Opinion: F&I Lessons Learned From the Pandemic

A picture of Jan Kelly, president of Kelly Enterprises.

Fall is upon us, and once again we are facing the call to mask up and distance ourselves from each other. With this news in the wind, I wondered how many lessons we learned from operating a remote finance department during a pandemic.

All the social distancing changed consumers’ buying habits. Most consumers let their fingers do the commuting. They shopped during work breaks and in their homes, with people in their sphere of influence gazing over their shoulders as they surfed the various websites.

Informed buyers sought not only floorplans but also financing right after they received sales figures from dealership personnel. Information flowed freely between the sales department and the consumers, often eliminating the finance department process.

Consumers made appointments for showing the RVs, appointments for delivering trade-in RVs, appointments for RV deliveries. With all these appointments, it is no wonder the consumers came in with checks made out to the penny from their own financial sources. Consumers had the finance figures and a delivery date. They were fully armed to embrace the wild world of finance. More important, they had time to shop for financing options.

Why did this process deficiency happen? Did F&I staff fear losing the sale? Controlling the sales process is difficult when all parties are not at the dealership and negotiations are done remotely.

Enhanced Communication

Successful finance personnel had to engage with consumers via nontraditional business communication. Voicemail, followed up with a short email, became the norm. If the sales personnel did not introduce the finance department, finance personnel took the reins and contacted the consumers themselves. Finance professionals learned smiling is essential before they dialed the phone. Those smiles traveled through the fiber optics lines and set the consumer at ease.

Working with remote consumers requires a special communication skill set. The conversation demands transparency. Setting phone appointments became critical, as well as setting alarms on your cell phone to be on time calling customers. Respecting the consumers’ time sets the stage for consumers to engage in active listening during the ancillary benefits presentation.

The phrase “time kills deals” was very apparent to those of us watching the numbers. Time became the finance department’s No. 1 challenge. Securing the sales department file became an immediate issue, followed by connecting with the consumer.

Proper buyer’s order information often was lacking. Sales personnel received, or conveyed, incorrect phone numbers and email addresses or failed to say the consumer was traveling and out of cell range.

Sending the finance department all the correct information promptly, just as you do when the consumer is at the dealership, is critical for everyone’s success. In many cases, the sales department thought the consumer’s signed purchase order was secured, so what was the urgency? DocuSign can be a blessing and a death blow to the finance department if a proper process is not followed.

Sense of Urgency

An immediate response from finance personnel is key to the remote sales process.

Just as when the consumer is physically at the dealership, when finance receives a deal, nothing is more important than that transaction.

The exceptions to the rule are if there is a fire in the building or if someone receives a call regarding an injured family member.

Present Ancillary Products Before Delivery

F&I personnel must introduce and close finance products before the delivery date.

Although the new business model curtailed the number of consumer visits with the finance department, the need to discuss products’ benefits remained the same. The communication venue was the only change.

As with the dinosaurs, we needed to adapt or expire.

Finance Department’s Growth Key

Securing the financing first is, and always will be, vital to the finance department’s success.

If the consumers have other finance resources, F&I personnel ask consumers why they are considering another resource for financing. Some consumers are rate sensitive, others have credit issues and still others plan to be full-time RVers.

While we want to secure all the deals we can, we must realize consumers often have valid reasons to obtain their own financing.

The finance representative’s key is to chat with the consumer as soon as they decide to buy. A brief phone conversation can determine the finance road’s direction.

Successful F&I departments master the finance benefits presentation in verbal and written email communications. Planning a written introduction simplifies forming a copy-and-paste, short, informative email response to send to consumers buying remotely.

Create a few different base information emails to customize as required.

Remember, transparency is key. Follow up an email with a friendly voicemail to let consumers know they have an important message to review regarding their RV purchase.

Be sure to update and upscale point-of-sale presentation aids to PDFs. Not everyone uses Google Docs, nor does everyone have Microsoft Word. We learned all letters and memos must be sent electronically in a PDF format so everyone can open the communication.

Most vendors have access to a professional PDF that they can send electronically to consumers, along with a written presentation or attached to a written request for the consumer to review the brochure. The finance professional can follow up with a phone call.

Some things remain the same—today’s consumers want value for the dollar, just as they always have. Value must be demonstrated in a different venue.

People usually like being part of a group, so show them how your ancillary products can make them part of the successful group. Focus on more consumer enjoyment and less risk. All your ancillary products are designed to protect them and their financial resources when they experience an unplanned breakdown on the road.

Separate and apart from the service agreement, other value-added benefits are designed to maintain high resale value, such as RV tracking systems, theft and damage protection and coverage when the RV is in storage.

Delivery as a Second Opportunity

If F&I cannot close the ancillary products on the phone and email the order to the consumer before delivery, leave the door open for a second effort on delivery day.

The professional presenter should identify whether the roadblock is the benefits or the price. Identifying the correct issue is essential in turning an objection into a sale.

Be prepared when the consumer arrives, review all the products, conduct a full costs/benefits disclosure and show them the payment difference. What is their peace of mind worth? Break down the payment difference into dollars per week. Ask for the order again before printing the financial documents.

Often, finance personnel push back on some small-dollar items such as GPS tracking devices. The consumer’s product view is tainted with other options sold at big-box stores for under $30. Finance professionals do not want to appear to be selling consumers anything they can buy down the block for less.

However, not all consumers shop at big-box stores. Most shop online at Amazon or some other website. Amazon and websites are not good substitutes for attending to your consumer after RV delivery. No one can care for your customers than better the dealership and its affiliates.

When was the last time you called Amazon for a refund or any issue? How long were you on hold, and how many people did they transfer you to? Could all the “offshore” customer support personnel communicate with you or did they stick to a script rather than taking care of the issue?

We are in a relationship business. Covid proved to those of us paying attention that service after the sale is still paramount in building customer retention. As I have written frequently in the past, no one can care for your consumers better than you. All the ancillary products your dealership has are tools needed to avoid financial surprises during the consumer’s RV ownership.

True, the consumer decides whether to purchase the financial products. However, we must conduct a professional, consistent product presentation so consumers can make an informed decision.

 

Jan Kelly is an educator and consultant, convention speaker and writes frequently for industry publications.

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