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Entering the Virtual F&I Office

Facebook is in the spotlight this month, and the editor believes new ad tools the social network is offering can help the F&I cause.

October 6, 2014

One thing I’ve noticed is that most conversations about our industry’s push into the digital environment stop at the F&I office. For sales, the discussion centers on how dealers can best transition online shoppers into their showroom processes, while most service departments are already toying with mobile devices and digital advertising.

So what about F&I? Well, I contend that regulations govern just how digital our process becomes. Heck, I still can’t get a compliance expert to give me a firm answer on digital signatures. And what about identity theft in this ecommerce environment?

And hey, we’re seeing public dealer groups reporting some of the highest per-copy averages in the last six to seven years. So do we really want to mess with that?

It’s not that we haven’t tried to digitize the F&I experience. The introduction of the mobile F&I menu was an interesting addition. Unfortunately, I still have yet to hear anyone say they’re consistently killing it with these mobile tools.

Maybe what we need to do is figure out what issue we’re trying to solve when we talk about F&I and the digital experience. Is it satisfying this call to allow consumers to complete vehicle purchases online? Well, there are some solutions that are already making that a reality. However, I’m still hearing the same thing I heard a few months after General Motors launched its Shop-Click-Drive tool last year — that consumers are dropping off when prompted to complete a credit app.

Ken Tomaro, president of OptionSoft Technologies, shared with me results of a study his company conducted about today’s Internet shopper. And what he found is that a very low percentage of consumers were actually interested in completing a vehicle transaction online.

“It was very eye-opening for us because everyone is pushing toward online sales,” he said. “But when you actually drill down and ask people what they want, they really want to be able to get their information online. They want to be able to research so they are prepared when they go to the dealership.”

I came to that same conclusion in an editorial I wrote back in February 2012. See, I believe the reason consumers hate the dreaded walk to the F&I dungeon is because we as an industry have done a poor job educating consumers about our processes and our products.

Think about it for a second. Do we ever hear consumers complain that our products don’t work? I haven’t. I have heard and read studies that question the need for our products, most concluding that vehicle quality is so good today that car owners may never need the protections we offer. But I’m sure you have enough repair orders to dispel those types of objections.

As I wrote two years ago, I believe the digital realm offers us an opportunity to educate the buying public about our products and services. That’s why social media is in the spotlight this month. And I urge you to give the article a read.

See, there are some really neat marketing tools Facebook is touting these days. There’s the social network’s Custom Audiences feature, an ad-targeting tool that allows advertisers to find customers on Facebook who are already stored in their CMS. Well, imagine identifying customers in your CMS who opted against a service contract at the point of sale, then retargeting them with an inexpensive Facebook campaign.

There’s also Facebook “dark posts,” which allow you to create and promote posts to a targeted audience rather than blast your entire fan base. If I was in Detroit, I’d maybe hit my fan base with posts about road conditions in that cash-strapped city and add a few details about my dealership’s tire-and-wheel coverage.

Then there’s your website. Folks, why aren’t you taking advantage of that section on your dealership’s website that’s dedicated to what happens in the F&I office? To me, this is an area on which we really need to improve. I mean, how can we digitize our processes if we can’t even get these web pages right? There’s just so much we can do with these pages to educate customers.

There’s another reason why I’m addressing this topic this month. At this year’s Industry Summit, Rick Hackett, a former official with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, addressed the F&I industry. He said the biggest problem the bureau has with F&I product sales is the lack of information available for consumers to comparison shop and conduct their own research. So let’s give regulators what they want and customers what they need, because as we all know, an educated customer is usually our best customer.

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