F&I in the Social Media Arena: Is There a Place for it?

Although this subject has been at the center of some very insightful debates recently, my opinion is a strong YES!  F&I departments in automotive dealerships should be playing a major role in the overall social media strategic plan, especially on Facebook™ and Twitter™. After all, the financial business office serves the public in so many beneficial ways; first as a lender to whom the consumer confides their most intimate and private personal information, and also as the products and services provider, embellishing and safeguarding their clients' newly acquired asset and most precious possession and investment... their car! Social Media affords you a chance to subtly showcase these benefits!

The professional men and women who have made a career as Finance and Insurance Managers/Directors should enjoy an esteemed online presence which is directly associated with the dealerships' social platforms. In terms of relationship marketing, it is vitally important that the F&I Managers represent credibility, integrity and a friendly persona; hence, building trusted relationships with their market audience, replacing the old perception of the frightening experience with the man/woman in the office behind closed doors. By optimizing an online presence through the development of an informative blog, while posting innovative videos and creating educational discussions, the F&I manager has an opportunity to assist the consumer to make the best buying decision. The following are just a few examples of blog topics which would prove to be valuable and beneficial to today's consumer:

  • Your Credit Score: How does it affect your interest rate?
  • Leasing vs. Traditional Financing: Which is best for you?
  • Why it is not Always the Smartest Decision to Pay Cash for Your Car
  • Featured Product of the Month
  • Why buy a Service Contract (Warranty)?

People love success stories with happy endings and F&I Department Managers have countless stories to tell! Why not share these stories with the General Public? How many times have you seen your customer in the service lane dropping off their vehicle and picking up their rental car with a giant-sized grin on their face because everything was covered under the service contract? Or how about the customer who visits you to file a GAP Insurance claim after their vehicle was stated to be a "total loss"? It turned out their loan balance exceeded the current market value of their auto and the GAP policy saved your customer thousands of out of pocket dollars!
Today's F&I departments, (on the most part), operate with integrity as the staff is educated in areas of compliance to abide to both state and federal lending laws, which demand full disclosure and transparency. The auto industry has come a long way! F&I departments: It is your time to shine and you CAN shine online! Your online reviews are something to rave about and not to worry about!
Allow me to leave you with this social media fun fact... Did you know "Flo"™ from Progressive Insurance has almost four million Facebook™ fans? Who's next....you?

Written and Submitted by Nancy Simmons, Social Media Strategist for VMS, New York... A Finance and Insurance Provider

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Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on April 30, 2012 at 2:46pm

LOL... If you lived nearby, I might think that could have been my son!!!  What is it with kids and cigars these days?

Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on April 30, 2012 at 11:10am

I can appreciate that Marv...Thanks for your solid input and participating in this important discussion!  I would love to hear from the other side....the 30 year old, computer savvy manager who understands the needs of the customer who is Googling the questions as the F&I manager speaks and finds nothing but negative advice.

Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on April 29, 2012 at 9:55pm

Millennial...Y Generation ...born between 80 and 99, ages 13-32...yes...our future leaders of America!  It is what it is...we are not going to change it... But think about it...They work to live...We, baby boomers...Live to work!  When I was in F&I, I sometimes worked 7 days a week...I worked every Sunday...Went to church with my kids and then opened the dealership.  They did not have the luxury of Sunday family dinners like I enjoyed as a child... When I was a child, my mom worked in our family business with my dad, and they worked to live!  When I think of the things I missed...my kids first steps, school plays, baseball and softball games... I sometimes think working to live might be the better way!  (I did read your article and yes, there are a bunch!  This is the market we are now selling to and will be selling to for some decades to come!)  This is way beyond social media....this is the way of the times....Technology, which reinvents itself annually, is altering the way we communicate, we market ourselves, the image we portray!  5 years ago, we worried about BBB, AG claims, and CSI from the OEM...now our reputation is publicly displayed on line for the whole world to see!  It IS a whole new world!  Newspapers will be extinct, libraries...just like payphones and BlockBuster's... One thing for certain is, the vehicles are still getting more and more sophisticated and young men are NOT spending Saturday mornings in their driveways under the hood of the car with dad...so there definitely is a need for the valuable products we sell in the Finance Office.

Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on April 28, 2012 at 2:49pm

Thanks so much for responding Tom Kelly... You are right...some stories would not be conducive to SM and I would refrain from the story about the customer who died and the widow was so happy that the auto loan was paid in full! Also, the dynamics of each individual dealership's structure would also play a part in it... I worked in a dealership for 20+ years where both the sales team and the F&I office had the opportunity to sell accessories, for example. The sales people did a lousy job because they felt there was not enough mark up and the F&I office concentrated on their menu specific type items. Thus accessories just were not getting sold. We then created a video for truck buyers presenting them with various accessory up-fit options for them to watch while waiting to get into F&I...Boy did the numbers go up, and the premium for the accessories got financed within the loan. We no longer watched the truck owners come in for their first oil change with a whole different truck up-fitted by an independent provider! Customers used to say..."We didn't know you did this stuff....I would have rather had it included in my payments than on my credit card"!

So you are correct in saying Tom.. Like anything else, we definitely need to scrutinize the content. My point is Times...They are a changin... We...Are we adaptin?

Comment by Thomas A. Kelly on April 28, 2012 at 2:04pm

I agree with offering "some counteracting positive advice" as you suggest Nancy but I am not sure an open discussion on social sites is where it would be most beneficial. I know I would do a lousy job...Credit life and disability insurance from a dealer? I would not even want to discuss or worse debate the merits of buying decreasing term credit life from a dealer...I would prefer my chances one on one in the office after they love their new car....Most of us who have ever sold cars have had repeat customers ask us our opinion on the products they know are going to be offered to them. I always said I am not an expert and every persons needs are different, the folks in our business office will help you decide what might fit your needs.....I am guessing that most of us handled it in a similar way....Then I ask, how do we answer the same question when asked by a relative or personal friend?...In my opinion and as your research has shown Nancy, there will be little problem finding plenty of sources/people to offer opposition to buying products in our business office. Kinda like scratching Poison Ivy. I never worked in an F&I office before, perhaps I am misreading everything about the topic??

Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on April 28, 2012 at 1:50pm

Ran across this article and found it rather enlightening...This is the future...Perhaps it is time to take a Pro-active stance.....

4 Tips on Selling to Millennials By Eyal Yechezkell , CEO, PredictoMobile

Here's what you'll learn in this article:

1. That Millennials (Generation Y) represent 25% of the U.S. population;

2. That Millennials communicate quickly and efficiently -- even email seems slow to them;

3) That Millennials prefer to connect with businesses through a variety of channels.

Millennials—the generation born after 1982—represent a quarter of the U.S. population, making them the largest age group since the Baby Boomers. Team oriented, socially connected, and more technologically savvy than any previous generation, Millennials have a huge impact on popular culture, driving the creation of new media and marketing channels that extend far beyond traditional print and television advertising.

Email marketing, banner advertising and search optimization are now commonplace elements of the multi-channel strategies many companies have adopted to keep up with the changing times. Truly effective modern marketing, though, is about more than just using new media to reach a demographic.

Draw inspiration from this influential generation and create a business strategy that’s not only innovative, but relevant. Millennials are also referred to as “The Bridgers,” because most of them experienced adolescence as they bridged into the new millennium. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you bridge the latest generation gap and make your business matter to Millennials:

Say it instantly. Millennials (and increasingly, the rest of us) move through the world at such a fast pace that even communicating by email seems slow, compared to the immediacy of instant messaging, or texting via mobile device. Today’s consumer is simply too impatient to absorb marketing that isn’t already integrated into their regular communication habits. Use SMS and text messaging to issue important updates, or create instant messenger IDs to increase brand awareness and broaden your reach.

