Author Archives | Rick

Conduct a Monthly F&I Meeting

Conduct a Monthly F&I Meeting

One of the key areas that dealers expect an agent to help with is the training of the F&I team. While the dealership may be utilizing training either online or from other sources, the agent who adds to that sets themselves apart from the competition that will eventually be knocking on the door. Conducting a monthly F&I meeting provides the agent with great opportunities to have direct input to the process and practices used in the F&I office at a level not available in any other venue.

Let’s look at three ingredients to build into each meeting.

1. Have a specific agenda. Gather information from the F&I managers and check production levels to determine a specific product or part of the process that everyone agrees could see improvement. When you decide the agenda for the next meeting and provide lead time to prepare, everyone can search out articles, information, and research to provide valuable input for the upcoming meeting.

The most important facet of every meeting is to assure that it is interactive, and everyone participates. Having a monthly meeting where everyone is expected to research and bring information to share to the meeting will provide the most productive agenda that will help influence growth and change.

2. Listen and practice with them. The two factors that have provided me the most insight on how to help F&I managers have been the willingness to listen to their challenges and struggles and then practice with them to work on solutions. Ask for the most challenging issues they are facing and listen to learn.

Other F&I managers may have solutions that are working for them. Ask them to demonstrate this in a role-playing session to show what the solution looks and sounds like. The role-play should last only 10 to 15 minutes; however, it could be the best-spent time of the meeting.

3. Leave them with a challenge. End each meeting with an action item for your trainees to complete or an objective to shoot for. Always have a handout to leave with them, whether a recent article or third-party research that validates the need for a product. They will know you are working to help them and they as well as the dealer will know you are providing more than the average agent.

I shared a recent article concerning the computer technology behind self-driving cars in a recent meeting. A seasoned F&I manager called me several weeks later and said they had sold seven of the last 10 customers that originally said “No” to a service contract by using that piece of information. That has built more value in my interaction with them than most other efforts. It helped them help more customers. That is success!

When you invest the time to provide a valuable monthly F&I meeting for your team you will build more success for the dealership, more protection for their customers, and more profit for yourself. Everybody wins!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

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Master the Four Pillars of Success With Customers!

Master the Four Pillars of Success With Customers!

1. Listen Early and Never Stop Listening.

Listening is the most important skill in every professional relationship. When a customer feels they are being heard, on a much deeper level, they feel you care about them and their situation.

When we encounter a lack of customer service in any purchase, it normally involves an individual who is too busy talking — or waiting to talk — to listen to us. A conversation in which the “salesperson” is doing the majority of the talking is not communication, just a presentation. And customers are tired of our presentations and talking points. They wait for someone to listen to them and focus on their wants and needs, and until they find it they will refuse to buy.

Great success awaits the one that can listen with empathy. Great frustration awaits the one that can’t hardly wait to talk!

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2. Help Customers.

Selling isn’t about helping yourself; it’s all about helping the customer. The competitive advantage any business has is the customer experience. When they get what they want, you get what you want. What they want is someone who will help them make good decisions and provide them with helpful information without any pressure to buy.

I can hear the screaming as some read this: “You have to sell your product!” I agree. I simply disagree with what the product is. Most customers research their purchases online and arrive to buy with a high level of information. They are hoping they encounter someone that can provide helpful insights into the product and is focused on providing additional information that may not be available online.

Today’s customer is focused on finding a helpful person to facilitate the buying process and someone who will make their ownership experience a more enjoyable one.

3. Tell a Great Story.

Customer reviews have become the place of choice for customers when researching products online. They want to hear another customer’s story. We should be prepared to share a story of how other customers have benefited from our product and have tangible support of what we are saying.

Sharing a copy of a repair order to show the customer their share of the cost can help build urgency for a service contract. It also allows you to say, “A customer sitting in the same chair as you, was faced with the same decision we are talking about. And when they received a bill for $2,365 for a repair, they had the peace of mind of knowing someone else would be paying that bill!”

Real stories about real customers create an emotional attachment to the benefit of the product. And all buying decisions are emotional ones. The facts about the product should be used to move the customer to action concerning the product you have built the emotional connection to. Moving from product selling to story telling will move more to buy!

