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How Soft Skills Define Your F&I Results

Dealerships have become more adaptable to new technologies that help improve both internal and external processes which have created unprecedented growth in F&I in the past few years. With so much emphasis on high-tech, it can be easy to lose focus and forget about the importance of a high-touch or personal experience your team creates for your customers. Research indicates that even the most technology-savvy block of Millennials, the Digital Natives, yearn for the high-touch in their automotive experience. Winning with today’s and future buyers, dealerships have to strike a healthy balance between high-tech and high-touch. Delivering this top quality experience in F&I requires a greater focus on your team’s soft skills. In their career services study, Davenport University defines soft skills as “a cluster of personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social graces that make someone a good employee and compatible to work with.” These soft skills have a great impact on someone’s ability to provide a high-touch experience. Ultimately, you can teach anybody to be professional, but you cannot teach someone to be friendly and nice, they either have it or they don’t.

During my 2016 NADA F&I Process Workshop, Dealers and Managers were asked to rate their F&I department’s soft skills. They are – managing expectations, sense of urgency, early involvement, being proactive and attitude. The scale ranged from “poor” (1),” fair” (2), “good” (3), “better” (4) to “best” (5). The responses provide an interesting insight about a culture of F&I departments.
Here is how the participants felt about their F&I managers ability to handle their process:
39% rated them as “fair” (2) and another 38% rated them as “good” (3). Thus, the overwhelming majority are not enthused about the ability to execute a process and only 2% (!!!) thought it deserves a rating of “best” (5).

The “early involvement” had received the poorest ratings with 51% saying it is “poor” (1) or “fair” (2).

The lack of urgency is another area that demonstrates the state of affairs is not well in F&I, with 44% rating it “poor” and “fair”.

The findings come as a surprise. As margins on new and used vehicles shrink, many dealers have experienced the best F&I profitability in the last five to ten years. Even though profitability has increased, the survey feedback certainly underlines the notion that the overall F&I process is either broken or mediocre at best. As with the proverbial “chicken or the egg” it is difficult to decide what comes first, a broken process, poor communication or a passive/reactive approach? Creating the best F&I process with the best available technology is paramount to the success of your dealership, but if your team is struggling with people skills, you will get inconsistent results. It’s evident, that even with a mediocre process and less than perfect F&I culture on the showroom, it is still possible to generate fair to good F&I results. Will improving your team’s cluster of personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social graces lead you to the better or best levels of performance? To find out how, contact ADG.

by Tony Troussov

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Are you ready when your phone rings?

You arrive at your dealership.  Your lot looks beautiful.  The inventory stands tall.  Your brand new facility is spectacular.  Your new responsive website is amazing.   You paid top dollars for SEOs and digital presence.   You feel proud.  You walk into the building and hear a receptionist paging the sales department to answer a sales call.  You look over to the bull pen in hopes that your best sales person answers that call but to your disappointment it was answered by someone less talented.

Consumers are shopping online at a higher rate than ever before.  In addition, according to Google/Polk studies, the decision time is shrinking with 81% of shoppers deciding to buy within three months of online research.  With 58% of those buyers buying within one month the competition and urgency has never been greater.  With a great focus on the online presence and technology that goes with it, it seems like most dealers are positioning themselves to reap great benefits.  It all sounds wonderful, until your sales or BDC staff answers the phone.

According to just one provider, Cars.com, their online shoppers are three times as likely to contact the dealership by phone.  And most recent study reveals that phone calls are outpacing e-leads by a staggering four to one ratio!  It makes sense since most of the research is done on a mobile phones.  How your team handles these phone conversations will determine the success of your online presence.  With high stakes in this game of a “high tech” environment a large portion of success is determined by a “high touch” the shopper must experience from their communication with your dealership.

