Mercedes Financial uses iPads to keep customers from feeling trapped in the F&I office

Mercedes-Benz Financial wants to get dealership finance managers out from behind their desks so customers don't feel like they're trapped when they're in the F&I office.

That's part of the thinking behind a pilot program in which the captive finance company is issuing Apple iPad hand-held computers to 40 Mercedes dealerships out of about 352 nationwide.

The hot-selling iPad can replicate the same functions that the F&I manager does at the desk, such as submit a credit application, quote a payment or process a lease return, the lender says.

Fewer handoffs

"What we want to accomplish is you can bring the F&I process to the car, to the showroom, to the customer," says Michael Kanzleiter, senior manager of marketing, for Mercedes-Benz Financial.

"You can handle that whole process by staying close to the car instead of maneuvering the customer to the F&I desk."

Customers dislike "handoffs" from one dealership employee to another, data from the J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction Index have shown over the years. Taking too long or being kept waiting to start the F&I process also hurts customer satisfaction, the company has found.

Using the iPad to take the F&I process to the customer instead of the other way around is more efficient and a "no-brainer," says one of the pilot dealers, Bernie Moreno, president of Mercedes-Benz of North Olmsted, Ohio.

Trial run

Mercedes-Benz Financial hasn't worked out yet who will pay for the iPads or how much they will cost if the company decides to roll out the program nationwide, Kanzleiter says. Retail prices for the iPad range from $499 to $829.

Kanzleiter says that for the pilot program, his company is providing the 40 dealerships with one iPad each for about 90 days. Some of the lender's dealer relationship managers also are getting iPads and training on how to use them, he says.

Kanzleiter said in a phone interview last week that the pilot dealerships should start getting their iPads this week.

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