Many of the new tools marketed to dealer and F&I professionals are designed to give customers a greater sense of control by mirroring the functionality of the new technology they use at home. 
 -  Photo dusanpetkovic via Getty Images

Many of the new tools marketed to dealer and F&I professionals are designed to give customers a greater sense of control by mirroring the functionality of the new technology they use at home.

Photo dusanpetkovic via Getty Images

When you hear the word “technology” in reference to F&I, what do you think of — menus, econtracting, tablets, CRM, DMS? Do you then also think to yourself, “I like it! It’s easy to use, it’s advanced, it’s faster, it’s the future, it’s helpful, desirable, and necessary, and it’s effective.” Or do you think, “I don’t like it! It’s a necessarily evil, difficult to use, overrated, headache, ineffective, slow, cumbersome, and expensive.”

The technology debate often creates a divide among F&I professionals. Some embrace new technologies while others fight it and refuse to change. However, regardless of what side you are on, I think we can all agree and embrace the fact that new technologies are influencing our industry, and their presence will only continue to increase. The genie is out of the bottle, my friends!

Is that a bad thing? After all, all these new technologies are just an attempt to meet the demands of the true drivers of change in our market. Customer expectations are changing. They have more information and ways to access it at their fingertips than ever before.

In fact, a large percentage of our customer base is technology-dependent. They have grown up with smartphones as their window to the world. They may have never used a textbook in school, always done all their work on a tablet or laptop, and view Siri, Alexa, Google, and online reviews as their most trusted advisors.

According to a Cox Automotive study, vehicle buyers are using technology in the following ways:

  • 88% use the internet to shop.
  • 46% use multiple web-enabled devices when shopping.
  • 31% use a tablet to perform their search.
  • 14% exclusively use their smartphones to review vehicles.

So to meet the ever-increasing demands of our customers and to maximize our opportunities, instead of asking ourselves, “Should we use new technologies in our F&I process?,” we really should be asking, “Which technologies are the right fit?”

To answer this question, especially with regard to the right F&I selling tools, start by identifying who you are currently: the Flintstones or the Jetsons.

The Flintstones are a modern Stone Age family. You might be a Flintstone if:

  • One internet circuit is shared by everyone in the store.
  • Your wireless router hosts employees and guests and has dead spots in the showroom.
  • Your menus are handwritten.
  • Your computers run yesterday’s operating systems on two-inch-thick monitors.
  • Download and upload times seem as if they are measured in minutes.
  • You know exactly how many forward or backward clicks are required to get your documents to print correctly.

The Jetsons, on the other hand, are the family of the future. You might be a Jetson if:

  • You have a dedicated internet circuit for each department of the dealership.
  • You have independent wireless access points for sales, customers, and F&I that offer complete coverage throughout the showroom.
  • You are using a tablet-based menu that pushes and pulls with your DMS system.
  • Your computer has the latest operating systems and is lightning-fast.
  • Download and upload times range from 100 to 1,000 megabytes per second.
  • Your printer sometimes gathers dust because everything is econtracted and esigned.

So, Flintstones or Jetsons? Regardless of your answer, both starting places will present their own challenges when integrating technology.

Embracing emerging F&I technology doesn’t necessarily require an across-the-board upgrade of hardware and software. Late adopters can start by searching for unused or underutilized features built into existing systems. 
 -  Photo by PPAMPicture via Getty Images

Embracing emerging F&I technology doesn’t necessarily require an across-the-board upgrade of hardware and software. Late adopters can start by searching for unused or underutilized features built into existing systems.

Photo by PPAMPicture via Getty Images

The Flintstones: Look Within

Flintstones dealerships may not have all of the new toys. Your challenge is finding the newest technology; however, you may not have to look too far to find it. You have great technology in place right now that is being underutilized, not used consistently, or not used at all.

For example, most stores have a web-based trade evaluation system. Many F&I professionals either do not have access to this system or simply do not look at it as part of the preparation for the next turn. It does, however, provide some great information if you have the time to look at it.