4. Be Passionate About Your Product.

Customers feed off the level of belief that you have in your product. You don’t have to bounce off the walls with enthusiasm; however, your words, body language, and tone all tell the customer if this is something that you really believe in or are you just trying to sell them something.

Do you buy the product you are selling for yourself? Passion is deepened as you learn more about a product and most importantly, when you experience the benefits of the product yourself. My car was stolen two years ago. When I discovered it was gone, I didn’t panic. I had a product on the car that would enable the police to find it in a couple of hours. I will never forget the peace of mind of knowing my car would be found, and quickly.

I am passionate about that product and I could convince a high percentage of others to buy it as well. My passion shows! Does yours?

The main products we sell are a great customer experience, ourselves and the belief in the products we offer. The products we offer may change as the market demands change. However, these are constant: Sell them often and sell them well!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

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The One Thing Customers Want Most!

The One Thing Customers Want Most!

The one thing that will create the most profitable opportunities to help customers buy more of our products is exactly the one thing they want the most: a great experience! When customers choose us to spend their money with, they expect a good experience. And when they encounter an unexpected great experience that is focused on them, they open up and typically spend more money. It doesn’t matter if they are buying clothing, appliances, or F&I products, the happy customer buys more!

During a recent road trip, I experienced a string of great customer experiences. It started while I was walking through an airport. Something I saw at a McDonald’s — which is not a regular choice for me — got my attention.

There were kiosks to order food; however, that was not the attention grabber. There was someone to assist you as you started your order. They then handed you a number and asked you to please be seated in their comfortable dining area and your food would be brought to you along with all the additional items you might need. Then they waited on you as in a normal sit-down restaurant, offering refills of your drink, for example. At a McDonald’s.

Differentiate yourself with an unexpected level of customer service and you will create memorable experiences and repeat customers. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos put it, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Find Your Differentiator

Later that day, I visited a high-volume car dealership for the first time. I wanted to do a quick walkthrough to see all the different departments and find my way around. I must have encountered 10 or more employees, and every single one greeted me with direct eye contact, a smile, and a “Good morning” or “Welcome to our dealership.”

When I asked the nearest employee for directions to the restroom, I discovered it was on the opposite side of this large building. The staffer walked with me and showed me the way, all the while pointing out areas that might be of interest. When I returned the next morning, I was greeted with a “Welcome back!” Someone that had only seen me once before, remembered! If I lived in that area of the country I would never buy a car anywhere else, after that experience!

I learned two things on that trip: First, technology is not the differentiator. How we wrap our process around it and use our people to maximize it to create a great customer experience is! And secondly, while we may argue whether the chicken or the egg came first, I was reminded that great customer experiences always precede growth in business. Strategic marketing will get more customers in our showrooms and sales ability and technique will make us better at what we do. However, a great experience will create customer loyalty and have them leave our showroom as an advocate for us. It is doing just that in every segment of our economy and it will do it for us.

And for those of us who serve automotive dealerships — whether we are providing technology, training, products, or other tools — we should be focused on using our provisions and influence to help them raise the level of the customer experience. The result is, we all will grow our business. The customer wins and so do we!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also, feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

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The Right Ingredients Get the Right Results!

The Right Ingredients Get the Right Results!

“Chopped” is a Food Network fan favorite for which chefs compete by cooking three-course meals. The twist? Each course must include ingredients from a mystery box. This leads to delightful creations as chefs struggle with incorporating things like Animal Crackers and seaweed. It would be easy if all the best ingredients were available. That’s the beauty of what they create, and the results range from amazing to catastrophic.

Now, transport your thoughts to creating a successful F&I department in dealerships today. General agents are in a unique position to evaluate the ingredients currently being utilized and, if the results are less than desired, determine the different ones that need to be introduced. F&I managers don’t have the luxury of only seeing the best customers, just as general agents rarely find dealership partners that have everything in place for ultimate success. We all must be like the chefs on “Chopped” and utilize the three ingredients that create champions.

