Author Archives | Rick

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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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

With the new year upon us, everyone would like to increase their level of success and their income! In reality, we each write our own check. The amount of that check is based on the decisions we make and the actions we take on a daily basis to achieve our goals.

The one thing that is virtually guaranteed is that many people will see their goals die a slow death as the year plays out. The daily grind of the job, unforeseen events and unending challenges will cause many to settle for the “same as last year.” Every decision you make at the beginning of the year, that produces the desired results at the end of the year, will have worked its way through three phases.

Phase One: Decide What to Focus On!

You have to be clear on what you want to achieve and the purpose behind it. Generic decisions such as “make more money” seldom work into completion. Write it out on paper. Then share it with others who can hold you accountable. Even if you are clear on what you want, as the days go by, you might forget the reasons why you want it. The “why” is what will motivate you to follow through on your decision.

Get as specific as possible about what you want, why you want it, and how you’ll know when you’re achieving it. Deciding what to ignore will prove just as important and limit the things that can hinder your progress. The enemy of focus is distraction! Eliminate those daily distractions that take you away from the task of improving, and you are on your way to executing a record performance.

Phase Two: Decide What You Are Willing to Do to Make Things Happen!

Just committing to your goal is not enough. Success demands much more. You must be determined to be extraordinary in your efforts, to be courageous, disciplined and accountable for your decisions and actions. You must have an unwavering commitment to excellence so that, despite the inevitable setbacks, it will come your way.

Everybody loves to play in the big game, whether in sports or in business. However, only the determined and committed few who have a clear focus on what they want — and then take consistent action every day to make it happen — will see the success that everyone seeks.

In business, as in sports, the game is won or lost on the practice field and the training room. You must be committed to consistently practicing your skills and make yourself vulnerable for constructive criticism. The input from a third party can be the most powerful catalyst for improvement.

As leadership expert John C. Maxwell once put it, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”

Phase Three: Decide That You Are Willing to Change to Become More Successful!

To become more successful in the year ahead, you must be willing to make the changes that create a better you. The most troublesome obstacle to success is an unwillingness to change. Each year, our goal should be to create a better version of ourselves.

A higher level of customer engagement online, before they come into the dealership, is driving a major transformation in how cars are sold, how F&I products are viewed and how we sell them. Several manufacturers have launched programs to allow a customer to buy a car online and set up financing as well to create more of an ever-changing market. An open mind, a willingness to change and adapt to this new reality will open the door to more profit opportunities.

As general agents, one of the most valuable efforts we can provide to all those we influence is to continuously challenge them to improve their performance. We have to encourage a laserlike focus on their goals, ensure they are willing to do what is necessary to achieve them, and hold them accountable for their actions. We also have to motivate them to adapt and change with a changing market.

The year ahead is full of promise. Those who make bold decisions, and are willing pay the price required to see them through to completion, will see great success. It’s going to be a great year! 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 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 1

The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 1

Is providing great customer service and a great customer experience the same thing? The two couldn’t be more different! In many F&I offices, the effort is focused on getting better at what we do instead of how we do it.

As an agent, the ultimate goal of your dealership’s F&I teams should be to provide great customer experiences. When that happens, customers buy more products than we could ever sell them. And they are glad they did.

Remember: Customer service is what you do; customer experience is how you do it. With that in mind, here is the first installment of 10 commandments to provide memorable customer experiences:

I. Listen to Learn.

Research suggests that we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That can be catastrophic in a needs-discovery process. Take the time to identify your customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. That includes listening to their words, tone of voice, body language and the level of their emotional attachment to a need or product.

The best listeners are the best producers. The ability to listen to learn separates the best from the rest. It divides managers from leaders and professionals from amateurs.

II. Diagnose Before You Prescribe.

Customers buy solutions to problems, not products. You must uncover the problems this particular customer might face during their ownership experience. In the F&I office, understanding a customer’s wants, needs and concerns must always precede any attempt to sell them something. Never attempt to sell a product because a lot of your customers buy the product. It must be specific to each customer to be consistently successful.

III. Make Customers Feel Important.

Customers understand that you value them when you demonstrate that you genuinely care about them and their needs. Every customer enters your office with a sign around their neck that says “Make me feel important.”

When your efforts clearly focus on helping customers make good decisions instead of trying to sell them something, they know the focus is on them. That’s exactly where it should be! The most important person in your world is the customer in front of you and your words, actions and focus must elevate their importance, not yours!

IV. Study the Art of Body Language.

Start with what your body language says to a customer. From the first interaction, smile, show genuine excitement about the car-buying experience, and assure that every word and action conveys a consistent message: “I’m glad you’re here!” Customers will reflect your level of excitement, comfort and energy. Give them a great example to emulate!

Next, learn what a customer’s body language is saying to you. If their arms are crossed and they keep looking away from you, frustration and resistance is building. Stop what you are doing and focus on collapsing the confrontation. If you ignore their body language and proceed to attempt to sell them something, then you are headed to a confrontation that you will always lose.

V. Go the Extra Mile.

Anyone can do what is expected of them. However, it takes commitment to go the extra mile. Enterprise became the nation’s No. 1 car rental company by telling its employees, “You can rise through the ranks and make remarkable money, but only after you demonstrate an ability to knock the socks off every customer that comes through the door.”

Knock the socks off your customers and your value will increase. Remember, great companies and great F&I managers provide great customer experiences by doing what others don’t!

We are halfway through the 10 commandments. Improving our efforts in these areas alone would provide an increase in our ability to help customers make good decisions. These are the traits you need to instill in your F&I managers to provide great customer experiences and great profits!

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 with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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