The mobile race is on. Technology companies and even F&I product providers continue to roll out solutions aimed at mobilizing processes away from the sales desk and outside of the F&I office. Industry insiders and dealer personnel are mixed on whether that future will ever be realized, but all agree that there is a place in the dealer world for today’s mobile devices.
Last year, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services became the first captive lender to introduce a dealer-facing Apple iPad solution. Now, ADP Dealer Services, BMW Financial Services, DealerTrack, Innovative Aftermarket Systems, Reynolds and Reynolds, and Warrantech are looking to do the same. Most current solutions are focused on helping dealers manage customers and their operations, but these offerings also leave open the possibility of these tools making their way into the sales and F&I process.
Fueling this trend are stats like the ones published by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, which showed that consumers have purchased nearly 29 million Apple iPad tablets to date. The overwhelming acceptance of these devices is allowing solution providers to move away from costly, device-dependent strategies toward more Web-based solutions that allow dealers to decide on the hardware they’ll use to access these tools.
Still, several factors stand in the way of mobile solutions completely revolutionizing the dealership experience, including regulations like the Red Flags Rule. Companies jumping on the mobile bandwagon, however, say the point of these solutions is to introduce new efficiencies, not replace a dealership’s established sales and F&I processes; how dealers take advantage of these tools is up to them.
Here’s a look at what’s available now or will be in the near future:[PAGEBREAK]
ADP Dealer Services: Performance Tracking
ADP Dealer Services’ Drive for Mobile is a mobile Website companion for its ADP Drive DMS. It is designed to allow a dealership’s executive management team to access key performance metrics from their iPhone or Android-based smartphone.
“It’s designed to give you a thumbnail sketch of what the vital signs of the business are when you’re nowhere near your store,” says David Nash, vice president of product marketing.
Currently used by more than 1,000 registered clients, ADP Drive for Mobile provides mobile access to stats for every department, as well as drill-down capabilities. Users can monitor cash flow, accounts receivable and payable. Managers also can view service department repair orders, as well as a wide array of service-related performance data.
For car buyers, ADP offers Customer Touch, a solution that can send out service reminders and notifications to customers via mobile text or e-mail. It can also connect with customers via direct mail, automated or live voice.
“As new technologies are introduced to the automotive retail market, the adoption rate seems to be accelerating,” Nash says. “The dealers who invest in mobile technology early will gain a competitive advantage. Everyone else is going to see that, and they’re going to want to catch up.”
BMW Financial Services: Mobile Dealer Portal
BMW’s InfoBahn Mobile is an iPad-compatible version of its dealer portal. It allows users to handle credit applications and inquiries and conduct lease-return inspections. It is currently being used by 40 BMW dealerships across the country.
On the F&I side, the captive finance company is currently working with about eight to 10 dealers to test what Shaun Bugbee, a senior marketing executive for BMW Financial Services, terms as “full mobile F&I.”
“It works very much the same as if there was a customer sitting in front of the F&I manager,” he says.
One of the first dealerships to test out the captive’s mobile portal was South Bay BMW in Torrance, Calif. O’Dell McKinney, a 26-year industry veteran and marketing manager for the dealership, said the solution’s lease-return feature is quickly changing the way his store interacts with lease customers. In fact, he’s already seen an uptick in customer satisfaction since it arrived at the beginning of 2010.
“We’ve probably used the Dealer Self Inspect feature to inspect at least 1,500 cars,” he says. “It’s really convenient. Our staff can pull up an inspection worksheet and calculate damages while conducting the inspection.”
The solution is still far from a finished product. In fact, McKinney already envisions a day when the iPad will allow his customers to connect to the California Department of Motor Vehicles from his dealership’s lot.
“It would be great if InfoBahn could also transfer forms to the local DMV,” he says. “It would allow customers to perform the release of liability themselves on the DMV Website.”
Bugbee says BMW Financial Services is thinking even bigger than that. The company has added Silanis Technology’s e-signature solution to its solution last September, signaling its long-term plan to allow for e-contracting over the iPad.
Fueling the captive’s mobile strategy is something Bugbee and his team discovered during the pilot phase of its mobile dealer portal. Customer satisfaction scores at test dealerships improved from an average of 7.9 (out of 10) to about nine. “I would expect, by year end, we’ll have somewhere in the vicinity of 100 to 120 stores using InfoBahn Mobile,” he says.
DealerTrack eCarList: Customer Management
When DealerTrack acquired eCarList in July, the company also acquired the inventory management and merchandising solution provider’s TrueTarget mobile app. TrueTarget can run on an Apple iPad or iPhone, as well as Android-based devices.
For salespeople, the free version of TrueTarget allows access to data from AutoTrader, Cars.com and eBay Motors from anywhere on the lot. They can even see the pricing of their competitors. The app also acts as an appraisal tool, allowing salespeople to scan VINs or a vehicle’s window sticker.
“The sales process of the future is going to move away from the desk methodology toward a more consultative sharing of information,” says Len Critcher, chief product officer for DealerTrack eCarlist. “And if you’re on the lot or on the showroom floor with a consumer, you need to be able to access the same data you can get from your desktop while standing with the consumer.”
The merchandising features allow dealerships to photograph vehicles and manage their online vehicle listings from their mobile device. It also allows them to see market pricing so they can price their vehicles to the market. The upgraded version of the app also provides access to data from BlackBook, AuctionNet, Manheim and Adesa.
Critcher, who estimated that about 3,500 dealers are currently using the solution, says the company is currently testing both standard video uploading and live streaming video capabilities.
“An app isn’t very valuable if it’s forcing dealers to reenter data,” Critcher adds. “If you can mirror the experience on a mobile device that you get on a desktop tool, adoption will start to happen.”
