Embracing and Adopting the New Face of Virtual F&I
In the years I’ve been providing dealers with F&I technologies and services, the effect of technologies influencing F&I practices has never been so profound as it is now.
Beginning with the emergence of the Internet in the early ’90s, we’ve witnessed e-contracting, e-rating, and e-menus, and for dealers in some states, e-registration, all having simplified internal F&I processes and sped up customer delivery.
We’re currently watching many F&I services move online. Consumers can now:
- Apply for credit, often without offering personal information.
- Obtain vehicle pricing.
- Get finance/lease rates.
- Configure trade-in values.
- Shop for and purchase aftermarket products and services like service contracts, environmental protection packages, and more.
It won’t be long before the entire vehicle purchase process—including the option to review and potentially sign documents—will be available online. Sure, details still need to be worked out, like how to accurately confirm the consumer’s identity in a virtual F&I office.
Consumer demand, however, will continue to drive this online experience, making now a good time to evaluate how traditional F&I practices and processes may cost you opportunities. It may not be that your processes are broken, but are merely less efficient and convenient for your customers than they should be.
With F&I processes in consumer control, it becomes vital that the technologies and training in place offer the dealership the mechanism to increase their per-vehicle retail margins and product penetrations.
I know I’m preaching to the choir, but consumers dislike the traditional F&I experience. You may put on a sophisticated, transparent face on your website while sales and F&I processes in your physical store are cumbersome, time-consuming, and based on you maintaining control. Experiencing this difference between perception and reality may make consumers lose trust in you. Consumers don’t send condolence cards when they leave a business or website that still transacts business like it’s 2014. They just leave and don’t come back.
So, it’s prudent to consider how your F&I providers are preparing you to embrace and succeed as these changes become reality. Are they recommending the training and technologies to equip your staff to capitalize on these changes to improve F&I performance and the customer experience? It’s critical that the dealer or general manager review F&I products and services offered by their providers. If you’re not receiving real-time performance results or staff coaching to help engage today’s buyer, consider other providers.
The traditional F&I role already morphing. We’re seeing dealerships dropping the traditional role altogether, moving former F&I professionals into the showroom as sales managers. There, they not only help associates work deals but also finalize them. Aftermarket product expertise is being pushed out of the F&I office, becoming the responsibility of product specialists who engage customers to present an array of products appropriate to the customer. A third type of specialist reviews documents with customers.
These added F&I roles are now performed in sequence with the selling process, greatly streamlining the F&I process and eliminating the wait time of a traditional F&I experience.
While we bide time before F&I is a fully DIY online service, consider these points to help your dealership streamline F&I now:
- Acknowledge the new buyer: Today’s F&I customers spend more than16 hours researching the vehicle they buy. Before rolling into a presentation, ask good questions to learn what they know already, then add value by clarifying and enhancing.
- Train to serve: Today’s consumers not only research well, but thanks to years of media reporting and peer comments on review sites, they are hyper alert to any language, behaviors, or activity that hint at insincerity. Invest in questioning-skills training to help staff better serve customers by learning their needs and concerns, and their vehicle use. When the products you suggest touch these points, customers buy without additional influence. Dealers continue to hire and floor personnel from nonauto sales industries because they often bring a true heart for customer service and follow-up, which many legacy salespeople struggle to provide.
- Come to the customer: Digital F&I tools free you and your customers from the F&I office. Start F&I with customers still in the showroom. Give them a tablet loaded with your digital menu so they can review their options. Let them run finance or lease terms—be sure the app is the same they used when running rates on your website so there’s not a disconnect or broken trust over rates given online and what they find in the showroom. Let them review digital versions of their paperwork. You’ll still likely need them to step into the physical space, but because you’ve equipped them to research your offerings, everyone’s time investment should be reduced. Use of digital consumer-facing tools saves time and builds customer confidence with transparency.
Change is certain. We see the future of F&I dimly now, but the imminent changes are evidenced by other industries. As the traditional sales role falls to the new product specialist model, so too will the F&I professional evolve into a service-minded individual who facilitates transparent transactions for consumers while earning profit for the dealership.