Our industry has undergone more of a transformation over the past few years than it had in the past few decades. This is thanks in great part to the recent Covid-19 pandemic, a historic, world changing event from which we are now just months re moved. As the globe struggled to navigate this unprecedented challenge, businesses everywhere had to learn how to adapt to an uncharted landscape virtually overnight. Everyone affiliated with the automotive industry can see and feel that it continues to progress. Products are changing, the culture is changing, and most importantly, the consumer has, and continues, to evolve.
Are We Listening to Our Customers?
In a world of instant gratification, today’s customer is unwilling to sit in a dealership for hours waiting for delivery of their vehicle. Research indicates that they would prefer not to enter the dealership at all. While some in our industry may not appreciate these consumer sentiments, it does not change the fact that as technology continues to advance, this concern is only going to continue to grow. As businesspeople, we need to either adapt or risk becoming obsolete.
From a Traditional Process to a New One
As a result of the pandemic, many dealerships quickly realized that the traditional closed-off setting of an F&I office was incompatible with mandated social-distancing guidelines. While searching for a solution to this new challenge, some dealerships concluded that they needed to transfer F&I departments into a fully remote model.
With this new process, rather than have the consumer sit with the F&I manager in an office, customers may have been escorted into a lounge area where a business manager would appear on a monitor screen to facilitate the completion of the delivery. Once the presentation and explanations had transpired on screen, the customer would e-sign all the documents (aside from state documentation requirements) and be on their way. The process was, for the most part, fully remote. This may sound simple; however, those with extensive dealership experience understand that a massive change like this results in heavy pushback from all departments within stores.
If you are contemplating whether this process could work in your dealership, we have laid out the requisites to help you make that determination.
1. 100% buy-in from the very top: If you leave any room for employees to sabotage change, they will. It is vital that the dealer principal and GM are the driving force behind such a change. It must be understood that, regardless of what may happen, this is the way things are being done.
2. A solid IT department: When dealing with technology, there are going to be bumps along the way. Having an on-site IT department, a dedicated person or team to facilitate this transition, is a must.
3. Understanding from the desk managers: Desk managers will need to make sure deal folders are coming into F&I complete, as the finance manager is not able to chase things from a remote location.
4. Capable support staff on-site: Remember, the finance manager will no longer be on-site at the dealership to handle the clerical issues that may arise. These F&I assistants will aid in getting any wet signatures your state may require, and keeping the consumers notified of what is going on.
5. A menu provider with a solid visual presentation: Sixty-five percent of consumers are visual learners, while only 30% are auditory. With the in-person advantage eliminated, you will need to make up that ground by using videos and other visuals to provide an enhanced presentation on screen.
Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?
If this sounds like a heavy lift, that’s because it is. Having said that, the benefits can be substantial, and once they are realized, the process can become second nature. Weighing the pros and cons will be essential for you if you are thinking of making a switch. Here is a list of the top valuable benefits you can gain from a fully remote model:
1. Increased PVR and product index – While initially, the individual F&I managers’ PVR will dip as they get acclimated, this will self-correct. More importantly, you will gain the ability to place more deals in the hands of your most skillfully trained and capable hands. This will reflect strongly in the overall production in the store.
2. Shorter wait times for customers – Since the F&I managers conducting business remotely are primarily presenting product and doing so for multiple stores, the process allows a group to maximize their economy of scale by having a larger team waiting to take the next available turn. More available finance managers and less prep time before seeing the customer equals a faster experience for your car buyers.
3. More attractive schedules to attract talent – Ten years ago, all you needed was the promise of enough turns and a strong percentage to recruit top talent in our industry. Today’s employee wants that AND a better work-life balance. Having your F&I team working remotely makes it much easier to work around individual needs when it comes to scheduling. Additionally, as the process becomes second nature, you could even have your F&I managers taking deals from home.
4. Increased compliance – With the entire turn taking place remotely, the dealership can easily record the whole process and save it for reference. Rather than relying on “he said - she said” statements to reconstruct what happened, simply pull up your file and press play.
This may not be a solution that works for every dealership or group; however, it has proven to be a massive success for some dealers. As our automotive industry continues to evolve and grow, we must innovate to match it, or risk being left behind. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that daring to be different and challenging the status quo can result in more success than we may have realized.