A study by Marchex Institute concluded that 20% of the calls went unanswered during the business hours.  53% of answered calls were from shoppers with detailed inquiries who demonstrated intent to buy.  23% of phone calls were information gathering – inventory, hours and directions.  19% of callers called about vehicles not offered by the dealer.   The final 4% were calls confirming appointments and purchases.

Combine all of the above with the Google study which says, only 20% of vehicle buyer’s start with the brand they will ultimately buy.  This means that any dealer has a chance of capturing the business.  The big IF here is his/her sales/BDC staff’s ability to provide a different experience both on the phone and ultimately in person.

Hundreds of secret shopper reviews by Best Mark revealed the sad reality of phone call experiences.  80% of the sales people did not ask for caller’s name and did not provide theirs.  89% of the sales people did not sell a solid appointment.  91% of the time they attempted to sell a car over the phone instead of selling the appointment.  Finally, 95% (!) of the sales people did not use a defined road to an appointment and simply winged it.

Similar to any sales activity within the store, incoming sales phone calls require a defined process and just like any process the required components are 1.training, 2.monitoring and 3.an ongoing coaching.  On top of that, repetition of the three components is crucial in achieving the desired success.   Do you have an established phone call process/script?  Is it documented?  Can your staff identify the “road to the appointment”?  When was the last time your staff trained on this process?  Do you record all of your incoming phone calls?  How often does someone on your team monitor those calls?  Are you tracking your opportunities, appointments set, appointments showed and units sold, both for e-leads and phone leads?  Who is coaching your staff on a daily basis to help them improve their skills with phone ups?

Today’s shoppers are heavily cross shopping brands and dealerships.  They enter the competitive market with an open mind.  They compare vehicles, dealers and prices to the max.  Will your staff’s skills help you or hurt you in this competitive environment?  Will the shopper simply rule-out your store based on their phone conversation with your staff?  These are serious questions that require serious actions.

 

by Tony Troussov

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How to improve your MPI process

The Multi-Point Inspection has been around for a very long time.  Ever since its introduction, for various reasons dealerships have been struggling to utilize it as it was intended.  Most simply miss the value it was designed to bring for their customers and employees.  These five basic steps will help your department set the stage for a great MPI process and bring your customer experience to the next level.

  1. Less is more

When you’re choosing or designing you MPI inspection sheet it’s important that the information is relevant and easy to decipher.  A cumbersome and over embellished inspection sheet makes presentation difficult for your employees and confuses your customers.  Hit the key areas and build value in inspections and other complimentary services you provide.

 

  1. Be Prepared

Have the necessary equipment and forms available. To many times dealerships find themselves out of forms, or cannot print one due to lack of paper or ink.  If you are printing MPI forms, place a printer in a centralized location accessible to everyone involved and insure you stock enough ink cartridges.  If you stock forms, make sure you have a process in place and more than one person that knows how to order them.  The MPI form is one of the most valuable tools you have, be prepared.

 

  1. Inform vs. defend

Be proactive.  Introduce MPI during the walk around or at the time of write-up with a customer.   Share with them what your MPI process looks like and what they can expect when it’s completed.  When you let them know upfront and build value in this process you will set the stage for presentation of your findings.  Inform about MPI first, so you do not have to defend it later.

 

  1. Presentation

To get the most out your MPI process, you must get the information into the customer’s hands and present the findings in a professional manner.  Whether a customer is waiting in your lounge or dropped their vehicle off, utilize MPI as a sales tool to report the findings and help them make a buying decision.  When repairs are completed, the active delivery becomes the culmination of the entire process.  It gives you a chance to let the customer know about all the hard work you did for them.  As you go over completed maintenance or repairs, share with them the health of the vehicle and plant the seeds for the future visits.

 

  1. Practice, drill and rehearse

If you do not inspect what you expect or train and reinforce your process consistently, pack it up, call it quits, it’s broken.  Make it part of your daily activities to review technicians findings, spot check completed vehicles, and listen to your advisor’s introductions and presentations of MPI.  Training, practicing and scrimmaging will assist your technicians and advisors get more comfortable with this process.  Help your team members get better at these simple activities and watch their results improve.

