As a retail automotive dealer, do you feel like the very nature of your business is changing right in front of you? Advances in technology are making it possible to conduct a good deal of the vehicle-purchasing transaction online. A new generation of car buyers who want more digital resources is rising in buying-power. Change is in the air. How will technology change the way F&I professionals ply their trade?
To answer that question, I have to go far from the realm of retail automotive to the cerebral world of TED talks. The third-most viewed TED talk of all time is Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” More than 35 million people have invested 18 minutes to watch an English/American author explain what he calls the “Golden Circle.” If you haven’t seen it, you can look it up on ted.com. It’s worth the watch.
One of my take-aways from Sinek’s talk has more to do with what he did than what he said. Sinek didn’t have any high-tech A/V presentation to back up his words. He used a flip chart on an easel and a fat black marker to illustrate his points. Sinek wasn’t an artist and his handwriting wasn’t all that good. Midway through his talk, his microphone failed and he had to be handed a new one.
In fact, Sinek’s famous talk wasn’t even a “real” TED talk presented at their annual flagship conference. Rather, it was a local “TEDx” presentation in Washington state. Only about 50 people heard him speak. Despite those handicaps, he delivered a brilliant and memorable talk.
In the years since his first TED talk, Sinek has delivered many presentations to diverse audience from far fancier platforms. And yet I noticed something about those later talks – he still used a flip chart and a fat black marker to illustrate his points, and his points were still brilliant.
All of this comes back to F&I, of course. Much is being said about technology replacing the F&I professional, but I remain unconvinced. Technology is a tool, not an end in itself. And, Simon Sinek with his flip chart and Sharpie proves that the message is more important than how its presented. There will be no replacing the human touch any time soon.
So, how do dealers cultivate successful and profitable operations, when it feels like the very ground beneath their feet is constantly moving? It all goes back to the basics of determining your value proposition and being the best at what you do. Any successful business accomplishes two things:
- Providing superior customer service
- Fulfilling relevant consumer needs
Regardless of any new technology advancement or economic condition, the answer to maintaining profitability will always lie in a dealership’s value proposition.
- What are you doing that makes you different from the competition?
- Is your brand built around transparency?
- How are your fostering ongoing communication?
Focusing on the basics, and getting them right in today’s environment, is one of the surest ways to foster dealership growth and profitability.
The point I’m making here is that we can’t let technology upgrades replace the basics of our business. Strong speakers will be motivational and empowering regardless of the technology surrounding them. In retail automotive, dealerships that focus on the basics of providing good customer service will survive and even thrive in a more digital world.
Consider, for example, the vehicle research process. Consumers are already researching everything they could ever want to know about a vehicle online, and now there is the growing trend of including F&I product information online. But, what happens when consumers hit a wall and they can’t find the information they need? Most consumers send an email, engage a chat bot, or pick up the phone. And, the last thing they want is to be confronted with an auto-responder or phone tree. Consumers want to interact with a real person because there are some needs that technology just can’t fulfill.
Yes, technology advances are automating more of the vehicle-purchasing process. But, that automation requires dealerships to be more engaged with their customers, not less. As dealerships evolve, sales and F&I teams need to be trained to interact with customers both online and in person. The dealers who will succeed in the coming years will be those who find the balance between when to use technology and when to use the human touch to provide the best customer service.