Considering the dealer’s ‘new’ reality with their customers, how can F&I providers and agents help their dealer-clients uniquely solve a significant problem or innovate a new opportunity? - IMAGE:...

Considering the dealer’s ‘new’ reality with their customers, how can F&I providers and agents help their dealer-clients uniquely solve a significant problem or innovate a new opportunity?

Every company in the history of sales has their value proposition. This is a, “Our company is truly different from everyone else and valuable because...” foundational statement. Do you uniquely solve a significant problem or innovate a new opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise exist if not for your contribution?

I believe it’s our collective responsibility and mission to help strengthen that centric relationship, improving revenue and inspiring more meaningful customer retention. 

I call this your individual or company’s “currency.” The question is, how much value does your currency have in today’s new reality? Author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, intelligently asks, “Why do some people succeed while others don’t, when each has the same access to the same products and resources?” He theorizes that people don’t buy what you do, they buy “why” you do it. So what’s your purpose, your cause? Why does your organization deserve to exist?

I’ve recently polled industry leaders about what differentiates anyone’s F&I products from other’s? What’s the difference between one GAP program today and the next? The difference between one road hazard wheel and tire program and another? Most industry leaders admit the lines that differentiate today’s F&I products are thin at best. The obvious danger is the commoditization of the F&I space. Once the F&I products and their providers are seen as a commodity, then the lowest price wins. I call it “checkbox warfare.” Like the battlefield tactics from the Revolutionary War, each competitor lines up their features and benefits and they go head-to-head until there is one differentiation left to hopefully win the battle for that dealer’s business.

Think about F&I’s checkbox warfare features and benefits top 10 list:

1. We’ve been in business a long time.

2. We provide great training.

3. We have an A-rated carrier.

4. We pay our claims quickly and answer our phones, even when we work from home.

5. We offer dealer participation programs.

6. We have great marketing material.

7. We provide world-class service and support.

8. We’re going to help you [the dealer] make more money than anyone else can.

9. We have the best products.

10. Our team is committed to you.

Tell me I’m wrong. The sobering reality regarding these currency statements or value propositions is it’s exactly the same thing everybody else tries to leverage with the dealer. Additionally, are these value propositions a distinction or merely an expectation? Why is so much effort and money spent promoting these low currency (heard it before) table stakes attributes and not enough horsepower is being applied in delivering a true distinction to help our dealers strengthen their position in this moment?

So considering the dealer’s “new” reality with their customers, how can F&I providers and their agents best help their dealer-clients to uniquely a significant problem or innovate a new opportunity? Do dealers need one more F&I product? Or do they need solutions that make the current F&I products more relevant, to help increase sales and ignite more meaningful retention? A huge process deficiency and massive missed revenue/retention opportunity in every dealership and by the F&I industry is simplified and frictionless post-sale digital engagement. This is a reality check for every dealer and the entire F&I community. Right now, many dealers have quickly adopted or are adopting some form of digital retailing.

It’s a timely transformation to create a new revenue channel for the dealer, related to a customer’s desire to engage remotely and to honor their natural digital tendencies. It just makes sense today, right? So what about you? What’s your unique and relevant contribution in this seismic shift moment? What differentiates your F&I products from anyone else’s?

The significantly missed opportunity with digital retailing is it abruptly ends the digital experience at the point of sale, where customers are then cast into an abyss of multiple and inconsistent F&I provider service pathways. If you take a close look at your favorite F&I provider’s webpage on how to file a claim, you’ll likely see solutions that are a million miles away from an Amazon-like experience.

Various 1-800-numbers, phone queues, call hold wait times, archaic fill-in-all-the-blanks online claim forms, or an app that only works with certain F&I products or one F&I provider, are all part of the “disconnected from reality” engagement methods that are currently deployed. For reference and to help clarify the opportunity, the real currency of an Amazon-like experience isn’t the one-time digital purchase. It’s the iron-clad loyalty earned by delivering the whole experience (before and after the sale) that keeps their customers coming back again and again. Separately, how does a dealer communicate with their customers after the point-of-sale today for new sales opportunities, including service drive specials or promoting additional F&I products, to enhance their customer’s ownership experience? 

The primary methods today are still phone solicitations, junk mail (postal or email) or random text messages — and they are random. Most customers interpret these attempts as fraud or unwanted. Ask yourself, how do you respond to these types of communications? Engage or delete? Our industry’s retention is subpar because that is what’s being earned. The auto sales industry is predictably good at selling a car, but not good at earning a customer. The next sales horizon and a very powerful currency exists here. While so much horsepower is applied, including digital retailing, to customer acquisition, a vast vacancy exists in deploying a unified solution to pick up all the business that’s currently left digitally unattended. If we embraced a customer for more than just selling them a car, they would embrace their dealer beyond the point of sale.

Think “digital lifecycle.” Professional agents and their F&I providers can help their dealers pick up the digital baton where it’s currently mishandled to help strengthen the dealer-customer relationship throughout their ownership journey. There are so many valuable touch points for additional business to be earned. Unifying and digitizing post sales dealer-customer engagement into one platform creates a frictionless and natural environment for digital F&I claims service (even when multiple providers exist) and a new sales growth conduit that are delivered on a single smartphone app, eliminating the current analog anarchy service maze. 

Enhancing this experience is a leadership decision that agents can engage today by supporting and engaging the F&I providers that share the same values in delivering a connected customer experience, embracing digital engagement, and process transformation. F&I providers that are not delivering a post-sale experience should consider why they are holding on to the past, which is ironically more expensive to support than digitally transforming to exceed the expectations of their dealers and customer that evolved a long time ago.

Customer experience and digital engagement is today’s battlefield where business is earned, retained or lost, and that shouldn’t end at the point of sale. This is exactly the place where F&I leaders can create a game-changing competitive differentiation for themselves and their dealers, while rendering checkbox warfare irrelevant, accelerating revenue and transforming antiquated processes that are long overdue.

Digital engagement isn’t a COVID-19-, millennial- or Gen-Z-only topic. It’s for anyone the holds a smartphone in their hand and desires a connected experience in any economic reality. So what’s your purpose today? Why does your organization deserve to exist? What’s your currency in this new reality? I believe the most important relationship in the auto sales industry is between the dealer and their customer.

I believe it’s our collective responsibility and mission to help strengthen that centric relationship, improving revenue and inspiring more meaningful customer retention. 

Steven Apicella is CEO of Strategic DX, home of Your Dealer Experience.

Read: Sell the Experience