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Driving Towards a Paperless System

March 2007, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Joan Shim - Also by this author

One system that can solve those myriad problems in the dealership: Is it a pipe dream?

Asbury Automotive Group doesn’t think so. It believes that one system that integrates customer relationship management (CRM), computerized sales desking, the F&I menu and the dealer management system (DMS) will be the cure for some serious dealership ailments, chief of which is the length of a customer’s stay in the dealership.

“Probably the biggest criticism of the auto industry right now is how long it takes somebody to buy a car and get through the F&I department,” says Charlie Robinson, Asbury’s vice president of finance and insurance, citing J.D. Power and Associates’ 2006 Sales Satisfaction Index Study, which put time spent by customers in a dealership at an average of three hours, and the time spent waiting between sales and F&I at 31 minutes. “So we thought that an electronic and unified system would speed that up.”

A unified system with all-electronic files also means fewer mistakes and incomplete forms, which reduces costs from rejected deals and high contracts in transit — translating into faster funding and great cash flow results. It also helps in the compliance effort, allowing for electronic data storage and automated disclosures.

This was the vision Asbury Automotive had when it set out in 2004 to achieve an integrated dealership system.

Sales Process Overhaul

The scenario Robinson envisions is a customer and salesman walking the lot until the customer lands on a specific truck. They walk into the showroom and the salesman swipes the customer’s license; now the customer’s info is in the CRM system. The salesman sits the customer down and asks a few questions, plugging the additional data into the system.

The salesman then goes to the sales manager for the pricing options on the truck. The desk manager pops up the desking tool on his computer, and the customer’s information is already there from the license swipe — no need to fill out a buyer’s order. The sales manager sends the salesman back with a printed preliminary buyer’s order, which the desking tool automatically generated to include nine payment options based on term, down payment and whether it’s a buy or lease. No handwritten four-square necessary. The salesman shows the customer the payment options, the customer picks one and the salesman prints out a final buyer’s order.

Because the customer’s information already populates the system, the handoff between the salesman and the F&I department is considerably less than the 31-minute wait J.D. Power reported in its study. From there, the finance manager makes the F&I presentation, finishes the deal, and hits a button to send the information to accounting. The deal then goes into the DMS and is booked out.

Key to achieving this streamlined sales process is using an electronic desking tool.

“We feel the desking portion is the next revolution for the industry right now,” Robinson says. “Along with speeding up the sales transaction, it gives the sales desk an image boost.”

Robinson compares it to the way electronic F&I menus transformed the finance office a few years ago, by holding finance managers accountable to consistent and complete presentations, and by helping make a more professional impression on the consumer.

“The customer believes what’s printed out of a computer far more than he does what somebody inside the dealership is going to say or write on a piece of paper,” Robinson says.

After the desking tool was developed, the integrated system was finalized and was initially implemented in a few test dealerships. After about a year of testing and correcting issues, Asbury began piloting the system in four states. Twenty-two of Asbury’s 87 dealerships are now using the integrated technology, and they are already reaping the benefits, particularly from the desking component.

“We’ve seen a happier customer, improved revenue and a faster process,” Robinson says.

And unlike in the past, all customers are now getting exposed to leases, and more of them are leasing as a result. Customers are also making larger down payments because the system asks for them, whereas the salesman might not have. The desking tool also shows aged inventory so the salesman can unload it first.

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