If the future is video, why is F&I stuck in the past? Top trainer shares a three-step process you can use to inject new technology and enhanced personalization in your F&I training program.  - ©gettyimages.com/mixetto

If the future is video, why is F&I stuck in the past? Top trainer shares a three-step process you can use to inject new technology and enhanced personalization in your F&I training program. 

©gettyimages.com/mixetto

I still remember sitting in my best friend’s living room waiting for MTV to begin broadcasting. The first video they ever played was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. Even though we were just kids at the time, we knew we were watching something revolutionary. This was going to change the way people listened to music. We felt as though video was literally going to kill the radio.

"Video didn’t kill radio, and digital retailing will not kill the business office — as long as we improvise, adapt, and overcome."

I wonder what Trevor Horn, one of the creative masterminds behind “Video Killed the Radio Star,” would say about the automotive industry. Will the computer kill the showroom? 

Well, we all still have radios in our vehicles and our homes that we listen to every day. Just like we still have radios in our vehicles, we will still have showrooms and dealerships. 

However, digital retailing has emerged, and it is going to continue to change our industry. You might even say that it will revolutionize our industry. We will have the ability to adapt to this new economic condition and the ones that embrace the change will come out on top. 

In order to do that, we need to be rock stars in three different areas. We need to be transparent with information, we need to insert ourselves early in the process, and we need to be able to show personalized value in the products we offer.

Digital retailing is conditioning our customers not just in the automotive industry, but in every industry. Many of our customers have changed their buying expectations based on other day-to-day purchases. They are used to the convenience, transparency, and personalization found in apps like Amazon, Uber, and Starbucks. 

I think most of us — product providers, agents, and dealers — realize this is the future. We must adapt the way we do business with our customers. This revolution has already begun. Digital retailing is not something we look at happening in the future. Digital retailing is here right now. The biggest question is, what are we doing about it in the business office?

As agents, many do not have the authority or ability to run out and purchase a new digital retailing platform for your dealership clients. That is completely understandable. However, there are several things that we can do today that do not cost any money at all.

1. Be Transparent With Information.

Make sure your dealers have good descriptions of their protective products on the dealership website. I would even encourage them to film several videos that give a presentation about each product. You do not have to go into great detail about all of the terms and coverage options, and you certainly do not have to go into detailed pricing. 

However, giving the customer some dos and don’ts and some reasons to buy — and possibly even some “why buy here” reasons — will go a long way when presenting that product in the business office. 

How do we make it easier for the customers and ourselves? 

When surveyed, a vast majority of customers have said that they would purchase protection products in the business office if they had been able to self-discover the information online before arriving at the dealership. Most customers do not want to be forced to make a decision about something they have not previously considered. 

Today’s customers are spending almost 13 hours online researching the vehicle they plan on purchasing. They have put a considerable amount of thought into what they are going to buy. Asking them to buy something that they have not had the opportunity to research is just not realistic anymore. Consumers need to be able to get a foundational background on what it is they are going to purchase. 

As for the F&I professionals you train, they need not worry. They are still the experts and will still have the ability to help build personalized value in products. Before they step foot in the business office, customers just need to have the basic framework of the options that will be presented to them.

2. Get Involved Early.

How do we protect ourselves and our dealers from being eliminated from the deal? The first step is to get involved early. We have to insert ourselves into the equation while the customer is in the buying process, even if that is taking place online. 

We can do this in several different ways. The best method is some sort of online meeting. As a business manager, there are a variety of online meeting websites to choose from, including GoToMeeting, Webex, and Zoom. By using one of these, your dealers have the ability to not only share an electronic product presentation through screen-sharing technology, but also have the ability to video chat with the customer. 

If you do not have access to one of those platforms, something as simple as FaceTime will work. Having face-to-face dialog with the customer is still the best idea but, with a little help from technology, this can still happen even if they are online. If you do not have access to video chat at all, at least email the customer a menu and then pick up the phone and call them. 

F&I managers must go through their menu just like the customer was sitting in front of them and build value in their products early. Become very familiar with your BDC department, internet manager, or whoever else monitors your website and company Facebook page. As soon as a customer has landed on a vehicle, make contact. 

Think of this as an early TO. It isn’t any different than walking by a salesperson’s desk, introducing yourself to a customer, and asking them if they would like a cup of coffee or a cold bottle of water. Later, when you are giving them information about products, you are a familiar face. 

If they do get too deep into the buying process online, they may speed past the products we have to offer. If left up to an online questionnaire as to whether or not they want to purchase a protective product, a customer is rarely going to maximize their own deal.

3. Personalize Your Digital Product Presentation. 

Establish a digital method of product presentation for when your dealers are dealing with online customers. If the customer has already selected a vehicle, submitted an online credit application, obtained a value on their trade, and now they want to finalize their deal including down payment and payment options. Who will be the one to call them back? 

Utilize some sort of online meeting where you can screen-share a menu presentation with the customer, as well as video chat. This is going to produce the best options for personalizing the products offered. 

Be proactive. Control the narrative. This is the chance to build rapport with the customer and have a conversation with a purpose. Once this happens, you can repurpose the information you gather to tailor the product presentation to that individual customer and give them the personalized experience they will see value in. 

No product presentation is one-size-fits-all. Needs vary wildly from one customer to the next. In the business office, we have a wide array of terms, mileages, and coverage options for almost every product we sell. We have to start getting better at using these options so we can personalize the protection products for each individual consumer. 

If we can do a better job of showing the consumer how this fits their individual lifestyle, we will have a much greater rate of success. The only way that can happen is if we find out who the person behind the purchase really is. We call this having a conversation with a purpose. Find out what is important to the customer and how this is going to fit into their lives. 

Video didn’t kill radio, and digital retailing will not kill the business office — as long as we improvise, adapt, and overcome. In order to accomplish this, you and the dealers you do business with will need to get outside of your comfort zones, perfect new methods of presentation, and embrace the technology that customers are demanding. 

We’ll prerecord our best video and, if that doesn’t work, we’ll do it live.   

Ritch Wheeler is a 25-year automotive industry veteran and currently serves as the vice president of training for the award-winning training and development company American Financial & Automotive Services Inc.

Read: F&I Agents and the Digital Revolution

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