Is “Vending Machine F&I” the Right Answer for Today’s Auto Buyer?
The measurement of technology must always be how well the process or the tool serves people
It’s been predicted in countless sci-fi books and movies and by talk show pundits that the doom of humanity will be at the hand of its own creation: artificial intelligence (AI). If we are to believe them, robots are coming to wage war, take our jobs, and render people obsolete.
Should we fight to stop automation progress? Should we stand our ground, stick to manual processes, and hope we can survive long enough to retire before the apocalypse? Or should we crack open a cold one and watch the industry implode?
We see “intelligent” technologies replacing what we thought were indispensable selling tactics in many industries. In late 2017, Ford inked a deal with Alibaba Group allowing the automaker to test-sell cars in China via an “auto vending machine” concept, reported Reuters.
The research firm PwC says AI-driven insurance claims processing and chatbots for banks can “improve customer experience.” In its future workforce report, PwC further notes, “As automation and AI continue to play a larger role in the workplace, 75% of U.S. workers are ready to learn a new skill or completely retrain to remain employable in the future.”
Innovation always challenges those whose loyalty is to specific functions performed in specific ways. Disciplined AI serves the industry by complementing people’s skills, favoring those who adapt to change, and allowing the metrics to be about results rather than accomplishing tasks.
How can we embrace a progressive view of this future and create a measured response, rather than an emotional reaction?
Progress for purpose
AI and robots will have their day in many regards. Autonomous cars have been on the road for a few years now. The finance and insurance industries are exploring AI, and likely, it will increasingly affect how you run your dealership.
We see this playing out as the industry reaches for online F&I insurance and aftermarket sales. The holdup to doing so is legislative, based on states’ acceptance of e-signatures for insurance product contracts. That obstacle will not stand forever.
Despite online F&I, the F&I practitioner role will continue as a vital service to customers. Companies are pushing to evolve F&I to an automated solution, but they underestimate the value people bring to consumers when purchasing complex, expensive, and sophisticated products and services.
I concluded this partly from PwC’s projection in its 2016 report on top AI issues in insurance that the technology would replace insurance advisors, underwriters, call center reps, and claims adjuster jobs.
Initially, I lumped F&I jobs into that pool. Then I realized the difference between those vocations and F&I: Those jobs are framework-based: the work is done within preset conditions or stipulations, and human interaction is minimal.
Fortunately, F&I’s role is not so cookie-cutter, although AI collects useful sales and support information. For instance, interactive, predictive e-menu and consumer presentation technologies make the F&I job faster, more accurate, and more engaging for customers.
People + process + performance
How do we distinguish jobs that will be most affected by AI and those technologies that will be most effective for F&I?
We look at the outcome: How does the technology drive results? Processes based on people that use improved processes to engage with customers will always equate to stronger performance.
Despite the crowds, chaos, and hassle of shopping, people still want to shop where they can interact, build relationships, and enjoy the art of a well-delivered solution and experience. Even when the process is automated, human input is essential (e.g., Yelp) and enriches the entire experience.
In a 2016 Guardian article titled “Books Are Back,” Simon Jenkins noted, “Kindle sales initially outstripped hardbacks but have slid fast since 2011. Sony killed off its e-readers. Amazon has opened its first bookshop.”
Why? The technology didn’t account for the human experience, concluded Jenkins.
The measurement of technology must always be how well the process or the tool serves people, whether it’s a simple fork imitating a hand, or a high-end digital tablet that lets users draw with their finger on a screen.
Preparation, not panic
You invest in people and technologies that directly and indirectly serve consumers, and create fantastic buying experiences.
Direct engagement includes engaging customers face to face, providing product education, and ensuring disclosure. Indirect participation is through tools that protect your interests, clean up messy and archaic processes, and continually set new expectations, all while being ethical and profitable.
As F&I consultant Lloyd Trushel of the Consator Group noted in this publication in 2017, F&I’s goal “is to solve your customers’ problems before they occur . . . to demonstrate how the products you offer protect their vehicle investment, keep their family safe, and safeguard their budget. This inspires trust, and ultimately leads to a better transaction for you and your customer.”
Tech to human, human to tech
One of the many insights that drove Steve Jobs—and, in turn, Apple engineers—was to work from the human viewpoint backward toward the technology.
The riddle to solve was not what could be built, but what do people naturally want to do if there are no pain points, obstacles, or unnecessary steps in the way? The technology should allow them to do it.
Good technology serves people and their purposes. Great technology creates new options to unburden people in unexpected ways. If the industry collectively works toward that, and we remain open to adapting to technologies and adapting technologies to us, we have nothing to fear and everything to gain.
With nothing to fear, what F&I experiences would benefit from technology?
Jim Maxim, Jr. is president of MaximTrak, a RouteOne company, and chief digital officer for RouteOne, a provider of digital F&I platforms for dealers. He is an F&I visionary recognized by CIO Review magazine, a frequent panelist and speaker at various F&I conferences and summits, and a contributor to automotive retail media about evolving F&I technologies. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.