In: Blog, Digital

HOW DEALERS CAN EMBRACE THE EMPOWERED F&I CONSUMER

By: Brad Dickerson, Senior Manager, Client Strategy, LGM Financial Services

Brad Dickerson, Manager, OEM Relationships
Brad Dickerson, Senior Manager, Client Strategy

When was the last time you went out for dinner and didn’t bother to check how the restaurant was rated? Or bought a product off Amazon without reading a few customer reviews to ensure you were getting something of quality? We live in an era where customer review sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Zomato play a significant part in our everyday decision-making. Gone are the days of spontaneous purchases.

Today’s consumer is empowered by the opinion of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other people who have already purchased the product or service in question. Whether the seller participates in the sharing of information or not, the modern market is all about transparency.

The world of F&I is not immune to these macro consumer trends. In my earlier blog post, “Finding the right real estate for F&I on OEM websites,” I wrote about how automakers can highlight F&I product information in the same way they’ve historically promoted vehicle accessories. Product information belongs on highly visited pages like the build and price or the vehicle detail page (VDP).

WHO IS THE EMPOWERED CONSUMER?

Contrary to demographic clichés, tech adoption among older adults is growing rapidly right alongside other age groups. According to the Pew Research Center, around 42 per cent of adults aged 65 and older now own smartphones, up from just 18 per cent in 2013.

Along with the steep increase in online purchases year over year by all age groups (KPMG, 2017), there is also the demand for detailed information online. OEM websites are just one part of the equation. Once consumers have entered their vehicle and F&I product preferences into a build and price tool, it’s vital that this information is transferred seamlessly to the dealer. Otherwise, the customer has to start from scratch once they move to the dealership stage and the consumer experience is broken.

INFORMATION TRANSFER BETWEEN OEMS AND DEALERS

As OEMs introduce the tools to provide warm transfers to dealers, the exchange of information is key.  Experience and mystery shopping demonstrates that after the build and price is complete, customers are provided contact information to reach out to a dealer. From there, the customer builds the vehicle all over again, after the plea from the dealer for a call or a face-to-face visit.

This moves the channel of communication away from what the customer desires. Even if automakers aren’t automatically handing these leads over to dealers, many OEM build and price tools do generate a PDF or webpage summary of the customer’s vehicle build. Customers may take it into their own hands and provide this supporting documentation to their dealer as indication of their interest. For example, a prospective buyer will send an email to the dealer inquiring about inventory, and the individual will attach a PDF of the build and price that they’ve already completed.

In these instances, the customer is showing the dealer that they expect a highly personalized buying experience. And as mentioned, they’re also demonstrating that they prefer to have a digital conversation, at least for now. To meet the expectations of the modern consumer, dealers must communicate with customers through their preferred medium and offer as much information as possible. In other words, dealers have a better chance of connecting with the customer by responding to these emails and engaging in the same medium rather than by driving the customer to adapt to the dealer’s preference.

ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

Word of mouth is everything, and it turns out that 84 per cent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation (BrightLocal, 2016). Dealers are impacted by their online reputation, just as restaurants rely on positive Zomato reviews to bolster business. Between Google Places for Business, social media and customer forums, dealership customers have a wealth of review opportunities. Mitsubishi Motors has gone as far as posting dealer reviews directly on the dealer websites, providing customers the chance to read up on the opinions and experiences of the dealer, and not just favourable reviews!

F&I products are not immune to online reviews either. When you search for certain protection plans online, multiple consumer forums appear, and they’re often listed even higher up than the official site for the product. Within these forums, people debate whether the product is worthwhile, sometimes convince others to cancel their plans, and the occasional participant will even copy and paste the terms and conditions of their contract into the thread.

While monitoring these conversation boards may seem like too tall a task, there is online reputation software that alerts businesses to reviews where their name is mentioned. By using this type of real-time data, dealers can play a larger role in managing their online reputations beyond their own website. If dealers come across an online debate about the merits of an F&I product, why not join in on the conversation openly and authentically? Even if your dealership’s name is not mentioned specifically, you may convince prospective buyers to visit your dealership if you offer helpful information and a compelling case.

TRANSPARENCY BREEDS TRUST

Though a well-researched customer may seem intimidating at first, MakeMyDeal’s, “Online Retail: Finance & Insurance Study” shows that consumers are more likely to buy F&I products if they’re able to conduct their own research. Dealers only stand to benefit from a full embrace of transparent digital selling. By offering price and coverage details up front, you create a more positive buying experience and customers will reward your directness with loyalty.

About the author: Brad Dickerson is LGM’s Senior Manager, Client Strategy. He currently oversees a team of account managers who deliver full support to OEM partners. He also works closely with LGM’s digital marketing team and OEM partners to develop optimal consumer user experiences in the digital realm.