At last year’s National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)’s convention in Orlando, Fla., Dealertrack joined a handful of other tech companies attempting to mobilize the F&I experience with the unveiling of its eMenu, a mobile iPad-based tool for the F&I office. Six months after rolling out its new tool in July, the company says the more than 270 dealers using it are reporting an average increase of $618 in profit per retail unit (PRU).
Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables was one of 20 stores that tested the eMenu this past summer. Scott Cooper, the Florida-based dealership’s F&I director, says the eMenu drove a 16% increase in PRU out of the gate. However, getting his F&I team to embrace the new process hasn’t been without its challenges.
Cooper’s team switched to Dealertrack’s eMenu in June. The dealership had previously used Dealertrack’s standard paper menu, but staff was already comfortable using iPads thanks to Mercedes-Benz and its captive finance arm, which has developed a number of iPad applications since October 2009. In fact, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services (MBFS) partnered with Dealertrack on the development of its eMenu.
“A lot of the design and thought process was done in conjunction with Mercedes,” explains Allan Stejskal, vice president and general manager of Dealertrack’s sales and F&I solutions team. “They were interested in us not just building it for them, but building it for the market as a whole. … They’ve been leading from an OEM perspective on moving technology into the dealership and onto the showroom floor, so they have a lot of great insights, and the partnership was really excellent for us.”
Cooper says the switch to the eMenu was relatively painless, with the dealership’s Wi-Fi coverage being the only real challenge. Set up took only a few days.
“One of the [Wi-Fi] access points is in my office because [of that],” Cooper notes.
Along with the iPads, Cooper and his seven-person F&I team — which consists of five managers and two assistants — have also been repurposing product videos found in MBFS’ iPad-compatible, F&I presentation tool, which the captive launched in February 2011. Previously, customers who wanted to view the videos had to do so in a browser. Now the videos are integrated into the Dealertrack eMenu app, and Stejskal says Dealertrack is working to bring quality content like video to other brands as well.
“Mercedes helped us on their pieces, but it isn’t just about Mercedes, it’s not just about highlines,” he says. “It’s about all the brands across all of the product lines.”
Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables’ F&I operation has maintained the 16% per-copy increase it realized the first month it tried out Dealertrack’s eMenu. And as recently as October, the F&I team’s per-copy average stood at $2,144 on 1.93 products sold per contract.
“In October 2012 [without the eMenu] we were at $1,645 a car and 1.84 products per contract,” Cooper says. “I would say [the eMenu] is quite a bit of help there.”
“Overall, I’d say we’ve grown a little bit with consistency.”
When Dealertrack released its eMenu for iPad to the market this past summer, the Lake Success, N.Y.-based technology firm claimed its F&I tool drove a $740 increase in PRU among its pilot dealers. That average has fallen $122 since. Stejskal, however, says that considering the number of dealers now using the product, the company is “seeing a really nice lift across the entire base.”
“It’s really gratifying to see how a tool like this — which is being used by dealers to be more transparent, to be more upfront with the consumers — is not only providing a lift in PRUs, but we’re also seeing CSI go up with consumers in the F&I office, too.”
Cooper agrees that transparency and an improved customer experience are two of the main reasons he believes the eMenu is a good fit for his dealership. And while the results have been good, he thinks they could be better.
“I have probably 70% of the team actually [using the eMenu]. I have one [team member] who’s scared of it. But that person is awful scared of technology in general,” he quips. His goal is to have everyone 100% on board by January. The driver of that is the process he’s standardized for his producers, one that he reinforces during the F&I team’s biweekly “huddles.”
“We really believe that the process is key,” Stejskal says. “Really, with any of the tools that we offer, it’s critical that the dealership process and the tools mesh.”
Cooper’s dealership takes a casual approach, often handing the iPad to customers while they wait in the showroom to enter the F&I office. At that time, buyers are asked to complete a survey on the eMenu, which quizzes them about their experience with their salesperson and poses several needs-discovery questions to tee up the F&I manager’s product presentation. The tool also allows customers to browse through F&I product videos — but Cooper points out that this is only happening about 40% of the time.
“I think [customers] are mostly taking the survey than looking at the products themselves,” he says.
Cooper writes the questions that appear in the eMenu’s survey, which range from “About how many miles per year will you drive?” to “Did you utilize the mbrace system in your prior Mercedes-Benz vehicle?” Once the customer completes the survey on the iPad, the results are forwarded to the F&I manager. The producer can also see what videos the customers viewed and how long they viewed them.
“I think many dealers are finding that that helps them to focus their sales pitch on the products that resonate the best with customers,” Stejskal says. “And that then drives a lot of that PRU increase.”
Dealertrack’s implementation team offers several different options for dealers to receive training on the eMenu, including webinars, in-dealership seminars and over-the-phone follow-up. Cooper and his team took advantage of a webinar before implementing the eMenu.
Dealertrack’s team approaches each dealership differently. Stejskal says that there are two common processes, but each can be adapted to fit a dealership’s current F&I process.
“There are lots of different ways that dealers execute the F&I process,” he explains. “So you’ve got some folks who are handing it to the consumer ahead of time, like Scott [Cooper] is. You’ve got other folks who are using it as a tool together with the consumer. And so our implementation team will help the dealer kind of pick the best process and then train to that.”
Once the F&I manager reviews survey results and fine-tunes his or her product pitch, the customer is shown Dealertrack’s eMenu on the iPad. Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables has seven core products in the lead column of its menu, including tire-and-wheel, paintless dent removal, LoJack and more. What Cooper likes about the eMenu is the ease and speed of editing the menu.
“It’s certainly easier for the F&I managers to pick and choose the products and change the terms on the fly, rather than going into an Internet browser, picking a product, reprinting it, going back a couple of times,” he says. “This allows me to do that on the final stage and the customer gets to see how things change their payment arrangement. So it’s very transparent in that way.”
Work in Progress
While the process of using the eMenu has not yet been perfected at Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables, Cooper believes things are moving in the right direction. For its part, Mercedes-Benz believes tools like the eMenu will help dealers reach Millennial and Gen X buyers, and it fully expects older generations to embrace web- and tablet-based car shopping as well. It’s one of the reason the OEM launched a customer service initiative in 2012 called Customer One. Cooper describes it as a “Ritz Carlton service level.”
“MBFS has decided they want to go down that path with the process; technology being a big part of it,” he says. “Especially since their cars are very technology-oriented.” Stejskal also notes that the growing number of Millennials entering the market demands that dealers get onboard with new technology. “The consumer is moving toward that technology and the dealer’s competitors are moving toward that technology,” he says. “And while you can deliver a really high-quality process that’s completely manual and doesn’t include any of this technology, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to deliver that in a way that resonates with the consumer.
“It used to be that a consumer might visit four dealers. Now it’s barely more than one dealer that a consumer visits. And they’ve done all of the research and picked the dealer online ahead of time,” he adds. “And so that consumer is pretty knowledgeable. They’ve got a pretty high level of comfort with technology, and they are expecting the dealer partner to be able to deliver an experience that kind of mirrors the technology they used to get to that buying decision in the first place.”