The most important ingredient is the ability to adapt and change to the current set of challenges. Many F&I departments are still utilizing an old-school step-selling process that relies heavily on talking customers into buying products. However, the customer has moved on. They are researching online the many facets of buying a vehicle, including F&I products, to learn what they do and what they should cost.

We must provide a process that builds trust and one that customers enjoy. It must build upon the level of knowledge that each customer arrives with, not duplicate it. Our mindset must change to one that recognizes it no longer matters what I think about the process, but what does the customer think, and how I can adjust.

The next ingredient is a healthy dose of practice. How do you take seaweed and Animal Crackers and create a delicious dish? Practice! Just like the “Chopped” chefs, the challenges they face are ones they have prepared for in advance. You play like you practice.

The most successful F&I professionals I know regularly read, research, and practice their craft. They don’t want to face a challenge for the first time in front of a customer. So they create challenging customer objections and practice their responses before they see the customer. Regular and challenging practice is a key ingredient to making each day a masterpiece. Leave out this ingredient and the taste of the results will be bland and disappointing.

The third ingredient is a structured, consistent process. True freedom to be creative with customers lives inside of structure. Pilots meticulously run through preflight checklists. Pro baseball players develop rituals to help them hit more consistently. Chefs consistently adhere to time-tested recipes. Why should it be different inside the F&I office?

Highly successful F&I professionals have a process they follow, and it’s one they follow every time. Structure creates the freedom to act authentically and to create true connections with customers. While the time with each customer may be customized to their needs, the foundation of a consistent process will ensure that every customer has the opportunity to maximize their ownership experience with the products we offer.

We place a high level of importance on getting the right people in place. However, what are we using to determine who is right? Past production levels alone are not enough. Does this individual have the ability and desire to change? Do they adhere to consistent efforts to improve regardless of the level of their current production? And, do they have a consistency in their process that eliminates taking shortcuts and pre-judging customers? Those three ingredients will create great levels of success.

Successful general agents increase their value to their dealers by identifying the current ingredients available and by introducing new ones as needed. We all must deal with less than ideal ingredients when introduced to a challenge. Like the chefs on “Chopped,” we too are judged by what we eventually create. Here’s to creating great success recipes in 2018!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

 

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Small Choices Lead to Big Explosions!

Small Choices Lead to Big Explosions!

When reading automotive industry publications, among the great articles about effective processes and success stories, we unfortunately often find headlines concerning another dealership or group that is being pursued legally for deceptive practices.

I have worked one-on-one with dealers for many years. Among them I have found some of the most gifted entrepreneurs our economy can offer, as well as some of the highest levels of self-effacing integrity. The automotive industry drives our economy and provides a workplace in cities across America for some of her finest citizens. Yet the misbehavior of a few continues to tarnish our efforts.

I’ll leave it to the compliance experts to provide an in-depth look into the list of practices that we must exclude in our industry. I simply ask you to consider two of the principles that make some feel comfortable providing a less than transparent and honest process.

In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart in midair just 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members. The cause was traced to failure of the “O-rings” on the rocket boosters due to the low air temperatures that day. However, in retrospect, a commission later concluded that two practices of the organization were more to blame. It should sound warnings to all of us if we see them in our organization.

1. The Consistent Warnings of Experts Were Ignored.

One of the engineers heavily involved in the design of the rocket warned in a conference call that the O-rings were not capable of performing at the low temperatures forecast for the day of launch. After his warnings were ignored, he reportedly sat and screamed to others that “The rocket will explode, and everyone will die!”

Our industry has been greatly helped by some of the finest legal minds who have dedicated themselves to educating our industry on the facts and effective ways to implement a transparent, customer-focused process. And surprisingly (to some), many of those who have adhered to the most transparent and stringent guidelines recommended have reached record levels of income and profits. They listened to the experts and adjusted where necessary. Others have waited for an explosion that they were sure would never happen to motivate them.

2. Urgency Drove Decisions That Crossed the Line and Clouded Reasoning.

The space shuttle program was on a stringent timeline, not only for this launch but for subsequent ones. Any delay here would cause a ripple effect in future efforts. The window of opportunity to get this launch off was closing fast and the pressure caused unwise decisions to be made. Sound familiar?

