Becky's blog

Connecting with Consumers at Warp Speed

In the last decade, technology has dramatically changed the way people approach a vehicle purchase or lease. Today’s consumers research brands, models and MSRPs, car-buying strategies and tips, and dealer customer reviews before they ever set foot in a dealership. And, they’re not just doing research online – that’s where the real shopping begins.

Plus, technological changes just keep coming at an increasing rate! Dealerships are scrambling to keep up with the latest trending digital platform – each of which brings a competitive opportunity. If you’re not sure whether your operation is taking advantage of all the avenues to profit in today’s cyber marketplace, an F&I consultation could help you make timely adjustments.

Besides the Internet’s virtual “Car Buying 101” curriculum, consumers are aware that laws are in place to protect them. Numerous websites, hosted by the FTC, CFPB, state attorneys general and organizations such as, educate consumers about their rights in both the purchase and lease processes – and later phases of vehicle ownership.

Also, many Gen Xers and Millennials communicate via texting rather than phone calls. As a population, we’re used to fast-everything. Thanks to a boundless, turbocharged Internet, we expect instantaneous responses to our searches, product orders and queries.

The only way you can survive and compete in this dynamic landscape is to meet customers on their own terms. Only 17% of customers don’t shop online, which means the rest are screen-shopping dealership websites. Does your website offer customers the same welcoming atmosphere and level of service you provide in your brick-and-mortar dealership?

With digital commerce reaching warp speed, the phrase “time is money” is almost passé. In effect, time no longer exists. To capture and hold potential customers’ interest, you need to connect with them the nanosecond they land on your website. Next, you transition to relationship building with an online chat, engaging emails or phone calls to stay front and center as the customer peruses the web’s auto marketplace. If your dealership sales and F&I people aren’t Internet-savvy, online F&I training and in-store consultations can bring them up to speed.

Meeting customers on their own terms means using the customer’s preferred form of communication – whether it be texting, emails, instant messaging or old school telephone chats. A new software platform enables dealerships to text customers using the dealer’s existing phone system. Texting with customers allows them to control the flow and timing of the conversation, thereby empowering them, which in turn engenders trust and, ultimately, buy-in.

Many dealerships are offering online shoppers the option of being pre-approved for financing. Pre-approval benefits both the customer and the dealer. The customer doesn’t go into the dealership blind, wondering how her credit will impact what she can afford and possibly worried about being embarrassed by a low credit score. The sales person can put the customer on the right car at the very beginning, which makes for a more pleasant customer experience and speeds the in-dealership process.

Remember, however, that technology only goes so far. When the customer you’ve been chatting with comes into the dealership, making the human connection is essential. You’ll welcome her with a classic meet-and-greet, knowing that successful selling starts with a warm greeting, a firm handshake and a genuine smile. You want everyone who comes into your dealership to feel that they succeeded in selecting the best place to buy their next vehicle.

If your customer hasn’t been pre-approved, you’ll need to carefully qualify her during the meet-and-greet phase to assess whether she’ll be able to purchase the vehicle she’s selected. You conduct the assessment by asking a series of questions as part of a friendly conversation. When the customer realizes you’re listening and beginning to understand her needs, she’ll begin to see you as an ally, rather than an adversary. This process is essential for building rapport with the customer.
In my training, I refer to these initial qualifying questions as the first phase of “The Interview,” but the customer should never feel that she is being interrogated. The qualifying questions are asked by the sales person while discussing vehicles in the showroom or on the lot. A few of the many questions that will help you gauge the customer’s circumstances are provided here:

Interview Phase I – Qualifying Questions

  • Is there someone here you’d like to see in particular?

  • Have you ever bought or leased a vehicle from us in the past?

  • Who provided financing for your current vehicle? Do you have a good relationship with your bank?

  • What did you like most about your last vehicle? What didn’t you like about it? What can we do to make you happier with your next purchase?

If you want to guide the customer to a car she can afford and get financing for – while maximizing profits – it’s critical that you understand her needs at the earliest possible point in the process.

The Interview’s second phase is conducted by the finance manager during the review of the purchase agreement to confirm the accuracy of the figures related to the transaction. The information gathered at this time will help reduce sales resistance, boost rapport and frame a positive purchase experience.

A few of the many questions you’ll want to ask include:

Interview Phase II – Product Value Questions

  • How long do you usually drive your vehicles before replacing them? Do you expect to hold on to the car you’re buying today for the same length of time?

  • How many miles do you normally put on your vehicles annually? Do you expect to put about the same amount of miles on the vehicle you’re buying today?

Pay close attention to the customer’s answers. They’ll help you overcome her objections later when you present your products. You’ll be able to emphasize the products’ value and potential benefit to the customer based on her actual situation.

By approaching the customer on his or her terms – and collecting as much information as possible – you’ll reduce the odds of losing credibility. Remember to always respect the customer’s needs and present products that respond to those needs – rather than your bank account!

You should rehearse both phases of The Interview until they become second nature – a part of a normal conversation in the dealership context. You’ll find interactive training in The Interview – and much more – in my online F&I training platform, Chernek Consulting Virtual Pro.

By meeting customers on their terms at the earliest possible point of contact – and communicating the way they prefer – they’ll see that you’re making a genuine effort to understand their needs. You’ll cultivate rapport, then trust, then loyalty, and finally a relationship that will last a lifetime. And remember, your satisfied customers are your best advertisement.

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