If you are looking to hold your people accountable to a process that generates more sales, increases profit and creates happier customers it is time for you to revisit your MPI process.  Remember to keep it simple, be organized, inform first, and utilize it as a sales and retention tool.  Finally, the only way to truly manage it is by getting off the sidelines and getting involved.

 

By Dan Hahn

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How to leave an effective message

“Is There a Message within Your Message?”

 

Have you ever received a message from a salesperson? (No, not one from your store.) How effective was the message? Did it raise your curiosity level? Did it prompt you to pick up the phone and call back? Were you confused about the intent of the caller or, worse yet, not even sure who the caller was? Like any consumer of goods, at some point you’ve heard a good and a bad message from a salesperson.

When guests leave your store without a set appointment, your salesperson’s job is to follow up with them to schedule one. In the ideal world, this can be done with a single phone call. The reality is a salesperson could make multiple attempts, leaving a voicemail eight out of 10 times. (Of course, getting multiple contact numbers from a guest could improve the odds.) Most salespeople give up after leaving one message. Over time, when there is no callback from the customer, one could give up on follow-up altogether.

Most salespeople take very little time to prepare for a phone conversation (i.e., practicing/role-playing, writing possible objections down, and so forth), let alone prepare to leave a 30-second message. When you are not prepared to leave a message, you can go on rambling for a minute or two. Have you ever gotten one of those two-minute messages? The same is true with your salespeople. Preparation is the key to an effective message. Creating an effective message is easy when utilizing the steps to a callback, and your guests will hear a message that prompts them to pick up the phone and call back.

It is important for salespeople to know why they are making the call in the first place. What is the reason for this communication? Whatever the reason is, the main function of the message is to get a callback. In essence they are selling a callback. Too many times salespeople sell a car, payments, trade-in value or nothing while leaving a message. When that happens, the message becomes polluted, and the salesperson sounds like dozens of other salespeople on the voicemail—there is no message within the message.

Additionally, preparation consists of creating a script and practicing it. Writing out a message script or outline will help improve the quality of the message, which in turn improves the callback ratio. The good news is this part of the preparation takes only a few minutes, but can produce great long-term results.

Below is a step-by-step example of a voicemail script.

Intro: “Hi (customer’s first name), this is (your name) from (dealership, location). My number is (phone number).” Experts recommend leaving your contact number twice, at the beginning and end of the message, and saying it slowly with the last digits in pairs.

Set the stage: “You visited our store last night and test drove a (vehicle).” There is a chance they stopped at several dealerships.

Throw in a compliment: “I really enjoyed meeting you and your family!” Saying something nice about the customer offers a personal touch.

Reason for a call: “You mentioned you wanted to … I wanted to know how it went,” Establishing the reason the customer left is essential to meaningful follow-up.

Desired action: “Call me …” Keeping it simple is the key. Get to the point; you want them to call you back. Any additional pleasantries could convolute the message.

Contact info: “… at (phone number). This is (your name) at (dealership, location).”

Farewell: “Looking forward hearing from you.”

The entire message takes 25 to 35 seconds. In contrast with a lengthy, unclear and pointless message, a concise and clear communication with spelled-out contact info and a call to action will get results. Less is more.

To create a meaningful message, your sales staff must know why they are making the follow-up call. In preparation for a phone call, a salesperson must create an outline for a phone conversation and a message, in case a customer does not answer. Practicing a voicemail out loud a few times will increase confidence, which will help make the message stand out.

Keeping the message short and to-the-point is a great message in and of itself—you value your customer’s time. Remember, when you are leaving a message, you are selling a callback. When talking on the phone, you are selling an appointment, and only when you are face-to-face with the customer, you are selling a vehicle.

 By Tony Troussov, MA