Author Archives | Jim Maxim

The Need for … Wait for It … Speed!

The Need for … Wait for It … Speed!

Time is often an invisible variable in nearly all the tasks we do. Whether pulling the cord to the lawnmower, booting up your computer or running your credit card at the pump, you expect these everyday tasks to “just work.” An expectation develops that processes will be repeatable, will take about the same amount of effort and time as before, and will deliver the same outcomes.

This is because our brains assimilate patterns quickly. By the second experience with such events, we have already developed mental muscle memory that tells us subsequent uses should take the same amount of time. If the process takes longer, we suspect something may be wrong.

In other words, speed creates expectation.

Our brains also connect patterns like this between different but related processes. For instance, if you’re accustomed to speedy retail transactions using a swipe card or mobile device, shouldn’t you expect that same level of convenience and speed when you pay your service clerk for a brake job? After all, both of these transactions are necessary for acquiring a product or service. In other words, they share many of the same elements, but one situation may offer a seamless experience while the other might not.

Expectations May Vary

All this brings us to an important question: What is a fair expectation for a transaction?

The answer may depend on when you were born. If you were born before 1986, you grew up in a world where manual processes were the norm and your brain set expectations to the realization that some transactions and processes just take longer than others.

However, if you were born after 1986, you are a “digital native” — someone who grew up in a digitized world. You assume electronic processes rule more often than not, and you expect fast, seamless transactions. Therefore, to slow down, stand in line, and feel like you’re wasting time may make you irritable and impatient. It might even fire off receptors in your brain that can make waiting painful. Just forget your E-ZPass and get stuck again in the cash lane to pay the toll and you get the point.

Conversely, when transactions are smooth — and processes easy and fast — all those potential irritants and pains evaporate. But what happens when it is a pleasurable experience? Science shows us that pleasing activities can release the chemical dopamine in the brain. One emotion this hormone creates is a sense of happiness.

A recent Apple study provides insight. In that 2016 study on Apple Pay, a branded digital payment process using an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad or Mac, behavioral economists discuss differing levels of inhibition consumers feel when they pay in different ways. Paying with cash leads to less spending and purchases — there’s a pain sensation associated with being separated from your cash. Paying with credit cards resulted in higher purchases because the feeling and visual experience of being separated from your money are eliminated. Using a pushbutton, branded process like Apple Pay led to staggering increases in spending habits.

As if there was any doubt, the study underscores that instant gratification is alive and well. The fight for customers’ attention is being won with increased speed and delivering on new expectations. Consider what drives Amazon’s experimental drone delivery system or inspired Netflix to drop entire seasons of shows at once to create events. Musical artists now release compilations of their videos in one group of videos for the same reasons. Likewise, major movie studios with franchises release new films almost yearly now to continuously feed their consumers. Speed is a critical factor in meeting customer demand.

Speed, Satisfaction and Transparency

While consumers demand faster interactions, they continue to expect transactions and business engagements to be more satisfying and transparent. They want a more intuitive instore experience and a seamless online experience they control — and both had better be fast.

What does this mean for our industry and your agency? Agents and dealers who employ processes and tools that reduce time and meet the “techspecations” of the modern consumer have a huge advantage over those who do not. Creating that fast, high-end, pushbutton user experience will create conditions for better results.

Some producers and agents are already helping their clients understand, appreciate and use some of the leading technologies that help deliver a faster, more transparent and often expectation-busting experience.

Some of these technologies are designed to improve the customer experience by improving the engagement process. Others drive to make consumers’ decision-making processes less cumbersome for them. Others (and often technologies that deliver to multiple consumer needs) increase the overall speed-to-completion to give customers faster, better, and more enjoyable experiences, instore and online.

Emerging technologies now being adopted by dealers include such interactive sales tools as tablets, video, customer surveys, kiosks, gamification reality, virtual reality and engagement media that explain product features and benefits in powerfully compelling ways. As these tools deliver speed and link consumers’ expectations of modern retailing experiences to the act of shopping for and purchasing vehicles and aftermarket products, your dealer clients connect the value of each product they offer to how it enhances customer lifestyle goals.

