Use technology to improve your F&I
From sales to finance to delivery, if your dealership’s processes aren’t fast and efficient, you will be left in the dust. Incorporating the latest technology in your dealership will simplify office procedures, help ensure you remain compliant with federal financial regulations and sharpen your dealership’s competitive edge, all of which will improve your bottom line and help you capture more sales.
Streamline office procedures
The importance of streamlining operations in your dealership is vital in a retail environment. You work hard to capture customers and once you’ve made the sale you need to get them financed quickly to help prevent losing the sale.
Software to assist in F&I ranges from very simple to quite complex. The key is to find ways to quickly and accurately secure the right approval for each buyer to get them out of the marketplace shopping.
Equally as important is keeping everyone in the dealership up to date with the status of each customer. Keeping sales staff and the finance office connected ensures no miscommunication with the customer. Sales staff should be able to feed important information relative to the sale to the F&I office and the F&I office should be able to keep sales informed with up-to-the-minute status updates on every customer buying from the dealership. If you outsource your F&I, make sure updates are provided throughout the process and in a way that meets the needs of your sales staff whether through an online portal, fax, phone or text updates.
Especially in these times, dealers should utilize technology to improve their compliance procedures. Whether you outsource or handle F&I in-house, you are responsible for ensuring that federal regulations relating to consumer protections are met. Make sure your dealership and/or F&I outsourcer has streamlined, foolproof tools in place ensuring compliance with federal regulations including the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Red Flags Rule and Sherman Antitrust Act.
The Safeguard Rule of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires boat dealerships to develop a written information security plan that describes your program and how it will protect your customer’s non-public information. Your security plan, using today’s technologically driven F&I systems, should include:
- Installation of enterprise level firewalls with intrusion detection.
- Use of email encryption and data backup media and monitoring network. Any information transmitted through the web, as in completing credit applications online, should be using ‘https’ (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol with SSL) for a secure session.
- Systems for malicious activities such as anti-spyware and anti-virus programs.
The Red Flags Rule requires dealerships to implement a written Identity Theft Prevention Program to protect customers from identity theft. Again, technology helps make the program easier to implement:
- Software programs help your dealership stay compliant by running all customer applications through credit bureaus to identify any fraud alerts, credit freezes and discrepancies in the customer’s name, address, social security number and date of birth.
- All users on your computer network should be required to have complex passwords that are changed periodically.
- Network and workstations should be behind a firewall. If users leave their desk or don’t use their computers in a short time, the computer system should lock down until they input their password.
- Physical access to your facility can be controlled by security access points, using video surveillance and requiring employees to use a key card that controls which users access the building at which times and logs all entries.
The Sherman Antitrust Act bans dealerships from price fixing, group boycotting or using a tying arrangement. Tying occurs when a dealership tries to force a customer into buying one thing in order to get another. For example, you must purchase a warranty to get a specific rate.
By developing and utilizing a menu, the same items need to be offered at the same price to all customers. Customers are able to select the products and services they wish to include in the credit offer, or decline all products and services. Whether they want to include additional products or services or decline, a menu offers documentation of what the customer wants and limits your legal consequences. An online menu allows for presentation to remote customers and allows your dealership to sell additional products or services when the customer is not physically present increasing your geographic range of buyers.
Sharpen your competitive edge
Technology can also help your dealership stay a step ahead of your competition. It should allow you to reach new customers and stay in touch with old ones.
If you aren’t using all of the tools that the Internet allows to reach potential customers, it’s time you start. Keep in mind, the majority of customers research your products online long before walking through the door. And they aren’t only researching your products; they are also researching their options for financing. Make sure your website advertises the availability of financing and includes an option to apply for financing online. The mere act of making financing available through your dealership will help you capture more sales.
Don’t forget to utilize social media as well. It is an easy, inexpensive way to get the message out about customer events and promotions as well as educational messages for your clients. There are many channels through which we can now communicate with our customers including emails, texting, websites, QR codes and social media that allow your dealership to get its marketing message out often and very cost effectively.
Make sure you are taking advantage of all of these tools at your dealership. The advantages of technology don’t end with your prospects. Online surveys enable you to gather valuable customer feedback and email, websites and social media provide a very fast, low cost means of remarketing to your customer base long after the initial purchase.
Mark Siler is vice president of technology at Priority One, the F&I managed services provider for hundreds of dealers nationwide. The company has been serving the marine and RV industry since 1987.