Generally, there are five to 10 pictures of the trade from several different angles. These photos often show minor damage such as chips in the paint, dents, windshield stars, and scrapes on the rims. This valuable information provides insight into the customer’s need for ancillary products.

If you are currently using a web-based menu to review the customer’s choices, chances are, you print a menu to present. If you are printing in black and white, maybe a color printer would be the next step. Have you ever consider presenting the menu on a tablet instead of printing it? This is easily accomplished by either sending a PDF to the tablet or accessing your menu system from the tablet directly.

The PDF will allow for an updated look. It will not provide the full range of tablet menu functionalities. It will, however, offer some of the benefits of a tablet menu, such as better display method, the use of technology most customers are comfortable with.

Another option would be to use Apple TV or similar technology to send the menu to a TV or large monitor. This will make the presentation easier to see and will allow the customer to be the star of the show.

Next, look for outside opportunities. You may discover the only choice to reach new levels is to find alternatives. I know some of you are thinking it would be great to have new computers, some tablets, and faster operating systems. But these things cost money and your dealer either cannot or will not make the investment.

When approaching the decision with your management team, be prepared to answer the following questions to increase your chances of getting something new: How much is it, why do we need it, and how will it affect the numbers?

Conducting an honest evaluation of your internal processes — from the customer’s viewpoint as well as your own — will go a long way to having those answers. For this step, you may consider having a third party do the evaluation. They will generally provide an unbiased assessment.

However, if that is not an option, I recommend approaching this as if you are reverse-engineering a problem. Start with the desired results, then back into what process adjustments are needed and which of those areas can be improved with technology.

Here are some additional aspects to look at when selecting the right technology:

  • How does this technology integrate with our current systems?
  • What presentation options does the system provide?
  • Does it provide a customer questionnaire that can supplement the interview?
  • Are there any sales aids for when the customer says “No”?
  • Will it do any behind-the-scenes research into my DMS?
  • Does it use predictive analytics to recommend options to the customer?

The Jetsons: Maximize Your Return

You have all the latest and greatest tools. Your challenges are lack of integration, the fact that no one knows how to use them, or failure to use tools to their fullest potential.

Let’s talk about lack of integration. Some systems will push and pull, which is ideal, or they may only push or pull. This is all contingent on which systems work well with each other.

Your DMS, CRM, menu, and electronic submittal platforms may not directly communicate. If you are experiencing this issue, it may require some conversations with your providers or possibly changing one out to make it more seamless. As Jimmy would say, “Breathe in, breathe out, move on!” As frustrating as this challenge is, it may turn in to a problem that you will have to work around if retooling is not an option.

You say no one knows how to use it? Whose fault is that? Be the expert. Most providers offer some form of web-based or onsite training sessions. These generally focus on functionality and may provide some appropriate word-tracks. Another resource will be your development company’s representatives. They can be a valuable asset when making adjustments to merge your process with the system. Ultimately, it will be up to the individual to become the master.

Are you using the tools to their fullest potential? I compare this to getting the new iPhone the day it comes out but only using it to text, check Facebook, and take selfies.

Let’s look at the digital interview that most of the advanced systems possess. This is a valuable tool to use when deals are stacked up or with internet customers. It allows you to personalize the presentation based on data the customer has provided. So instead of the “You told me …” we can say, “Based on the information you provided …” to personalize our presentation. Depending on when you choose to introduce it, this can occupy some transition time.

An additional example would be the sales tools that are available. Some platforms offer videos or PDFs as visual aids for customers who have concerns about purchasing products. F&I professionals generally fall back on favorite techniques to have further discussion such as the smartphone-case comparison or “factory knows best.”

Some of these digital tools are really good in the moment — and some are also great for after-sale opportunities — yet we are not using them. If you have someone that is close but just will not commit, emailing them one of these sales tools and then following up in a few days will lead to addition product sales.

So is technology changing F&I? No. Customers are changing the way F&I is done. Technology is just offering new ways to effectively communicate in the market today.

Dwayne Wiggins is a trainer at American Financial & Automotive Services’ F&I University. Contact him at [email protected].