For instance, when correctly implemented, erating simplifies and speeds up how quickly F&I can build successful menu presentations. It also eliminates 99.9% chance that F&I managers will make pricing errors on the products they present — and error-free transactions are what every consumer expects and deserves. Likewise, econtract remittance speeds up the contracting process. Digital signature capture speeds document completion.

Customers dislike processes that cost them time and prefer to patronize retail operations whose methods help them keep pace with their busy schedules. According to J.D. Power, “process innovations such as econtracting, combined with improvements to the dealer support and a robust product offering, contribute to satisfaction increases.”

Digital technologies remain foundational to improving clients’ F&I results for the following reasons:

  • Speedier processes: For example, emenu use can shorten a customer’s time in F&I by an average of 15 minutes. That’s an enormous savings for individuals eager to be done and on their way.
  • Greater clarity: Paper processes only leave customers wondering if they got the whole story. An interactive emenu helps customers better understand the value of your products, which builds trust in them and your dealership.
  • More secure data: Paper processes risk misplaced deal jackets and other documents that can put private customer data at risk. Digital menu systems keep F&I processes compliant with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
  • Increased F&I performance: Emenu use versus no menu use substantially increases core F&I performance

A recent MaximTrak study of 270 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dealerships across approximately 1.5 million vehicle transactions showed that emenu use (vs. no menu use) increased PVR by $538 per deal, improved vehicle service contract penetration by 52% per deal, shaved 15 minutes off each transaction, and ensured a compliant presentation to every customer every time

Dealers want customers to be happy and satisfied when they leave their showrooms. Surprise customers with operations that mirror the speed and quality of those they’re used to elsewhere. Those efforts will win you repeat business and good online reviews from buyers of most any generation.

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How F&I Meets Buyer ‘Techspectations’

How F&I Meets Buyer ‘Techspectations’

When you hear the term “gamification,” it probably conjures up ideas of entertainment and fun. On the surface, that would seem to be a distraction in the business world and the focused processes within F&I. But gamification has been taking hold over the last few decades in places like progressive learning institutions and the military, and its benefits to those disciplines means similar rewards to your business and the dealerships you serve.

Great Techspectations

Gamification employs video game technology to redesign complex, densely layered and annoying processes and transforms the way they are accessed, understood and transacted. Some people are book people, but more and more people would rather watch the movie than read the book. The same goes for presenting products. Rather than reading descriptive paragraphs, people want to engage with the content and immediately understand what it means to them.

F&I platforms that use gamification technology and this new approach to selling F&I products transform workflow into a visually clean, enjoyable, simple and very user-friendly process. This metamorphosis occurs through the sophisticated but easy–to-use presentation of graphics, sounds, movement and imagery that breaks down the processes into bite-size portions that are easily digestible for the consumer.

Speaking of bite size, Pizza Hut gamifies the pizza ordering process to sell more of its products with tabletop interactive menus. Look at this video (

The result is a faster, more enjoyable experience that meets the “techspectations” of today’s hyperconnected car buyer.

This approach to transactions is appearing in online apps, in-store sales kiosks, and F&I engagement tools. For instance, there are new F&I Menu programs that use multimedia interaction platforms to help assess buyers’ appetites for vehicle protection and personalization products and which then guide them toward a purchase decision. The modern customer is more willing than ever to use these tools to create a custom virtual profile that understands their habits, wants and needs. Through the process, participants are encouraged to move further into the presentation or take certain actions to gain rewards or tailored information.

In its online military engagement games, the U.S. Army rewards players with battle victories while it is tracking player movement to identify engagement-response patterns that can be applied to real combat situations. In F&I, the consumers engaging with new, sophisticated technologies have the ability to structure protection products to fit their specific needs based on a variety of inputs, such as deal structure, the vehicle they are purchasing, their driving habits and their life profile. These insights inform the F&I manager of the best ways to present products and close deals.

