Innovation is something no dealership can truly afford to ignore. The most recent JD Power U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study relays a similar message: “Use of technology—i.e., tablets and computer displays—by dealers during the sales process can substantially improve customer satisfaction among new-vehicle buyers.” However, according to the survey, this doesn’t mean that technology should replace personal service. We agree… And as we noted in Agent Entrepreneur’s 2016 Industry Trends article, technology will help with F&I presentations and transparency, but it won’t replace F&I managers.

In the JD Power survey, buyer satisfaction was based on four aspects of the sales process: negotiating the deal (17{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}), the salesperson (13{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}), the delivery process (11{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}), and finally, the facility (10{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}). On the flip side, the survey found that the salesperson (21{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}), fairness of the price (8{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}), experience negotiating (8{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}), the facility (7{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}), and the variety of in-stock inventory (7{137f86425451f0eed4391b215cab1f0aedcc26ced4aeb45d9a5267c3194b8614}) were all factors that contributed to a negative experience.

Study results showed that incorporating technology into each aspect of the sale increased overall satisfaction by around 1 point on a 10-point scale. For example, recording customer information on a tablet versus paper, or demonstrating features and pricing information on a screen instead of via a paper method increased satisfaction from 7.02 to 8.12, and from 7.52 to 8.63 for those purchasing luxury brand vehicle.

F&I was not the exception to that rule. The study found that products like extended service contracts, pre-paid maintenance and tire/road hazard products saw higher satisfaction ratings when they were presented on a tablet versus any other method, including printed materials or verbal presentations. This is an important opportunity, since non-luxury customers who are offered these options scored their overall satisfaction 46 points higher (788 vs 742 based on a 1,000-point scale) when they were presented these products as opposed to when they were not. For premium customers, the gap was smaller, but they still rated their satisfaction at 827 vs 801, a 26-point difference, when they were presented F&I products versus when they were not.

With new vehicle sales reaching a record of more than 17.5M in 2015, the role of technology is more important than ever, and as noted by Chris Sutton, vice president of the automotive retail practice at JD Power “…dealers face challenges in properly servicing a high volume of new-vehicle buyers who are increasingly tech savvy. Dealerships should understand that customers want and trust technology and that it can enhance efficiencies. Dealers that disregard it may risk being left behind in 3-5 years. Customers are experiencing interesting uses of technology in many of their other retail transactions—and now expect this in auto.”

The final takeaways from this study still center on the people element, though. In general, while consumers are looking for efficiency and convenience – thereby welcoming technology into the sales process – the salesperson is still the single most impactful component contributing to overall customer satisfaction. While technology is an increasingly important tool in the sales process, dealership staff who understand customers’ needs and who present vehicles and products that fit those needs are still critical components of the sales process, even in the digital age.

Along those same lines, the study found that what RoadVantage has been saying all along — an open, transparent process with an easy-to-understand contract is also key to satisfaction. Customers who don’t feel overly pressured, and who feel confident they are receiving all the information in an up-front manner with no hidden clauses or “gotchas,” tend to not only purchase more F&I products, but tend to then be loyal to the dealership and return when it comes time to get another vehicle.

Technology is changing the automotive business, there is no escaping that. However, that doesn’t mean completely giving up all the old processes either. Finding the right balance of people, product and presentation is going to vary based on the dealership’s brand and demographics. But as this study found, in the long-term, dealerships who embrace new technologies, find ways to weave it seamlessly into the process and streamline the experience will see more sales, with higher profits and greater customer satisfaction.

This post was written by: Garret Lacour, CEO RoadVantage

Published: March 25, 2016

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