A friend noticed me eyeing his Tesla S P90D and offered me a closer look. He led me to the driver’s door and the handle popped out to greet me. As I sat in the captain’s chair and gazed around the interior, my appreciation for the all-electric car’s refinement and sleek, understated design quickly escalated. Even though I wanted to spend more time with it, I politely began to exit.
“No, no, no! You drive while I ride,” my friend demanded.
I tried to refuse, but he wouldn’t hear of it. We took off and, let me tell you, this thing is quick. Even more impressive was the S’s “autopilot” setting, which keeps it in the lane and at a safe distance from other vehicles. It even brakes to avoid collisions. I was amazed. The experience got me thinking about how technology aids us in the F&I office.
Much of the debate over advanced technology in our business revolves around new presentation tools, including showroom kiosks and tablet-based menus. But technology is more often a silent partner, increasing the speed of the processors in our computers, wireless devices, and laser printers, and allowing us to focus on value-driven solutions for our customers. Technology is supposed to help us do our jobs, not do our jobs for us.
That brings us back to the tablet menu, which you won’t find in any of the F&I offices at Langdale Ford. My personal opinion is that they are more useful to F&I managers who view F&I as a job rather than a career. They don’t seek training and they have no real desire to improve, so they would just as soon let this tool do as much of their job as possible.
I recently spoke with a tablet software rep. She told me that most of the stores that adopted tablet menus in her territory increased their per-copy averages by a few hundred dollars. I asked to see the numbers and quickly determined those stores had been languishing below the threshold of what many of us would consider average before they added the devices. Technology saved the day because it forced F&I managers to follow the process they should have been following all along.
Another reason some stores get a boost from tablets is because customers are surprised and dazzled by the tech. Those who aren’t probably already own a similar device. Either way, they get an opportunity to learn about the various products we offer and the many ways they protect their investment. But isn’t that what’s supposed to happen in the F&I office?
I realize that not everyone sitting behind the desk is a superstar. Some are average and others are less than average. If a piece of software or hardware can help keep them on task, give it to them. Just don’t assume it can replace real training or hard-won expertise.
You will never convince me a piece of software can perform better than a skilled, experienced, and well-trained F&I professional. Those who constantly invest in their professional enrichment will increase all areas of productivity without the need for a tablet or any other device. The best F&I managers can execute an effective presentation with a ballpoint pen and a McDonald’s napkin.
Now, some of you may think I wish we were all back in the Stone Age. Not true. I love technology. I just happen to love education and knowledge more. As an employer, you get what you pay for. You can’t replace F&I managers with hybrid salespeople or fancy software and expect equal or better results.
There will always be a personal demand for the latest technology, because people want to be defined by their trappings. I enjoyed the heck out of my Tesla test drive, but I know next year will bring a new edition with an even more advanced autopilot. At some point, we are going to pine for the days when we could get in our cars and actually drive them — that is, unless you never really liked driving and just want your vehicle to take you from Point A to Point B while you eat your breakfast.
My challenge to you is to reevaluate yourself professionally and take a hard look at what you’re doing. Is F&I your job or your career? Technology won’t turn the former into the latter. Good luck and keep closing!
Marv Eleazer is the F&I director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. Email him at [email protected].