The casa that COVID-19 built

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Many things have changed since you last visited your auto dealership

SAYING THAT the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic has inspired some changes in the workplace and the way we do things is truly an understatement. Every person and organization have been forced to evolve not just in order to restore some form of normalcy but, more often than not, to survive.

The car industry and its clientele are no strangers to these abrupt changes that we all somehow, like it or not, have had to embrace. The virus remains floating and communicable within our communities, yet people and goods still need to move. To move, people need vehicles. And vehicles, like all other machines in the physical world, eventually tire and need to be serviced. People still need to buy cars, fix cars, maintain cars. And ultimately, it becomes clear: There is definitely a call to keep the casa running.

If you haven’t been to your affiliated casas yet, you’d be surprised with how fast they’ve adapted, albeit some more effectively than others. I drive a Mazda CX-3 and found myself in a situation where I needed some servicing. And so I did some research on the latest protocols, and figured that I was comfortable with the way they run things in my frequented casa — Mazda Makati.

The steps are quite straightforward: Each customer is requested to contact the casa beforehand, to set an appointment via phone or online via Facebook. Once a date and time is registered, the client is encouraged to arrive on time, so as to align with the establishment’s managed foot traffic in the spirit of social distancing (and with the goal of keeping their mechanics’ work streams moving as efficiently as possible, too).

After setting my appointment, proceeding to Mazda Makati, and turning over my vehicle, I found that the dealership, whose skeleton workforce were all donning face masks and other protective gear, had already rearranged the showroom and office in a way that promoted serious social distancing. I found cleaners constantly fussing over common touch points (like door handles, tables and chairs — even the showroom cars), and spraying the building’s glass windows with cleaning agents as if they were Santa’s meticulous elves.

The discussion between service attendant and customer over what type of service is to be done is usually kept short and sweet, as these service requests and the parts needed (which, ideally, would already be ordered and prepared by then) are already discussed in detail prior to arrival.

For payments, Mazda Makati also offers contactless payment options, wherein customers could choose to do online banking transfers instead of having to physically hand over and touch money.

All common touch points of your car are also cleaned with a potent disinfecting solution before and after the mechanics work on the vehicle. And if you’re one of those people who just prefer to be a tad more cautious (like myself), they now also offer an anti-bacterial/anti-microbial sort of fumigation service, wherein human-safe, disinfecting fumes are blown into your car cabin, so it could also penetrate into your air-conditioning system and wipe out any molds and bacteria in its wake. It costs only a bit over a thousand pesos, and leaves a faint, fresh scent that quickly fades. I like this as a finishing touch, to blow any remaining worries away.

It is also worth mentioning that during the time I visited in late July, I noticed Mazda Makati (specifically) was offering customers a special discount on the purchase of a new car battery — apparently because they had figured that a lot of vehicles that were left unused over several months during the strict ECQ period had lost their battery potency. It was their way of helping to ease the burden of their loyal customers, and was sort of like their special quarantine offer for the month.

Out of curiosity, I chatted with their service manager Rod Abanes and asked what it was like backstage, working during these quarantine months. To my surprise, he revealed that they had actually enjoyed an amazing 90% show-up rate of customers (who had set appointments) — an impressive increase in percentage compared to our once carefree days as customers, when most of us had the luxury of bringing our car over on a whim (as a walk-in client). And since everything had inevitably become so structured, the turnaround times of their work had also become shorter. High punctuality means greater efficiency for the workers, and less waiting time for the customers.

Rod also pointed out that they find it rather convenient that Mazda’s YOJIN (free three-year PMS) involved no payments, and therefore often excluded any need for money exchange. “Now, we’re even busier than ever!,” he exclaimed, while making reference to the inevitable backlog due to the ECQ weeks when casas were not yet allowed to operate.

As a courtesy to its clients, Mazda also made some adjustments to the period when vehicle owners could still claim their free Yojin PMS. More specifically, people whose cars’ PMS dates fell within the strict ECQ weeks were given a grace period for claiming the service. It was an important move, as Mazda holds strict rules when it comes to its free PMS checkups: Miss one within the designated times, and you forfeit the rest. But clearly, exceptional times call for exceptions.