Game technology also shortens the F&I experience. To appreciate why this is so valuable, a review of the car-buying process is helpful. By the time the shopper walks into the dealership F&I office at the end of her car-buying process, she’s already invested considerable time to negotiate the cost of the automobile, RV or powersports vehicle. Now they are looking at spending more time looking at spending money on F&I products.

And while they might benefit from those products, they may not be in the best frame of mind to receive the information, grasp the implications and embrace those benefits. The F&I manager must deliver a performance that is fast and compliant and touches the life of the customer. Old-school F&I practices work against this goal. A recent study by Autotrader and others showed that consumers want to spend only 90 total minutes in the dealership, yet they spend 60 minutes of that total in F&I!

Enter state-of-the-art touch technology that allows for new digital F&I processes developed by drawing from familiar interactive surroundings. These interfaces use the same visual and tactile language many of today’s consumers use in their daily lives. They like it and are already comfortable using it, especially as the modern customer is a “digital native” who grew up in a world where computers, the Internet and handheld devices are a natural, embedded and nearly invisible aspect of their lives. By tapping into these new digital norms that already resonate with customers, touch technology sets them at ease and engages them more fully.

Interactive Menus

As an illustration, interactive menu systems that use touch tools not only allow the customer to build their product packages in a smooth workflow fashion but interactively guide them as they bring to the surface the value of the products. A well-designed interface has a “curator” function that takes all possible choices and presents the most efficient yet comprehensive way to educate, inform and engage buyers. Perhaps most important, like any game, they give the user the comfort and control of deciding their destiny.

The days of the paper menu are quickly going the way of the Dewey Decimal System.

Every successive generation of driver walks into a store with new “techspectations” like this. Behind gamification’s engagement benefits are also practical ones that remove redundancies and convert manual processes into automated and elegant ones that blend art with function.

We see this evolution in F&I platforms that leverage tablets, digital, video, flat-screen visuals and interactive consumer surveys. This kind of experience engages consumers’ eyes, ears, hands, minds, and emotions in a holistic and multifaceted shopping, decisioning and buying environment.

Here’s how you can position a store to meet customer techspectations:

  • Deliver a congruent digital experience, from online to in-store,
  • Embrace F&I best practices by adopting new, interactive menu technologies, econtracting and erating to save everyone time,
  • Use digital tools such as tablets and multimedia presentation technologies to deliver an interactive, self-directed F&I experience,
  • Engage consumers online through website finance and aftermarket product calculators, configurators and other tools, and
  • Improve workflow and compliance by eliminating paperwork with digital processes.

When choosing a software provider, look beyond just a menu. Determine if they are simply a provider of a widget, or are committed to the role of a leading technology partner who invests on your behalf in the future of F&I to meet customer techspectations head on!

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The Technology-Driven Agent

The Technology-Driven Agent

No doubt, you’ve noticed dealers asking their F&I product providers and agents for more – more value-added services and business intelligence. Dealers today want smart products that consumers want to buy – and they want agents to help them be more efficient, comply with regulations, deliver results with clarity, and improve F&I profitability.

The benchmark is high. Dealers expect their agents to deliver. They seek this level of agent performance because they themselves have had to embrace change to sell, service, and retain customers more affordably and profitably. They want their income development partners to bring them new technology tools that offer more convenience, better reporting, and streamlined and seamless administration.

The hard reality is that an agency’s lack of technology adaptation and ability to market itself and its products using tech tools makes it vulnerable to losing business. Whether or not you and your agency already use digital reporting tools, tablet presentations, eMenus, eContracting platforms, and other F&I software tools, this article will benefit you.

Four key market trends are driving this technology adaption by agents and their clients:

1. Technology is a Game Changer . . . the X-Factor: Recognize that technology can streamline processes, improve efficiency, and increase convenience. Used correctly, technology helps agents and their clients understand, operate, and manage their businesses more competitively.

