What a conference we enjoyed this year. The trainers did their thing, dealer execs talked compliance safeguards, and the panel sessions hit the mark. There was just so much going on, I couldn’t begin to cover it all. So I thought I’d offer my take on one of the most highly anticipated discussions at this year’s event.
Before I get into it, I wanted to tell you about a dinner experience I had the last night of the conference. I was at Gordon Ramsay’s steakhouse inside the Paris with Mrs. Marv and her parents, who flew into Las Vegas that day. When it came time to order drinks, the server handed me — I kid you not — an iPad. It was definitely slick, but after flipping through 20-plus pages of beers (plus reviews), I was worn out. So, I arbitrarily picked one. But it wasn’t over, because everybody else at the table still had to take their turn with the iPad.
I guess I was hoping for a hard copy or “paper” menu at that point. The problem wasn’t the device. Like I said, it was cool. The problem was the process. There simply wasn’t one. And that’s what I think software makers need to keep in mind as they continue down the path of the tablet menu.
The two-session discussion on the mobile menu began with software makers demonstrating their wares. After a short break, the panel was joined by my friend Tom Wilson, dealership development manager for American Financial and Automotive Services. He said interest in the tablet menu was extremely low when he surveyed dealers in his three-state region, which got the discussion rolling.
Attendees peppered the panelists with an array of questions, from whether they were sure the mobile menu wouldn’t reintroduce old compliance issues to whether the tablet menu is even needed at all. I won’t weigh in on the latter, but I will say that I was disappointed that not one panelist took the opportunity to clearly define a process for their tools that would make them more effective than paper.
As I wrote last month, menus weren’t around when I started in F&I. The primary method of presenting products back then was step selling from the base payment, which, like I also wrote, was a CSI killer because the process was long and tedious. The menu obviously fixed that by speeding up the process while delivering superior results in terms of profit per vehicle retailed and CSI. It got even better when multi-column designs were introduced.
See, I can’t buy into the mobile menu until the software makers devise a process for presenting product that is superior in form and results to the paper version. If they don’t, then their success rate will probably languish, and their tools will only appeal to a small percentage of F&I managers.
What I’m saying is I don’t see a reason to introduce a tablet version if the present format is working just fine.
Now I don’t discount the interest in devices like the iPad. They’re cool and easy to use, and they’ve found their way into everyday life. But that doesn’t mean we have to find a use for it in every situation and activity.
I had a brief discussion with one of the developers after the debate. We batted around a lot of philosophical reasons the iPad may eventually find its way into mainstream F&I, and he concluded that it may be possible the application is ahead of its time. “Don’t scratch me where I don’t itch,” was my reply.
Let’s be frank, software developers, dealers, F&I managers and trainers are always looking for an edge over the competition. And I understand how tantalizing the concept of a mobile menu is, but my opinion doesn’t hold much weight. It’s the customer’s opinion that matters.
I know there are F&I managers out there who are using the tablet menu with some success. My question is, what happens when the shine wears off? Will you ditch the device and return to the paper version? Will the software providers be able to keep up with more complex versions?
Listen, I’m not against the iPad or other tablets. My issue is I have yet to hear someone describe to me a simple, effective process for using a tablet menu.
I will say that there is a place inside the dealership where the tablet can be useful, namely service, sales and the desk. But F&I, by nature, is not mobile. Our work is best conducted in the controlled confines of our offices, mainly because of the nature of what we do. Remember, we are handling our customers’ private information.
So, again, I ask: Why would we need an iPad in our offices? My ears and mind are waiting for an answer.
Marv Eleazer is a finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected]