I’m sorry, but I’m fed up with all this crap I’m reading in trade magazines about how much customers hate the F&I experience. The surveys and techies they quote would have you believe the entire process is broken and in need of an overhaul.
And these self-styled gurus who claim to have the solution to customer woes in the F&I office — some of whom have never even sold a car nor spun a deal — are trying to peddle tech fixes like carpetbaggers of yore.
They use terms like “dinosaurs” and “old school” to describe F&I managers who subscribe to the traditional process, which, by the way, has been refined and tweaked over decades. And they question your character and integrity if you don’t subscribe to their belief that F&I product information and pricing should be available online.
I don’t know about you, but my “BS” meter is pegging the needle. But let’s just look at the facts.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s 2016 “Consumer Voices on Automotive Financing” report noted that more than 90% of American households own at least one vehicle. Citing Experian Automotive data, that same report also showed that consumers required financing 86.6% of the time to purchase a new vehicle and 55.3% of the time to purchase a used vehicle.
Additionally, the latest data from the National Automobile Dealers Association tells us that F&I product sales account for more than 40% of the dealer’s net operating profit. That same report also showed that the average franchised dealership is only netting 2.2% nationwide, which means those F&I dollars are extremely important to dealers’ bottom lines.
And with competition compressing front-end margins to near extinction, those F&I profits are going to become even more critical. Yet, these tech visionaries want to tinker with this critical profit center.
Personally, I don’t believe any of these companies are truly concerned about the margin situation. They’re just chasing those profit dollars just like you and I. And, hey, anyone can cook the numbers to make survey results fit their pitch. But out here in the real world, we F&I pros make it happen one satisfied customer at a time.
Besides, if these surveys are true and consumers would rather have a root canal than be led into the F&I office, then why aren’t more of them walking in the door with bank checks and insisting that they not be forced to deal with the F&I manager.
By the way, the average CSI score in my zone stands at 88.36%. Langdale Ford is at 95.76%.
So who exactly are these companies surveying that has them concluding that what we need more of is transparency?
Personally, I think “transparency” is an overused word that has lost all meaning. David Ruggles, a fellow industry columnist, defined it this way: “True transparency is when the seller and the consumer have the same information and the equal ability to interpret that information.” I don’t know of any business owner who would voluntarily post his cost and markup online. It just doesn’t make good business sense.
Ruggles went on to write: “To claim transparency while at the same time working within a system that is unnecessarily complex and confusing is duplicitous. Stop using the word transparency. Consumers ain’t buying it.” And they aren’t buying it, as using the word in a business that relies on negotiations is disingenuous.
My experience is that customers who enter our showrooms want to trust that we’ll do the right thing. Why else would we see dealerships across the country registering extremely high CSI scores?
Allowing car buyers to calculate the impact a service contract will have on their monthly payment sounds great, but I doubt many will take that step. My question is, what are these tech companies prepared to do when our per-copy averages drop because customers are being pre-exposed to our products?
Look, there’s a good reason dealers have trained F&I professionals manning their F&I departments. But if these companies are so bent on bringing about change, then they should focus on speeding up the sales process, because we F&I pros are doing just fine.