If I could predict the future, I’d be at the nearest 7-11 buying one (and only one) lottery ticket. But here I am writing this article, which tells you all you need to know about my powers of prognostication. Still, I can’t help but occasionally peer into my crystal ball and try to interpret what I see. And what I see is a little scary — at least for those who aren’t prepared.
Here’s what I believe: First, the Federal Trade Commission (directly) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (indirectly) issue regulations that affect the retail automotive world. But when it comes to actually impacting a dealership financially, neither the FTC nor the CFPB are as tough as they think.
I also believe the local plaintiff’s bar does more to affect dealership behavior than distant federal authorities. Consumer lawyers have a direct economic stake in finding, exposing and exploiting dealership violations. And trust me, it is very lucrative.
I also believe that technology, particularly social media, will eventually supplant consumer lawyers as the most effective factor in regulating dealership behavior.
Lastly, I believe no one trusts what dealerships say about themselves. However, consumers tend to believe what total strangers say about dealerships, especially if those strangers just bought a car or had one serviced at a dealership. And that’s the power of social media.
Facebook may not seem like a big threat, as scathing reviews posted there are only read by people connected to the reviewer who care or are in the market for a car. But people who go to DealerRater.com or Cars.com are almost all in the market for a car. Get blasted in those or similar sites and your topline revenue will take a hit.
In short, a herd of ticked-off customers with internet access will have more power to influence dealership behavior than the FTC or CFPB. That’s not just the future; it increasingly describes our present.
If the fair, ethical and legally-compliant treatment of customers, as broadcast across social media, is the future of dealership regulation, how should dealers respond? The answer is obvious: Create a process that ensures customers are treated fairly, ethically, and in a legally-compliant manner.
At the end of the day, most federal consumer-protection laws are designed to do just that. So doing right by regulators will also satisfy the real regulators: your customers.
The process must include a consistent, verifiable training program that includes the legal requirements for each job description at a dealership, not just F&I personnel. Per the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average dealership has 67 employees, of whom three or four are F&I managers. That means a program that only trains 4% of the workforce is going to fall short 96% of the time.
To address this need, Compliance Summit is cooperating with Automotive Compliance Education to offer the ACE Certified Compliance Specialist program to attendees at no additional charge. Certification candidates will have access to online, interactive, video-based training on a broad range of dealership compliance topics. On Tuesday, Aug. 30, leading industry compliance experts (and yours truly) will provide live test preparation, followed by the certification exam after lunch. Those who pass will receive the ACE Certified Compliance Specialist designation.
ACE is designed to assure continuous proficiency. Certified Compliance Specialists will be required to recertify annually by reviewing a current “Annual Update” module that focuses on developments relevant to their certification level over the preceding year, and passing the recertification exam.
Making the certification more meaningful is the program’s emphasis on processes that apply the theoretical aspects of regulatory language to real-life situations.
ACE is spearheaded by Gil Van Over III, founder and president of compliance auditing firm gvo3 & Associates. The idea spawned from the constant violations he came across while reviewing dealership operations, infractions that could have been prevented with proper training. “I created ACE to fill that need,” he says.
In addition to launching Compliance Specialist certification at Compliance Summit, ACE will provide certifications tailored to F&I personnel, sales associates, sales managers, business office personnel, and compliance officers. Each program will be offered online at www.AceCert.org, which will go live following the conclusion of Compliance Summit. Live review and test sessions are also expected to be part of future Compliance Summits.
The programs are designed to provide the basis for customer experiences that satisfy both the federal regulators and the real regulators: customers. That’s how smart dealers will face the future.
James S. Ganther Esq. is the cofounder and CEO of Mosaic Dealer Services. Email him at [email protected].