Article

Drive More Profit On Every Deal With Integrated Technology

October 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Vince Passione - Also by this author

Five years ago, information technology wasn’t a major issue in most F&I offices. The reason was simple: Most dealers didn’t use nearly as much technology as they do today.

The vast majority of first-generation technology solutions were stand-alone systems, all running as separate applications. It was not uncommon to have one set of stand-alone systems for sales, another within the F&I department and yet another for service. The stand-alone nature of these systems required data to be manually transferred. Duplicate data entry meant that processes that should have taken minutes took hours. Deals were delayed. Customers were annoyed. Opportunities to up-sell and profit were lost.

The Changing Landscape

Thankfully, the landscape has changed. The various partners that you now depend upon – manufacturers, lenders, vehicle protection providers, marketing and sales technology vendors – have migrated their products and services to Internet platforms.

Also referred to as ASPs or "application service providers," these new systems offer a consistent platform for conducting business which will give you the opportunity to create an integrated workflow between departments. This integration can produce significant improvements in CSI and profits on every deal.

One Dealer’s Struggle…and Success

Suburban Collection, a Michigan-based group of 42 franchises, decided in 2004 to make seamless, end-to-end workflow a strategic priority. Gary Allgeier, the group’s Financial Services Director, recalls how Suburban Collection began the task of streamlining its workflow:

“Our first step was describing what we wanted the process to look like when we were all finished. We asked ourselves, ‘What should the customer experience look like and how long should it take?’ We knew that verifying the customer's ID, quoting a payment, desking a deal, pulling a credit bureau and sending it to the lender all required new inputs. Once we got an approval from a lender, we’d have to construct a menu from scratch. And then when we finally got the customer’s OK, we’d have to retype all the documents.”

Using a modern-day version of Frederick Taylor’s time-and-motion methodology, Allgeier found there were eight separate times in which the same information had to be entered manually to complete all paperwork for a typical deal. The process was laborious, time-consuming and highly redundant. It also offered multiple opportunities to make mistakes.

“No one benefited from the old process,” says Allgeier, who has labored with a handful of trusted vendors to reduce the complexity of the group’s technology systems, “We worked hard to reduce the cycle time and streamline our workflow, and now are at the point where we only have to enter data twice.”

“We’re hoping to continue streamlining so we only need to enter the data once.” With that said, Allgeier characterizes workflow as “our group’s biggest challenge and biggest opportunity.”

Initially, changes in the regulatory environment drove the group’s efforts. “It’s a complicated time for dealers,” Allgeier says. “We’re trying to expedite the process for our customers and satisfy the regulatory mandates.”

Suburban Collection correctly foresaw that if it could get its technology components working together, the sales and finance process would go faster. Not only have they reduced their data entry time, but they shortened the cycle time: “The customer is happy, we have more time to sell and we’re fully compliant with the regulations. It’s like winning the trifecta,” says Allgeier.

Do your systems help or hamper each deal? It may be time to revisit how well your systems integrate if two or more of these scenarios regularly happen in your dealership:

  1. Your staff must re-enter data several times before finalizing any deal. Retyping a lead form for a credit bureau, for a credit application, for a finance contract, for aftermarket products and service contracts.
  2. Customers experience unacceptable delays when their deals are handed off from one department to another. Have you ever lost a customer because they got fed up with the wait or missed an opportunity to sell additional F&I or aftermarket products?
  3. The deal process grinds to a halt and then starts over every time a new department becomes involved. How many different people touch customer information and data?
  4. It’s difficult to access the information you need to complete a deal quickly and efficiently. Does missed information, and do errors result in unwound deals?
  5. Your technology solutions don’t ‘talk’ to each other. Does your lead data integrate with your credit application system? Does that data integrate with your menu? Can you pull data out or push data into your DMS at will?
  6. Mistakes in copying or re-entering data result in delays or bounced contracts. Conservatively, 15 percent of all finance contracts contain data errors that delay funding. How many times has your staff made a mistake while handwriting information on a contract?
  7. Customers must return to provide missing data or re-sign contracts. Have you ever had a deal unwind because due to partially filled out documents?
  8. You are constantly retraining your employees on new systems. Even though training is a necessary evil in business, you clearly can’t afford to have a revolving door for excessive training.

These are the red flags that should spur you to take action. The investment you make in using integrated systems can generate a big payoff, often immediately.

Integration Tips

  • Task someone to monitor your workflow – who is touching what, when, how often and why?
  • Convert your customer information from paper to an electronic format as soon as possible in the deal process.
  • Select your technology providers carefully. Ensure that they can securely and seamlessly move your data between applications so you can maximize profitability and efficiency on every deal.
  • Review your workflow periodically. In the same way you monitor your vehicle inventory, you can review the number of customers you flow through your dealership in the most efficient way possible.
What’s at stake in your dealership? Consider Gary Allgeier’s situation again: “Before we made workflow a priority, we were spending so much time on paperwork that everyone was feeling frustrated – our employees and our customers. Today, the managers we pay to generate revenue are actually spending their time generating revenue – not entering data.”

Vol 3, Issue 10

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