Even before the pandemic, the auto industry was undergoing a transformation. Operations like CarMax and Carvana were delivering “no surprise” experiences to customers, while Tesla sought to skip the dealership process altogether. The onset of COVID-19 helped push things further online, removing many fluctuations that occur with person-to-person transactions. It all adds to a seismic shift in customer expectations for car buying, particularly when signing on the dotted line. And this trend will continue, notably as the FTC steps in to mandate how dealers market and price their cars. These situations offer ideal timing to ride the wave of transparency, especially on the F&I side.
Think about two different typical customers who’ve walked through your doors. One is a young buyer getting ready to purchase their first car. There’s much uncertainty and likely a head full of horror stories and warnings from older relatives. The second client is a car-buying veteran who’s dreading the tiresome and lengthy process of sitting down with the F&I manager.
Rewriting the F&I script for the customer
These are opportunities to rewrite the script by setting expectations and being transparent at the outset. That newbie buyer will feel at ease, and the experienced shopper will quickly realize something is different (for the better). Here are the steps to consider when a prospect turns into a sale.
Offer upfront disclosure
With price being the central part of every automobile purchase, walking a customer through all the numbers creates an atmosphere of trust and openness. It’s better to explain “market adjustments” or other add-ons in the open than to slip things past the customer. And if the FTC has its way, you’ll have to do this anyway.
Explain your F&I process
Demystify how your dealership handles the financing process, paperwork, and legalese. This might involve a brief explanation of how things get handed off from the sales team to the F&I department. Describe what that customer will encounter and how long it will take to finalize the deal.
Think about offering a time guarantee. Something along the lines of “get a free oil change if it takes longer than ‘XX’ minutes to complete your purchase” (incorporate qualifiers such as a completed credit application and approved credit).
If time permits, have the F&I staffer invite the customer to their desk instead of the salesperson marching the client to the F&I department like a trip to the principal’s office.
These actions are designed to reduce the customer’s pain points and anxiety level.
Clarify the details
Once everyone is on both sides of the F&I desk, walk the customer through what will happen over the next several minutes. You’ve been through this a thousand times, but the client hasn’t. Present a printed list of bullet points detailing the process:
- Coverage options (F&I products)
- Financing options/overview
- Contract and disclosures
- Trade-in documentation
- Owner documents/keys
- Service department introduction
The terminology and flow can be adjusted as needed, but you get the idea. It’s an approach that creates a roadmap for the customer—there’s no wondering about what’s coming next. For an extra personalized technique, create a template with these details and add a customized greeting for each buyer (“Welcome, Mr. John Smith…”).
Recognizing the benefits of F&I transparency
Savvy auto retailers can reap the benefits of a smooth and transparent F&I process.
Improved Customer Experience
It restates the obvious: today’s car dealers face a world of customer satisfaction scores and online consumer reviews. So, making the tail end of a transaction effortless can only help in this regard.
Enhanced Customer Loyalty
Similarly, wows equal referrals and repeat business. Making the F&I process memorable in terms of openness and simplicity goes a long way in keeping the customer as an ongoing revenue source.
Keeping Up With The Competition
In the realm of Carvana, CarMax, and similar enterprises, F&I almost becomes an afterthought, not an effort for the customer. Taking the same approach keeps franchised and independent dealers on par with their highly publicized competitors.