2. Buyers are Tech Savvy: They expect you to be as well. Millenials and other-generation buyers use technology tools themselves when conducting commerce and communicating.

3. Potential Disruption: The emerging all-digital automotive retailing model, which melds carmakers, dealers, consumers, lenders, and agents into one seamless ecosystem, is disruptive change. Consumers will shop, select, finance, close, and make payments digitally. They already engage in digital transactions with many other retailers. They are baffled car dealers have not caught up. It’s coming.

4. Compliance is No Joke: Increasing compliance pressure from consumer groups and federal agencies, such as the the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), make it paramount that dealership processes be as thorough, consistent, trackable, and protective of consumer and business data as possible.

Modern F&I tools equip agents to address these trends. Technology can make them more efficient, help them monitor client sales in real time, provide greater clarity into the ROI the agent’s products are producing, and make monitoring, managing, and modifying product portfolios easier and able to be done on the fly.

The Technology-driven Agent

Agents can get ahead of the competition and create new value in training with their dealers by adopting innovations as they evolve. Staying abreast of current trends in your market will keep your company relevant for the long haul, put you in a powerful seat as a driver, and position you as a change agent for the next generation of processes.

The agency and its dealers at this point should be proficient in using:

  • Digital onboarding that streamlines the process between dealer and administrators
  • E-contracting – Is paper and paper pushing still your practice? E-contracting makes both internal and backend integrations clean, smooth, more accurate and complete, and delivers faster response for your clients.
  • Digital claims processing – This puts all necessary claim information into a touchscreen tablet. It enables clients to review information, capture a photo or video of the issue involved and then digitally transmit the claim data and supporting images in real time to the administrator. Dealers want such real-time, fluid and seamless problem resolution – and their customers demand it.
  • Real-time sales information tools
  • E-menus – Introducing new tablet based F&I solutions within their dealerships

As OEMs continue to pressure dealers to deliver an improved selling process, dealers are responding. Recently AutoNation announced its $100-million-plus investment in digital technologies. The goal is to move its dealer websites from informational to transactional storefronts, where consumers can conduct most every aspect of the vehicle purchase process online. This will eventually trickle down to where the rest of us live.

Here is one way to show your proactive understanding of market changes. Continue to train, advise, and encourage clients to proactively present your products – even in an online F&I environment. Researchers at Capgemini reported in “Cars Online 2014: Generation Connected,” that 70% of buyers want to receive invitations from F&I managers to buy aftermarket products, and 69% said the same about service contracts. We sometimes forget the close is in the asking.

In a JD Powers Sales Satisfaction Study released in November, a direct correlation between tablet technology at the point of sale and higher SSI was documented:

  • Using a computer/tablet in communicating price/payment helps drive satisfaction for working out the deal (784 vs. 770 in 2013). Satisfaction among customers shown pricing/payment on a computer screen/tablet is higher (827) than among those who receive this information in printed form (805), by verbal quotes (774), or as handwritten figures (764).
  • Computer/tablet use by dealer personnel while presenting price/payment options has increased to 22% from 18% in 2013.

Perhaps this change and its influence on your business will come even faster. It seems doubtful that as more equity money floods the automotive market and new consolidators, such as Warren Buffet and George Soros, acquire dealerships that they’ll be satisfied to operate them using old, traditional models, which have outlived their usefulness.

Consider today how you might embrace change to serve your dealers and evaluate new retail models for F&I that can be actively marketed to dealers. Differentiate your market offering. Lead in your thinking and apply technology to resolve solutions and bring new and continued value to your clients.

Prepare Now

If you doubt the above scenarios, all we have to do is look around. The “Re-Imagination Movement” has finally hit automotive retail. Leading innovators like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and LinkedIn have set the service bar high with consumers. Consumers who interact with them – that’s about all of us – expect their level of convenience, transparency, immediacy, and service from other businesses.

