GW columnist, Aaron Phillips on how his workshop is fighting COVID-19

Staff and customers quickly adapting to forced changed at Jackson & Phillips Automotive Services

GW columnist, Aaron Phillips on how his workshop is fighting COVID-19

Jackson & Phillips will have been trading for 50 years in February, and without doubt 2020 has bought us our biggest challenge to date.

Aaron Phillips of Jackson & Phillips Automotive Services in Leighton Buzzard.

When the news broke about a country wide lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, we knew we were in for a rough ride, so we gathered our staff to discuss the situation and our options.

Although garages were able to stay open, we took the decision – a team decision and the right decision for us – to shut up shop.

The longest our gates have ever been shut before this was a long weekend, so it was a very daunting prospect.

We set about the task of contacting customers, suppliers, our landlord, the council, leasing companies, our marketing team, and the council.

We furloughed our whole team and were amazed by the level of support provided to businesses like ours by the government.

Related: Chancellor confirms details of new flexible furlough scheme

We originally planned to close for three weeks and then reassess the situation, which by this time had worsened so again a team decision was made to stay firmly closed for another three weeks.

During this second three-week period we looked closely into how we could safely return to work, what could we do, what changes could be made to protect both our customers and ourselves.

After a lot of research and more meetings we had a plan in place for how we could limit customer contact and still provide an effective, efficient service.

We had a list of previous appointments that needed to be rebooked and plenty of enquiries during the closure, so we had work to return to.

Although our phonelines had been open throughout our closure, thanks to our VOIP phone system which meant calls to the office number could be taken in our homes by simply taking our desk phone home, we opened the office the week before the planned re-opening with one member of staff on duty.

We posted on social media and our website about our reopening and the measures put in place, to ensure we would have plenty to do on our return.

During that week we also put our plan for safe working into practice, gathering the equipment, PPE and information we needed.

Related: Six-month MOT extension to remain until tests can be “conducted safely”

We now operate with a closed reception and on arrival customers are asked to wait in their vehicles.

We greet them at the vehicle, with the job sheet, discuss from a distance the work to be carried out, confirm contact details and ask the customer to leave the vehicle with the keys in, so it can be disinfected, and let them know that we will contact them.

Once the customer has left the vehicle and its keys are sanitized using our STERI-7 spray.

We then cover the seats, steering wheel, handbrake, and gear stick.

Having discussed with our team the importance of hygiene, wearing of PPE and issuing every member of staff an individual disinfectant spray for hands and surfaces, we carried out a risk assessment, and are happy we are doing what we can to stay safe.

Once the job is complete we email the invoice to the customer, then call to take payment.

Once the customer arrives to collect they are again asked to wait with the vehicle and a member of staff puts the keys and any relevant paperwork in the car, ensuring a contactless transition.

All this however is still only half the story, we still have to manage social distancing in the office and workshop, we have staggered lunch and tea breaks.

We have also had transparent roller screens fitted along our office desk, to allow parts delivery drivers to enter the office and drop parts and paper work safely.

We have another screen fitted in reception for when we reopen that.

This has all been a huge undertaking and a big change to the way we work.

I am very proud of the way my staff and for that fact our customers have adapted well to the change, some of the changes have even improved our operations, especially the better use of email communication which will save time and money.

I keep my fingers crossed that we will all come out of this situation stronger.

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