IAS: Customer Management and Training
Innovative Aftermarket Systems entered the mobile race in June with the launch of its SmartPad mobile app. SmartPad can be used to present F&I products to customers before they make the transition to F&I. It’s primary purpose, however, is to help users manage the customer experience at their stores.
Part of the aftermarket program provider’s SmartDealerProducts software suite, SmartPad is compatible with the Apple iPad, most Google-based Android tablets and the Blackberry Playbook. The company recommends that sales personnel use the mobile software to survey customers before they enter the F&I office. The goal is to gain as much information as possible about the customer for the F&I manager, but it also can be used to prevent CSI problems.
“It can either be used with the interviewer keying in the answers or you can actually hand the customer the tablet and ask them to answer the questions,” says Doug Uzelac, an agent for Great Lakes Companies. “If the F&I manager is not available, a sales manager could easily step in to conduct the interview, because the information is electronically transmitted to the F&I manager’s desktop or phone.”
Answers can also be transmitted to the dealership’s management team via text message or e-mail. That flexibility allows managers to get involved in a deal if the customer’s answers indicate any dissatisfaction.
“The whole idea is to bring process and accountability to the store,” Uzelac says.
Dealers can also equip SmartPad with multimedia presentations and even video clips, a feature Uzelac isn’t overly enthusiastic about. “I’ve never seen a video answer an objection,” he says, “Don’t get me wrong, this is a great solution, but you still need to have that personal touch.”
Mercedes-Benz Financial Services: Mobile Dealer Portal
This October will mark the one-year anniversary of Mercedes-Benz Financial Services’ full-scale deployment of the mobile version of its MB Advantage software. And because the company chose to build its mobile offering around its dealer point-of-sale system rather than creating an app, Michael Kansleiter, senior marketing manager for the company, says the sky’s the limit on what MBFS will be able to add in the future.
“Anything is possible,” Kanzleiter says. “And as you know, we were the first company in the world last year to figure out a way to bring the consumer-oriented iPad device into the dealership environment. Today, you see many other automakers and finance companies looking to join the technology party.”
Mercedes-Benz of San Francisco, which the magazine featured in March, was one of 40 dealers in May 2010 to test drive MBFS’s mobile solution, which, among other features, allows front-end staff to start loan applications and check for financing options while working with a customer. It can also be used to ground lease-return vehicles.
The dealership was again chosen by the captive finance company to serve as the launch pad for its mobile F&I presentation tool. Ash Zaki, COO for Mercedes-Benz of San Francisco, says the lease-return feature has become a permanent part of the dealership’s lease-return process. The F&I piece, however, has yet to make major inroads with the dealership’s finance managers.
Zaki says the F&I feature is finding its way into more situations every day. “The F&I tool is really nice when the finance manager goes out to the salesperson’s desk to talk to the customer,” he says. “But for the most part, our F&I managers prefer to interact with customers in front of their desktops because they feel it keeps the customer more engaged.”
That doesn’t mean Zaki doesn’t see a future for these tools at his dealership. In fact, he has his sights on integrating a mobile payment solution for his service department. He was on the verge of completing that project earlier this year, but ran into integration problems with his dealership management system provider.
Kanzleiter wouldn’t tip his hat as to what’s next for MBFS’s mobile strategy, but he says his technology staff will continue to look for more uses.
“We want to continuously improve the functionality,” he says. “For example, the iPad 2 offers camera capabilities, which would allow for the reading of VINs and barcodes. Our IT people also are monitoring the latest technology introductions to see if there is a fit for our business model.”
Reynolds and Reynolds: Customer Management
The goal of Reynolds and Reynolds’ Contact Management system was to provide dealerships with the ability to create and manage prospects from multiple touch points in the dealership. In June, the company extended the functionality of its customer relationship management solution to anywhere in the dealership with its new dealerPAD.
The new iPad-compatible solution is available at no additional charge to current users of the company’s Contact Management system. Armed with the mobile solution, salespeople can begin creating customer records while interacting with them on the lot. Sales consultants can even check their appointment schedule and record recent activities.
“dealerPAD is an extension of what we used in the past,” said Ed Pontis, director of CRM product planning. “All the functionality of dealerPAD already exists and had existed for years.”
Users will need to have an existing account with CarLocate.com, the vehicle search portal Reynolds launched in 2009. “We’re using all the information from CarLocate.com to help populate the iPad so that dealers get the same vehicle photos and information their customers are seeing on the dealership’s Website,” Pontis notes.
As for the future, Pontis adds: “As retailers start to really leverage the tablet and the tablet environment as not only a way to gather information, but to feed information back to their customers, consumers will become more and more used to seeing it. And it won’t be long before customers are signing documents on an iPad instead of ink on paper.”
Warrantech: Customer Management and Training
Warrantech will enter the mobile race early next year with a Web portal that dealers can access from their desktop computer, mobile tablet device or smartphone. The F&I product provider’s offering will serve as both a customer interaction tool and a training aid.
“It’s a training tool, but it also allows us to hold dealership personnel accountable and ensure that everyone is following the game plan,” says Chris Murphy, executive vice president.
The company has yet to give its dealer-facing solution a name, but officials say dealers will be able to load it with closing videos, customer presentations and even evidence manuals. So, while the portal will act primarily as a customer-satisfaction monitor, dealers will have flexibility in how they use the mobile solution. Michael Burgholzer, a senior executive at Warrantech, believes the company’s Web portal will have a big impact in F&I.
“If the dealer is accustomed to menu selling, it can provide a full menu transition for the customer,” he says. “Dealers can take that guy who was an eight- to 10-unit-a-month guy and turn him into a 12- or 15-unit-a-month guy. That makes a significant difference to that dealer’s bottom line.”