The pressure to meet a sales quota, hold a deal together at all costs or on an individual level or to meet a pay-plan objective may lead to momentary and unwise decisions. Before you know it, those types of decisions become a commonplace strategy to reach goals, and anyone that challenges them is considered a problem or just forced out of the equation.

… At least until the explosion! That’s where the headlines come from! The cost of the Challenger tragedy, including the loss of life and the loss of the integrity of the program itself, may never be fully realized.

After the Great Recession of a decade ago, many in our industry took a deep look in the mirror and were determined to gain their way back into previous levels of profitability and to do so in the most transparent and customer-focused manner. Many have done just that and are simultaneously seeing record levels of profits and customer satisfaction. Hopefully, the good times will not lead to a regression in that focus.

As general agents and dealership partners, we must continue to provide compliance resources, training and insight. We must also be willing to sound the alarm when we see an explosion coming. Encourage them to listen to the experts and make sure that decisions being made in pressurized moments are good ones!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

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The Wait Is Over!

The Wait Is Over!

According to the latest figures from Cox Automotive, customers spend nearly 40 minutes idle at the dealership when buying a car! And the portion of the process that took longer than they expected most often was the financing and paperwork at 64%.

We are talking about buyers here, not shoppers. They have already decided to spend thousands of dollars of their hard-earned money with us, and customer satisfaction, overall profits and the likelihood of return or referral business is at stake. It’s time we stop the F&I waiting game once and for all, structure a more customer focused process and let them know the wait is over! We must become FAST!

F: Focus on the Customer’s Perspective.

We know, from the dealership’s perspective, many things that must be done once a customer decides to buy. However, we must consider the customer’s perspective.

Several years ago, Houston International Airport was facing massive complaints due to long wait times for baggage. It only took one or two minutes to walk from the gate to baggage claim. However, once there, passengers waited an average of eight minutes for their bags to arrive.

How did the airport address this issue? They changed the path necessary to walk to baggage claim so it would take six to eight minutes. Once passengers arrived at baggage claim, their bags were usually waiting. The airport looked at things from the customer’s perspective and structured their process to keep the customer busy and moving forward, not waiting.

What happens to your customer once they have committed to buy a vehicle? If they are left sitting somewhere with nothing to do, the wait could lower engagement levels or even cause them to question their decision to buy. Either of these is a profit killer!

A: Accurate Information Is Required.

Nothing can slow the process more than getting deep into the paperwork and discovering incorrect information. Misspelled names, incorrect numbers and missing information required to complete the transaction brings everything to a crawl.

An F&I manager should go out and meet every customer and verify all their information prior to submission to a lender or entering the data into their system. There must be checks and balances to avoid costly mistakes. Software is available to streamline the process and ensure accuracy. The cost of the software will pay for itself time and again when mistakes are avoided and wait times are minimalized.

S: Stay With the Customer.

Never leave a customer alone after they have committed to buy a vehicle. I have seen customers left in a comfortable lounge, on a designated couch or, worst of all, sitting alone at the salesperson’s desk.

They might be watching a TV or the other customers going into F&I; however, they are also looking at their watches. Every minute left alone waiting for the F&I process to begin is equal to 10 minutes in the F&I office.

Service-drive visits, an explanation of the vehicle’s features, or a review of the owner’s manuals are all activities that keep the customer engaged and moving forward in the process. As long as the process is moving, they feel their time is being respected.

T: Track Transition Times.

How long is the average wait time in your dealership? We utilize an online survey that gathers perceived wait times of the buying process. Typically, multiple managers have a different perception of how long customers are waiting for F&I.

This part of the process is too important to leave to chance. Start tracking actual wait times and use the information to start developing a more effective use of customer’s time. Time and resources should be used to reduce wait times and keep the customer engaged.

Every other major industry has started addressing the wait times of their customers. A customer’s time is their most valuable commodity. We demonstrate that we value their business, when we value their time.

I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also, feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

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