The way customers buy is in a state of constant change, and any hesitation on our part to adjust will only hasten our slide into irrelevance.
The Information Age has intersected with the Age of the Customer, and that demands our processes adapt and change. The control of all retail transactions has been handed over to the customer, and they show up ready to buy and looking for someone to provide insight on how best to utilize the information they have gathered. They are looking for someone to serve them and their interests, not attempt to sell them. They are daring us to adopt a servant attitude and put their interests first.
I say we take that dare. Here are five ways we can serve our customers, and the result will be happier customers and larger profits for us!
We must utilize “power questions” that will move a customer to open up and have in-depth conversations about themselves and their needs. And it will enable us to achieve one of the main goals of every customer interaction: to make customers stop and think! Words are powerful. There are two words that when, one or both are part of a question we ask, will make customers stop and think before they answer. If the questions you ask are what they normally encounter when buying a vehicle, then you are perceived as the one thing you should fear the most: being just like everybody else!
Ask every customer, “What is the one technology feature you are most excited about on your new vehicle?” They will stop and think as they consider several answers and then provide you with the one feature that won the battle in their mind. This will enable you to gauge what level of interest they have in technology in general and provide insight into how best to build value in the service contract you and your dealers offer.
As proof, consider the following. Read this question and see what happens: “If you could describe yourself in one word, what would that word be?” You had to stop and think and your brain went through several choices before you came to a decision. This sorting process fuels a psychological event that drives focus to the area we desire, because quality questions always gather quality information.
Many are heralding that technology will be the great disrupter of the F&I process. JP Morgan’s executive director, Marco Pacheco, stated, “Technology by itself is not the real disrupter. Not being customer-centric is the biggest threat to any business.” We must harness the power of innovative technology and couple it with an obsession to provide exceptional customer service. Technology serves two basic functions. It provides transparency and facilitates the sales process. Technology was never intended to be a fixer, just a facilitator.
Customers first touch the dealership online. So, F&I should be there and utilize the most effective tool available, video! Video conveys nonverbal information and consumers are 27 times more likely to watch a video than read text. Every dealer website should contain videos that convey the protection products available for their vehicle.
Customers have made it evident they hate a sales pitch in the F&I office, and they hate it just as much online! Product videos should educate and inform and make customers thirsty for more information once they meet the F&I manager. Videos should not be limited to product information. Providing a video that explains the F&I process and introduces the F&I manager can provide a comfort level we all hope to achieve. Video information that can be accessed before coming to the dealership builds trust and increases comfort levels.
The majority of customers want to start the F&I process online and finish it in the store. They still need and want us. The demise of the F&I professional is premature and overstated! The one thing they cannot get online that an F&I professional can provide is insight — information not easily gleaned through a digital form.
We must constantly update the information we share with customers. We must provide the most recent and helpful information. Sharing a repair order from the last 30 days that illustrates how a minor repair can be a major expense is much more powerful that something laminated that is two years old.
We are looking to create “Aha!” moments. That only happens when a customer gets information from us that is insightful, compelling, and relevant to their situation and the car they are buying. So that begs the question: How hungry are we to learn and grow our skills each day? The hungrier you are to research and build your level of knowledge and expertise the thirstier you will make your customers for the products you offer. The way to maximize that effort is to start the thirsty effort online and follow up with information they could only get from you! Aha, that’s a great idea!
Producing profits in the Age of the Customer is not only different, it is radically different! The focus must be on building trust with every customer. That demands we move from concentrating on selling products to helping customers find solutions to issues that may arise during their ownership experience.
Everything rises and falls, including profits, based on the level of trust built with each customer. General information, such as the fact that today’s vehicles have a lot of technology and are expensive to repair, breeds suspicion. However, specific information, such as the fact the new Ford Fusion’s inside mirror has an embedded sensor that turns on the wipers when it detects rain on the windshield, and its replacement cost is $1,196? That builds trust.
If we are to remain the profit center of the dealership, customers must learn something in the F&I office they could not learn online. And the higher the profits, the more customers are getting the protection they need!
SERVING NOT SELLING
The Age of the Customer has transformed the role of anyone selling a product from selling to serving. Forbes listed the 10 companies in 2018 most obsessed with customer service. It is no surprise that Amazon, Netflix, Disney, and Ritz-Carlton all made the list. They are famous for their focus on customers. And while they sell tangible products and we sell the intangible, it is their commitment to provide a great customer experience that leads more to buy — and often at a higher price than could be found elsewhere.
Ten-plus years ago, when customers came into the F&I office, we were the source of anything they might learn. Now we usually confirm what they have learned online, and any additional insight we provide can often make the difference in turning their “No” into a “Yes.” We must become obsessed with a servant attitude providing insightful information in an interactive and engaging manner. The paradox is the less we try to sell the more we will sell!
Forging the path forward in F&I does not denote the elimination of the F&I manager. What it does necessitate is that we embrace the imminent changes. We serve the needs of our customer with insightful information and look to enhance their ownership experience. Let’s walk boldly into the future of F&I!
Rick McCormick is the national account development manager for Reahard & Associates Inc. He has more than 25 years of sales experience with over six years in the retail automobile business.