automotive Care in La Mesa for a 30,000-mile service checkup and biennial smog inspection on her 2014 Honda CR-V, which she was preparing to sell. When she arrived, Brian Strickler, Service Advisor, greeted her by name and asked if she was getting ready to buy another car. The customer became emotional while explaining that her husband had been killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver.
“They took excellent care of my car, and then comped my bill,” noted the customer in her glowing online review. “I cried the whole way home because of your kindness and compassion… I know that my husband is looking down and smiling… My heart is full. It’s so nice to know that with everything going on, there’s still such beautiful souls in this world. I have found my forever mechanics and friends at John’s Automotive and want to tell the world!! They are better than the best!!”
‘Little things can make a big impact’
Communications are key to keeping his employees comfortable in this often-uncomfortable situation, and allows them to be able to provide such above-and-beyond service to his customers. “Without my employees, I wouldn’t have a business, so I’m going to do anything I can to help them along,” Eppstein said. “We normally have shop meetings monthly, but for a while we were having them daily. Taking the time to talk regularly has kept everybody informed and at ease as much as possible, and helped me understand and try to help with their situations, their comfort level, and their concerns. And we’re doing everything we can to support each other. When we send someone to the store for our shop, we’ll find out if anyone needs anything, so the person will try to pick up soap, or bread, or whatever is needed. We buy lunch a couple of times a week to help our local small businesses. It costs us more money now, but it’s helping our employees, and helping our neighboring businesses keep their doors open.”
NAPA Auto Parts View All
More than 90 years ago, the National Automotive Parts Association ("NAPA") was created to meet America’s growing need for an effective auto parts distribution system. Today, 91% of do-it-yourself customers recognize the NAPA brand name. We have over 6,000 NAPA Auto Parts Stores nationwide serving all 50 states with a unique inventory control system that helps you find the exact part that you need.
Leave a Reply