Influenced by these highly visible game-changers, dealers form opinions about your company by a montage of experiences in both their personal and professional lives. The result is a new benchmark for exceptional service and value. The message is this: agents who remain relevant to their clients will likewise use technology tools to make their lives easier and their services more useful and profitable.

In a digital world, five-ply forms agents cannot provide competitive value-added results in a dealership ecosystem driven by software tools. Independent agents who remember when electronic contracting surfaced for the first time at Industry Summit and similar conferences know this. Now, just five years later, 85% of third-party administrators have realized hardened financial gains from electronic contracting, rating and other digital strategies. Early adaptor TPAs that dedicated resources to digitization now see a majority of their products being produced electronically, both on native company web portals and through F&I menu systems.

F&I tablet and touchscreen technologies have freed the agency, agents, and their clients from power, Internet and phone lines and have enabled business to be conducted at the dealer principal’s desk or at Starbucks. Eighteen months ago I served on a panel where the crowd hammered an F&I technology provider because an F&I manager in the crowd saw tablet-based tools as a threat to job security.

Now, our office phone rings daily with F&I managers calling about our new tablet platforms. Early-adaptor agents likewise seek these same business intelligence tools to make them better. Forward-thinking agents develop go-to-market strategies that incorporate digital tools and value-based products that automate and streamline old school paper-and-manual processes and deliver better service and performance outcomes for clients.

The marketplace offers some dramatic examples of what happens to slow adapters. Consider how Amazon’s e-commerce technology disrupted once-great brick and mortar booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Borders. Just recently, Amazon announced package deliver by drone – imagine that disruption to UPS, FedEx, and the USPS! In 2007, Nokia was the top mobile phone handset producer in the world. Then the iPhone hit. Within two years, Nokia’s stock had fallen 92% from its 2008 high. Does anyone remember Nokia today?

Change in Our Neighborhood

Closer to home, a large direct insurance company and F&I provider announced in F&I and Showroom magazine a new tablet-based selling system it would display at NADA. As an independent agent, you can be sure that this direct-to-dealer insurance company is featuring this new tablet widget in every sales presentation it makes in your territory, driving home a one-company vision offering streamlined selling solutions – now available on a convenient tablet.

Interestingly enough, I recently had the unfortunate experience of watching a large agency lose an A++ account they had served for over 30 years. The agent was a friend of the dealer principal and enjoyed a solid relationship at that top level. Over time, however, as new and younger managers came onboard, this agent failed to connect with them. His business-as-usual attitude and comfort with traditional products and processes led this younger management team to view the agent as a “ticket puller” and not an innovator.

How do you rank against the competition? Are you a leader or follower? Perhaps it is time to find out and conduct an honest business assessment. I know; we just concluded a probing competitive evaluation of my company, MaximTrak Technologies. Some findings were a surprise (and painful to hear). We were not using best-in-class technology to drive digital marketing leads to sales, and furthermore we were not measuring the results. We also learned that we weren’t leveraging technologies built into our website to capture leads. Like you, we spend most time on client-facing development, to the neglect of our own website. We are remedying that now.

If you are interested in improving in this area, the following worksheet will be helpful. These points will help you get started:

  1. On paper, break apart your agency into its individual departments. Evaluate how well each uses technologies to improve efficiency, reduce bottlenecks, streamline processes, and boost productivity – for both internal and external clients.
  2. Using the worksheet category divisions, evaluate technology adaption in those departments. Customize the categories for your business.
  3. After you’ve scored your categories, ask staff to grade the company on these assessments. Review results and then brainstorm with everyone in the agency.
  4. Assign a team lead to drive solutions, according to priority of need or client benefit.
  5. Develop a budget or find alternatives that work if you need to scale back.
  6. Define the end game – the goal. It could be updating your sales presentation or adding a new tablet-based menu program to your offering, for instance.
  7. Technology-driven agents are more efficient, productive, and profitable – the same results your clients are counting on you to bring to them.

Download the PDF version here »

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