Provider Technology Must Keep Pace With Consumers
Provider Technology Must Keep Pace With Consumers

It is a topic in the industry media, at conferences and in front of many bartenders: The internet is changing the consumer experience. No more debate on that. There remains plenty of great discussion with very few wrong answers … except for one: “Our method of doing business has worked for many years, no reason to change.” Those are usually famous last words.

Providers of all types must adapt to an evolving consumer experience that includes online shopping, ridesharing, F&I product sales outside the F&I “box,” and the need to make the product presentation more personalized.

With all that, you have decided as a company to adapt and introduce new methods, including retail technology, to bring your brand closer to the customer. Where do you start? Whom do you listen to? How do you protect yourself from wasted money and effort? Sticking with the theme that there are no concrete answers, sitting on your hands should not be one of them.

Let’s discuss the three steps you can take to bring your provider software up to speed in time to give your agents and dealers a competitive edge: Gather information, incorporate retail technology into your business strategy, and create a proactive culture for your company.

Step 1: Gather Information.

In the last 10 years, retail technology has placed provider systems (and intelligence) directly into the point of sale. Through electronic rating, your systems are interacting with the consumer in real time. Your systems are ready to contemplate additional exchanges of data to better position your products using consumer demographics, real-time marketing material and, maybe, one day, personalized marketing material — all driven to uniquely represent your brand.

Some services are available today, but other ideas have to be conceived by providers so that software vendors can effectively implement them through standardized methods. Think of it in terms of the three “T”s:

Think! There is knowledge all around us. We are all consumers and we all have our own experiences. Pay closer attention to things seemingly unrelated to your business. Consumers now expect a car-buying experience in which they feel they have more control. This same expectation will apply to the way they buy aftermarket products.

If you have never purchased anything through Alexa, much less the Amazon website, there is a good chance that you cannot relate to the changing market. You have people on your team who can help. Think about where consumers are shopping for cars and looking to maintain them during ownership. Recognize this as an opportunity to provide the experience your consumers expect or to extend your brand.

Talk! We are a customer-driven business. Talk to your dealers and agents. Talk to your consumers. Many providers have limited exposure to the point-of-sale experience. Take a field trip! You will find examples and ideas from the most surprising places. Discuss and interpret dealer, agent and consumer feedback about the purchase experience in a constructive manner.

Translate! Everyone has been burned by investments that don’t work out. Protect your business by making informed decisions. Consider how retail technology fits your internal systems and process. Be empathetic to your dealers and their agents, else you run the risk of trying to force the dealer into a process they do not want. You should consider how your systems interact with the point-of-sale brand experience that your dealers are using. Remember that dealers must make it work in their business. They might sell other products and be under pressure from their OEMs. Most dealers resist mandatory systems and prefer to choose their own software.

Step 2: Incorporate Retail Technology.

When it comes to technology planning, it is surprising how many business plans do not formally include retail technology. You might have a CTO or “a guy” who is good with computers. But the leadership of the company must take responsibility to adapt to the changing market. Include retail technology as a line item in your business plan and staff meetings.

Do you have a five-year plan? A good one will start with a vision and a path to get there. This is not the place for micro decisions, but you should be practical enough to know that the vision is viable. How will your dealers be presenting products? Who is disrupting their business? The current model of selling in dealer F&I when a car is sold is still the most effective and productive, but there should be little debate that the consumer is driving change.

The most important lesson that I embraced on the topic is that most provider technologies are built on the assumption that an educated dealership F&I expert is on the other end of the pipeline. As you evolve your retail-facing technology, this is important to understand. Here are some things to consider:

  • The dealership F&I expert knows how to read your consumers. Presentation software needs to contemplate offering the consumer specific products and coverages best suited for the situation. It is not so automatic if the salesperson is talking to them from the service drive, over the phone, or especially when software is all that stands between you and the consumer in an online experience.
  • Software vendors are making positive steps to facilitate client profiling, and your technology is needed to better make it work for your brand.
  • Particularly with consumer-facing software — even if used in the dealer showroom — the presentation must be rightsized for the consumer. Electronic rating technology needs to consider some additional data about the consumer, and provider technology needs to adapt to the changing product presentation experience to include data beyond the vehicle.

Many software applications incorporate a consumer survey before or during the F&I presentation, but this information is usually retained in the dealership. Provider technology could better serve the sales process if they had a method to collect this information in an efficient manner.

Step 3: Create a Proactive Culture.

The world is not waiting on your strategy, so you must deal with retail technology right now. Until you align the talents and efforts of your team (and brand), you will face a continual barrage of special, urgent and often absurd requests. Your agents may be unprepared to effectively manage a dealer situation. This can often be avoided.

Being proactive is easy to grasp and hard to execute. We all go to conferences and hear consultants and vendors convince the audience that it is time to change. For those who quit smoking, or started an exercise regimen, you know that it helps to make small changes.

Not all ideas have a positive return on effort. But, if you do not properly explore the ideas and translate them to a concept, it is too easy to lay an egg. Or worse, do nothing.

Making changes to a process starts with team alignment. In our business, we focus on three “E”s:

Educate: Create awareness throughout your organization. Help agents understand existing technology and the many ways dealers represent your products.

Engage: Create opportunities to get agent feedback. What systems are your dealers using? What are their gripes? What is new? The important thing here is to figure out how to aggregate this feedback. Do you have a method that makes it easy to submit and report on feedback? Having a method is more effective than listening to the newest (or loudest) agent suggestion.

Empower: Most of your dealers and agents do not want to create fire drills, yet these emergencies are how things get done. Effectively trained and engaged agents can be empowered. When your agents know how to help your dealers without pulling the fire alarm, they will naturally be more confident and more productive.

Great companies do not sit idle until it is time to “react.” You do not have to be at the tip of the spear to keep pace. But you do have to plan if you want to avoid the pitfalls common to playing catchup to the market.

The wheels of evolution keep turning. Providers are getting closer to the consumer. Providers need to utilize agents, dealers and vendors to keep retail technology on track with the market.