Tomorrow Belongs to the Connected Agent
Tomorrow Belongs to the Connected Agent

As an agent, how are you going to survive in the next five years? Looking to the future, what confidence do you have that you will not only survive the massive technological and process changes confronting our industry but also thrive in your relationships with dealer clients? In other words, how are you going to avoid losing control of your dealers as the industry finally embraces the winds of change?

The answer to that critically important question is tied directly to your ability to provide a roadmap of the right solutions that will sustain and grow profitability for your dealer clients. This mix of solutions will need to have both the human and technological principles of connection baked into them if they are going to build long-term asset value. If you’re an agent waiting for your dealer to ask for a solution or strategy for innovation, you may be too late.

While it’s still true that an increase in production is the best way for agents to solidify value to dealership performance, today’s agent needs to think beyond products. The agent of the future will become a true asset and trusted resource to the degree that they offer dealerships the intellectual property and leading-edge solutions that address systemic industry challenges.

1. Champion Change and Transform the Traditional F&I Customer Experience.

Regardless of your position on the future of F&I, we all realize that today’s consumer expects and demands more than ever. Customer experience is the new currency driving brand loyalty. Consumers are willing to pay more for positive experiences, and for those dealerships that are delivering, research shows they typically grow at double the rate of their competitors.

The data is clear. According to Forbes Insights’ latest “Data-Driven Customer Experience” report, 20% of revenue is lost annually due to poor customer experiences. Eighty-one percent of customers are willing to pay more for a superior customer experience, and 89% of customers have switched brands after a poor customer experience. Prospective customers desire a better purchase experience in F&I. Thankfully, as agents, we can respond by offering innovative solutions to our dealers to meet these growing demands.

So what qualifies me to write this article, and why am I so passionate about bringing transformation to the F&I process and product purchase experience? I’ve been on a four-year journey that started with a challenge put to me by a fourth-generation dealer who wanted to streamline his processes, provide a better customer experience, and increase brand equity without sacrificing profits. He said he wanted to transform his traditional retail and F&I purchase process into a one-price, one-person, one-hour dealership. What I heard, however, was that he wanted to eliminate F&I. His challenge came in the form of a question, “Are you all in or are you all out?”

Before responding to either option, I told him I would commit to research. One thing I was certain of was that I could not conduct research as part of a theory. I needed hard, concrete proof as to whether there really were any breakdowns in the F&I product purchase experience and whether early adopter dealerships of technology solutions had found the secret sauce. After all, F&I had been the lifeblood of my agency for decades and the primary source of my agency revenues, so admittedly I set out to prove this dealer principal wrong about his vision. Was I in for a surprise!

I spent the next few months looking for technology to support his vision. I took a hands-on approach to evaluating and testing iPad solutions, presentation pads, kiosks, and other digital F&I solutions of the time. I then began traveling to so-called “early adopter” dealerships of change, only to discover that the success stories fell far short of what was advertised.

Finally, a game-changing moment occurred in my research when I sat down with four women, all of whom had purchased a vehicle within the previous two years. After numerous questions, the one response that garnered a unanimous response was their poor experience in F&I. Each expressed extreme mistrust and visceral frustration with the experience, asking the question, “What are they hiding in there?” referring to the F&I desktop between them and the F&I manager. This input changed my entire mindset and I knew at this point that although I was asked to support a one-person process, I had to champion change in the traditional F&I process we all know and have been part of for the past 40 years.

The primary takeaway from months of intensive research was that we have been creating barriers and disconnecting with our customers in F&I. The techniques we have been using and training in the past have abandoned critical principles of human connection:

  1. Can you help me? This is best described by a quote from the greatest sales trainer of all time, Zig Ziglar: “If you help people get what they want, they will help you get what you want.”
  2. Do you care for me? Mutual concern creates connection between people. Consider your best purchase experiences from someone and most likely that person genuinely cared for you.
  3. Can I trust you? Have you ever purchased anything of significance, especially a large purchase, from someone you didn’t trust?

If the customer is unable to say “Yes” to all three of these basic principles, we are not and have not been connecting with them. Knowing when we’re disconnecting in one of these ways is as powerful as connecting, because it reveals the work that needs to be done to create a real connection.

Inspired by my research, providing the best F&I process required me to harness the power of human connection and bake it into a solution. I notified my dealer that I was prepared to provide a roadmap forward. The presentation and proposal was simple: Instead of eliminating F&I managers, we shifted their role to team leads, creating a simple, fast, digital process that reduced transaction times.

This seamless and streamlined process built from the back forward resulted in a time efficient, completely transparent purchase and F&I experience. Today, this dealer has over 260 trained users of the process and has completed over 25,000 transactions.

2. Learn How to Select the Right Technology Solutions.

If you attended NADA this year or have spent any time reading leading industry magazines or online content, one thing is clear: There is an onslaught of digital solutions and technology flooding the market. Many of these companies are prospecting our dealers through distribution channels that don’t include agencies. So what should you as an agent be looking for when considering which solutions to bring to your dealer clients? I want to provide four non-negotiable questions to ask:

  1. Does the solution have a 360-degree customer view? Superior insight is the key to winning in business. It’s not enough to learn what a customer does; you need to understand why they do it. The most effective solution will have actual customer input built into its development. My research revealed many solutions in the marketplace today were developed by software executives and developers that have never been in F&I and have never interacted with real customers — both the consumer and the F&I producer or client advisor. Knowing your product but not your customer will mean having something to sell but no one to buy.
  2. Does the solution maintain a business document rule? Steer clear of solutions that look gamey and present products in video formats. Consumers have not responded well to these kinds of product presentations. F&I is a serious business transaction and a significant investment on the part of your dealer client’s customers. Our research revealed that consumers were quick to disconnect from presentations that did not reflect this understanding.
  3. Does the solution provide transparency and foster interaction? Customer demand for full disclosure and interactivity throughout the F&I process is stronger than it’s ever been. In virtually every other purchase, the customer is in control of the process. Look for a solution that provides the ability for the customer to drive the process and offers an open-facing approach that breaks down barriers. This will maintain trust throughout the process and ensure human connection isn’t lost.
  4. Does the solution allow for soft entry into a future retail experience? Once dealer clients realize the power of a real solution that adds significant bottom-line savings, the greater demand there will be from dealers to ask for a roadmap to a proven, seamless, end-to-end retail and product purchase experience. It was built from the back forward to provide a turnkey solution for future retail (e.g. desking, purchase journey analysis). Offering multiple, disparate solutions will not set client dealers up with a seamless and integrated process.
3. Leverage Mobile Technology to Turn One-Time Customers Into Lifelong Clients.

For decades, F&I has been one of the most profitable departments in the dealership. In the course of my research, another profound discovery was made in regard to how F&I can add even more value to the dealership by being used to create long-term client dependency: the mobile app.

Including F&I products in a mobile app transforms the customer experience by eliminating the perception that contracts will go unused, taking up space in the glovebox. An F&I mobile app provides push notifications, reminders, rewards and product information, and it meets customers right where they are — on their phones!

The average person purchases 17 vehicles in their lifetime. Why not create long-term client dependency by leveraging technology to keep them connected to the dealership through campaigns for parts and service incentives, new vehicles and new products?

In a world of uncertainty, change is the only constant. Secure the future of your agency and your dealer clients by maximizing the power of human connection baked into a complete solution. Your agency and, more importantly, your dealer clients will be amazed by the results.