Digital or direct from the person, training helps dealership staff learn the process—and stick to it.
The unique challenges of 2020 have shined a spotlight on the importance of up-to-date F&I training. Effective training can help F&I staff master new digital processes and selling techniques. It can also help the dealership stay on top of the continued need to comply strictly with federal and state laws.
As dealerships were confronted with stay-at-home orders and closed showrooms earlier this year, many shifted to providing digital and off-site transactions. But they also “often have been running on a tighter staff. That can mean that people are handling F&I who are not as familiar with it,” says Patrick Hennessey, senior director of sales for Ally. “Dealerships need to get those people up to speed. The business can be exposed if they don’t know the ins and outs of F&I.”
As Ryan Daly, district manager of KPA’s F&I compliance business, points out: “All of the same rules still apply, whether a transaction is being completed on site or off. All the rules from 2019 still are here in 2020, pandemic or not.”
From a compliance perspective, Daly says, the pandemic has created new concerns, especially as the F&I process is disrupted. Protecting consumer privacy is an issue when paperwork and transactions leave the F&I office.
Details matter, too. For example, Daly says, when paperwork is being printed out for an off-site meeting with a customer, dealerships need to make sure dates are correct—that printouts are created for the day the customer is actually signing.
Daly also points to heightened concerns about identity theft. A criminal acquires someone else’s name and personal information to create a synthetic credit file, then uses that to try to buy a vehicle.
“In the rush to handle the electronic transaction, there’s a tendency to not check everything properly,” he says. “With the customer not sitting in front of the F&I manager, it can be easy to forget to ask the ‘out of wallet’ questions to verify identity.”
And even when the transaction is in person, masks often create problems for checking identification, Daly says.
The secret is having a strictly outlined process and sticking to it. “Everyone wants to do everything correctly, but many dealerships are shifting to new processes and are out of rhythm,” he says. “It’s critical to have a concrete process that you follow every single time, for every transaction—whether it’s e-signed, virtual, offsite or in the dealership.
“You need to make sure all laws are followed, to protect yourself, your dealership and the bank. Make sure you check off every box as if they’re sitting in front of you.”
The transition to more digital, virtual and off-site transactions also has shifted how F&I managers interact with customers—sometimes presenting new hurdles.
“Many F&I managers have been successful because they’ve capitalized on their ability to be personable and build rapport with customers face to face,” Hennessey says. “Literally overnight, we’ve introduced a new dynamic where they need to be able to do that on the phone. Or they need to think about a new process where they present the same menu and items virtually. Those people may need help sharpening skills in an area they may not have had to pay attention to before.”
Gerry Gould, president of the Tampa, Fla., training consultancy Gerry Gould & Associates, agrees. In the digital world, Gould says: “The meet-and-greet that’s part of dealerships’ 10-step sales process is different now. When a customer is texting or emailing, F&I managers can’t make that first impression in person anymore.”
F&I managers have to “embrace videoconferencing tools, which give the impact of that personal touch that’s not there with a simple phone call,” he says. “Live video sessions with customers can be so rewarding, warm and personal. It has to be the new norm.”
That may require nudging the team out of its comfort zone. For instance, Gould says, F&I managers can introduce themselves and personalize their communications by attaching a 30- or 60-second video biography of themselves to an initial email or text with a customer. They should prepare slideshows or PDF versions of F&I menus, legal notices and paperwork to easily share in a videoconference.
“Keep it simple,” Gould says.
Transitioning to digital communications could be uncomfortable in the beginning, Gould says. But through repetition and persistence, team members will hit their stride.
“Everything you do at the dealership you can do online,” he says. “And you’ll sell more cars by giving customers the choice of how they want to interact with you.”
The good news is that whether a dealership is introducing new selling skills or providing compliance information, in many ways F&I training never has been as easy as it is now. For instance, Ally now offers its F&I training virtually.