This article was originally published by P&A Magazine in their April 2010 Issue. See the original article here.
In the last issue, we discussed the options available for connectivity to menu systems. It is clear that the safest route is to connect to all menus. Unfortunately, this is also the most technically challenging and complex solution to deliver; it requires a standard interface that all menu systems deliver to in order to avoid serious challenges when updates are required.
Menu dilemma or not, there remains some questions on what functionality should be left to the menu systems and the functionality that should be available on a provider’s website. One thing is clear: every business needs its own website at the very least as a marketing channel; however, what additional functionality should it deliver?
Most dealers use menus, but they are not used all the time. In addition, menus deliver varying degrees of connectivity and functionality, and this will continue for some time to come.
With this in mind, providers need to deliver a site that has all the functionality needed to enable a dealer to sell and consummate a sale as accurately and completely as possible. Also note that functionality must not be standalone, and should always be driven through the administration system. Allowing any functionality to remain apart from the administration system will not only create further challenges but will severely limit the functionality that can be offered. Below is my suggestion on this functionality:
- DMS integration: I am not convinced that this is the holy grail, but one thing I do know for sure – you need to get rid of the excuse. It costs, and that cost is generally difficult to justify at low volumes, but you simply have to be able to say that your site has DMS integration.
- Quick quote: Make it easy for the F&I Manager to get a quote for a customer. It should have a minimal entry requirement and a preset on dealer markup that is invisible to the customer in case the dealer wants to show the screen. Of course, products presented should only be those that are valid for the vehicle being sold.
- Collect customer information and create a printable contract: The sooner the need to deliver physical contracts is eliminated the better. If the contract is always available electronically then at least you eliminate the need for a rush delivery to close a deal. Of course, with this data going to and from the provider administration system, this means that you automatically have every transaction on record.
- Cancellations: An online cancellation quote will eliminate many phone calls. Also allow the cancellation to actually be confirmed on line.
You have enabled the F&I manager to do a quick quote, collect the customer information and print a contract. In doing so, the data should flow to the provider administration system in a pending status, waiting for the signed contract to be received with the payment.
If a menu system is connected to you in the manner discussed previously, you will be in the same position. I would regard the functionality described below as phase two of the process. The signed contracts are now in the back office waiting to be remitted to the provider.
- Remittance: Don’t ask the back office to reenter the contracts. They are already in the system so present the contracts list and allow the dealer back office to make the necessary selection for remittance.
- Void: Allow the ability to void contracts. Without this, the remittance will become and remain cumbersome to use and manage for both you and the dealer. It will also eliminate a lot of phone calls. The void and cancellations should net off on the remittance so that the payment is fully reconciled.
- Reporting: Comprehensive reporting at dealer and dealer group level is essential. Combine this reporting with transaction information extracted from the DMS for a reporting capability that will give a general manger all that is needed to run the business. Not so easy, I realize, but certainly worth striving for.
When the remittance is finalized and printed, it should be held as pending in the provider administration system. When payment is received with the remittance and signed contracts, the provider should be able to retrieve the remittance, confirm the total against payment and activate all contracts with the touch of a button. Contract entry or even confirmation of individual amounts becomes entirely unnecessary.
Given that all transactions are being done online, it may be that as opposed to waiting for a dealer to submit the contracts with payment, the provider could invoice and/or actually withdraw the funds for contracts on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. This is clearly a tough sell to dealers at this stage, but the process sets up the possibility, even if it is only instituted with a few dealers.
There are still a few nice to haves:
- First notice of loss, full claim entry: With a VSC, allow the dealer to enter the first notice of loss. Have this hit a monitored queue and call the dealer to finalize the repair. This results in excellent service and significant data entry saving. In time, with those dealers who fit the profile, a provider could enter the entire claim. With more structured programs such as prepaid maintenance, the dealer should be able to enter the claim and no human intervention at all should be required on the provider side.
- Agent reporting: Reports on daily contracts printed gives your sales team the information they need to have the right conversations in your dealerships. Eliminate the mid-month fob-off from the F&I manager that things are going well, only to have him proved overly expectant when the month end numbers are finally through. Make sure that these reports also tell the agent how much money they have made that month.
A provider website is not simply a marketing tool. It is a destination for the dealer where a deal can be closed, a contract printed and a remittance completed. It is the source from which the provider, the dealer and the agent can get the reporting they need. The menu systems are providing the sales channel but a supplement channel with complementary functionality is essential if a provider wants to deliver the kind of service dealers need to sell more product and run an efficient business.