Trae Townsend, Senior Training Specialist at Ally Financial, discusses strategies dealers can use to train their employees on navigating customers through vehicle purchasing and how leveraging F&I can help.
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Jackie Charniga: Hi, everyone. This is Jackie Charniga with Automotive News. And welcome to the All Ears podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Ally Financial and is produced by the Automotive News Content Studio. In each episode, we delve into topics important to executives in automotive retailing. We tap Ally's leaders to offer actionable solutions for dealers and others to successfully navigate transformational changes in the industry. Today, we catch up with Trae Townsend, Senior Training Specialist at Ally Financial, who will guide us through some smart strategies for navigating a customer through a vehicle purchase in today's technology environment. We'll also discuss the right balance of F&I information to divulge to the customer along their purchase journey and useful tips to train new F&I employees. Hi Trae. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Trae Townsend: Absolutely, Jackie. I'm so happy and thrilled to be here with you. JC: Thank you very much. Now let's get started. Some suggest that the traditional path to purchase, which ends in the F&I office, might be less valuable for both the buyer and the dealership than talking upfront about things such as affordability, financing options and F&I products. What do you see and hear from dealers and customers?
TT: Yeah, Jackie, first, I mean, let's acknowledge that there's a ton of talk around this right now. And what we see a lot of the dealers that do business with us are really embracing those nontraditional models that we call it around here. And some are embracing it. Some are scared to death of it. And, you know, some of them are somewhere in between. And frankly, there's a lot of dealers out there who recognize the importance of modernizing their process in some shape, form, or fashion. But they really haven't invested the resources to see that come to life. And that's where you end up with some clunky processes. You know, the consumers are really just wanting someone that meets them where they are in the process. They want someone who understands their circumstances, where they're at, what they've been through, and they want an experience that really serves their needs. And so, this is going to create a lot of variety from consumer to consumer. And that creates a lot of apprehension with dealers and their staff. You know, you consider generational economic factors, personal preference, but effective dealers, they're not really scared of this ambiguity. We see them leaning into it. They're embracing it and creating a process that adapts to it and adaptable sales process, if you will, which happens to be one of the most highly requested training subjects that we have here at Ally. You know, this can be a moving target when dealers are looking to iron out those processes and when they're looking for the best support that they can get to not only train the people, but to assist with crafting that entire process from front to back and even asking for certain suggestions with the technology that comes with that, it's going to depend on what the dealership specific goals are and how much they're willing to lean into it. But it's certainly something that they're reaching out and seeking assistance for.
JC: Along those discussions, there's been a longstanding component about how much of F&I information to offer shoppers in advance. For instance, how much to include on a dealership website, and especially when it comes to specific prices for the F&I menu. While some experts think publishing prices can turn off buyers and limit dealer flexibility, others suggest that when customers have time to think about the available products, they might they're more likely to consider the options. What do you think ends up being the most effective approach to getting customers to consider things like vehicle service contracts, gap, wheel, and tire?
TT: So, let me start by saying this. A modern customer centric process doesn't involve ambushing customers with products in the F&I office anymore. In general, there's far too little transparency when it comes to F&I products. And as an industry, we know this we've been talking about that for a while. But the real question is, how do we address it? I believe you mentioned the dealership website specifically. So, I want to take a second to walk through that. The website is a phenomenal resource to educate the consumer. We know that almost all consumers are doing research online. And why not keep them on the dealer side for as much of that research as possible? So, the extent of that information, it depends on a number of things, including the complexity of the coverage, how dynamic the pricing is. For example, like a vehicle service contract are typically very complex, different tiers of coverages, combination of models, etc. and the pricing for these obviously also very, very dynamic. So, for a situation like that, the management team has to consider whether that information is conducive to a better understanding for the customer. So, I'm not going to take a firm stance on the specifics. I really think it depends on where exactly the dealer is trying to take their process and how much they're going to lean into being a fully digital retailer. But I will repeat that the industry has been talking about that for years, that the consumer wants information.
They're going to find that information one way or the other. And it's our job to give them the right information and then have the resources to discuss that with them at greater length. And one more thing I do want to mention, talking about effective processes outside of the website and information through those digital channels. One thing that we've seen dealers that do business with Ally really leaning into is empowering their sales staff to have some initial conversations around products early and often throughout their entire sales process, whether that's in person or whether they are conducting that digitally. And again, it goes back to not ambushing the customer. But training is really paramount here, right? So, the sales staff, they need to have an appropriate level of understanding of the products themselves, as well as understand how to weave those conversations into their sales process and finally understand when and how to step away and defer to a better versed manager to answer those in-depth questions. So certainly, something that we see our dealers leaning into there.
JC: We know that training is critical for a successful F&I and sales team. Any tips or techniques or concerns in training new employees?
TT: This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest shortcomings that we have as an industry and it's onboarding new employees. And don't get me wrong, there's plenty of dealers that have well thought out onboarding processes for new hires. But, as an industry, it's something that we struggle with. And I hate to say it, but most training programs are just shadowing someone for a couple of days and then being sent out to conquer the world. And that leaves most employees grasping for straws for a pretty significant amount of time, which that really leads to one of the biggest concerns that we have when it comes to training, when it comes to the industry at large and it's turnover. So, when people don't have the tools that they need to succeed, it's certainly harder to keep them engaged and almost impossible to have them producing at the level that's expected. So, to answer your question, the most effective dealers typically have a well-defined and a well-documented onboarding process, and that's going to have a healthy mix of conceptual job training that actual on the job training and finally, some soft skills flash dealership culture training. So, this gives that new employee a really firm understanding of the process itself, the why behind the process like what we're working towards conceptually and why we do the things that we do. And finally, the soft skills culture training ensures that those employees understand how the dealership expects its employees to engage with each other and just as importantly, with the consumer.
So, many times there is that really significant amount of on-the-job training without the other components. So, we run into employees who know what the process is, but they don't understand the concepts behind it. And finally, they don't have the soft skills to most effectively implement it. I really see onboarding and onboarding program is something that should be a living, breathing document, something that's written down, that's adjusted to meet the need and it needs to address more than just, here's what we do. It needs to form an understanding of the employees that says, “Here's why we do what we do.” The dealers that we do business with, when they have these in place, typically their employees are more engaged, they're more productive because they've really bought into the process and what they're trying to accomplish.
JC: That's it for this episode of the All Ears podcast. A big thank you to Trae for providing those insights on behalf of Ally and the Automotive News Content Studio. Thanks for listening.
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