Posted on 06 July 2016.
Everyone in our industry has their own vision of what our new, hyperconnected world, tomorrow’s vehicles and the F&I department of the future might look like. It seems every manufacturer, DMS provider and F&I menu software company has their own high-tech version of what the sales and F&I process needs to become. In this geekoid future of Snapchats, Instagrams, and Tweets, we’ll discover a glorious new world filled with cars that drive themselves and products that sell themselves, which are then delivered right to our doorstep via Amazon drones.
The ultimate fiction of this shiny new techie-world of virtual reality goggles, wall-size touchscreens and chat-bots is that somehow computers and menu software will soon be able to discover and fill customer needs, create customer interest, overcome objections and entice people to buy more stuff. And they’ll be able to pay for it all with digital money that rains down from a virtual cloud. Yeehaw!
Now I certainly don’t profess to know what the future holds. However, I do know that, while technology, computers and software can do a lot, there’s one thing they can’t do and won’t ever be able to do: care. Only a human being can care about another human being.
The Easy Button
Dealers, F&I managers and agents (and F&I trainers!) are always looking for an “easy” button — that new product, word-track or “close” that will magically get customers to buy F&I products with little or no effort. Whether it’s menu-selling software, a new closing technique or a video product pitch using a spokesmodel, hope springs eternal that someone has found a quick, easy and foolproof way for an F&I manager to sell more F&I products and make more money in less time with less work.
The latest easy buttons are the high-tech electronic F&I menus that have more bells and whistles than a $35,000 Tesla. The only difference being they’re actually available, and you don’t have to stand in line to buy ‘em. Some of these menu software companies now offer desktop or large tablet touchscreens or their menu on an iPad. Some even include computer-generated graphics and video product presentations. Most allow the customer or F&I manager to easily move products around to see how adding or removing them will change their payment.
Some of these menu software programs are truly impressive. They have the ability to combine previous purchase information and new customer data to determine which products they’re most likely to buy. These menu software programs mine the dealership’s own data to see what F&I products the customer bought last time, as well as the odds the customer will purchase a specific F&I product this time.
Even I have to admit this is a huge improvement. In prehistoric times, we actually had to get off our butts and walk down to the accounting office and pull the customer file out of the file cabinet to see what F&I products they bought for their last vehicle.
Many of these software programs include self-serving “customer surveys” that are designed to eliminate the needs discovery process. I put the term in quotes because these brief surveys include a few questions designed to replace the antiquated idea of having an actual conversation with a customer. Most software designers aren’t too keen on human conversation, so the assumption is that most consumers would prefer little or no conversation.
Once the customer completes the survey, the F&I software operator knows which products they should offer the customer. Apparently, knowing the answer to only six or eight questions allows a computer to know all of the products a customer is likely to buy. Here’s what the computer says you need, here’s what it covers and here’s your new payment. Now talk yourself into it.
All of these menu software programs can structure the deal and create a menu designed to ensure maximum profit. And all are promoted as a surefire way to increase F&I product sales and profits. On the surface, they are certainly pretty slick. And this futuristic dream of software that sells F&I products continues to be updated, upgraded and improved upon every year in an effort to move us all toward what they really desire, which is to get agents and dealers to buy their software.
But is a high-tech menu on a big screen what the customer wants?
Do you really believe most human beings desire less human interaction and more preprogrammed, premeditated, computer-generated digital sales presentations based on odds, algorithms and logic traps? Do you really think self-serving software created specifically to benefit the user, not the customer, is the way anyone wants to buy anything? No one who has ever been trapped in an automated phone system loop, those automated torture devices that misunderstand what you say or require an endless series of button pushes to complete even a simple task, wants to envision a future with more of that.
That’s not progress. That’s hell on earth!
Putting Technology in Its Place
We have cameras in hundreds of F&I offices and record thousands of F&I transactions every month, and I have yet to hear a customer request a better menu, complain because the options were offered on a paper menu or demand to see a touchscreen version. In reality, most customers couldn’t care less how F&I products are offered. While one generation may prefer viewing a menu on a computer screen to a paper version, they certainly aren’t going to buy any F&I products because of a pretty menu.
All a customer wants to do is get their paperwork completed as quickly as possible so they can take delivery of their new vehicle. The fact is, most customers do not walk into an F&I office wanting to buy additional products. Nor do they want to be forced to wait while an F&I manager creates a custom menu with those products. If customers are being forced to wait while a menu is being prepared, we’re wasting their time. Can you imagine a restaurant forcing every customer to wait while a custom menu is created just for them? That restaurant wouldn’t last a month.
What a customer is really buying is the F&I person presenting those products. Customers appreciate having someone take time to review the options, answer their questions and help them make an informed decision. They resent having to listen to a sales pitch. It doesn’t matter whether that sales pitch is made using a brochure, a paper menu or a 60-inch flat-screen monitor. It’s still a sales pitch.
Every customer asks themselves this question: “Is this person trying help me, or is this person trying to sell me?” How they answer that question in their own mind will determine whether or not we’re able to sell them. If they think that F&I person is trying to help them, they’re going to be very interested in what they have to say. If they think that F&I person is trying to sell them, they couldn’t care less what that person has to say.
Helping customers demands that an F&I professional seek out, with eagerness, reasons why the customer needs each and every one of their products, and helping them see how that product will benefit them. If a customer trusts that person, believes they know what they’re talking about, and feels like they’re genuinely trying to help them, they will value that individual’s knowledge, expertise and input. It doesn’t matter whether those products were offered on a high-tech menu or a bar napkin.
F&I is not about menus. It’s about helping customers make an informed decision about the options available in connection with their purchase. Customers don’t buy F&I products because they understand every nuance of the coverage. They buy them because they feel someone understands their unique situation and is trying to help them make the right decision for them and their family — in other words, an F&I professional.
In the F&I office, we have a responsibility to offer every customer every product every time. You don’t need a custom menu to do that. We don’t need F&I software operators spending more time customizing menus. We need F&I Professionals who are genuinely interested in helping customers, and care about people. Because customers don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And no menu can do that.