Why sell to consumers, when you can sell to a community? Trying to target an audience on the go can seem like a daunting, not to mention hit-or-miss, proposition. But if you address your customer base as a community, you not only help build a brand that customers learn to trust, you establish a much more direct line of communication between you and your customers. Create a blog where readers can leave comments, offer full disclosures regarding service queries, and remind your customers that they’re part of something bigger.

Reinforce the connection. Treating customers as a family may seem like a well-intentioned stretch, but this approach can grant you the fresh perspective needed to strengthen the bond between brand and buyer. According to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, cell phones and the internet, now central components of modern family life, have afforded families “a new kind of connectedness.” Don’t you want the same experience for your customers?

Use content to enrich. Give customers a chance to engage your content in ways that enhance their busy lives. Relate your product to identifiable trends and make more interactions fun, informative, and great for business.

Eyal Yechezkell is CEO of PredictoMobile™, one of the fastest growing premium mobile services. PredictoMobile™ offers its members a game that’s on the pulse of the latest developments in entertainment and world affairs. Program information is available at www.predicto.com

Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on April 28, 2012 at 1:16pm

Jae, your open-minded and forward thinking is refreshing to say the least! The seniors and boomers who have purchased many cars in their lifetime do not experience the element of not knowing what happens when they enter the F&I office. We would be kidding ourselves to think that just because it is not discussed ahead of time, means they do not know EXACTLY what to expect when they enter those doors. This is not their first rodeo! For the X, and millennial generations, technology is an expectation and not an option. Millennial Gens, now entering adulthood, are armed with tablets, smartphones, and can literally be Googling "Should I buy a service contract" while your are speaking to them in the office. I did just Google that questions and found quite a bit of negative advice from consumer advocacy groups, including many popular car sites, too many to list here! Why not offer some counteracting positive advice, in the way of blogs to leverage the responses favorably to questions such as these. I don't spend a dime these days without performing my research on line...I don't know about all of you! The reason why many of our processes today in the auto industry are broken is because we have not adapted to the ever-changing demands of the consumer. Working in a dealership for 30+ years I understand the culture...we become a product of our environment and do many things just because "that is the way we always have done it"... It worked in the past and it should continue to work... Not always so with the rapid growth of technology and modernization in the society we co-exist. I highly respect both of you Marv and Tom! You are masters of your trade! Thanks for jumping in and contributing your insight from the field as now I am enjoying a view of the game from the bleachers! I would love to hear what others in the industry think about this topic...pros and cons, as I think the topic makes for an excellent conversation!

Comment by Jae Chang on April 28, 2012 at 10:47am

Please indulge my one cent on this topic.  Marv and Tom you know my respect for both of you but perhaps the use of Social Media is narrowed. F&I flows through my veins and understand the uniqueness of gaining instant credibility but we must expand our peripheral vision. The pace of technology is way beyond my comprehension but it has and will continue to affect change in our industry.  How can we harness such a powerful tool(s) to modernize with convenience, compliance and transparency? It IS demanded by US and the Consumers as well. How long must we continue to pay thousands $$ to maintain 'Impact Printers'?  With collaboration We can initiate changes that will be Effective!  

Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on April 28, 2012 at 1:22am

I believe you are both right...As the Social Media Strategist for VMS, I am on hundreds of dealership Facebook pages daily and I do not see a whole lot of discussion regarding F&I services or products. I DO, however, believe there is a place for it...If not only to counteract all the hundred of negative posts, blogs, and articles which advise a consumer against the benefits of the valuable products an F&I office has to offer! I love a discussion that has two sides and I agree that not many have adapted to this principle of exposing a customer to the value rather than the usual articles we encounter, "Beware anything the F&I office tries to sell you.".... I am on your side Marv and Tom... I think it is a subject worth exploring to greater lengths!

Comment by NANCY SIMMONS on April 26, 2012 at 4:18pm

Thank you Mr. Lockerd!  Social Business proves to truly be a successful endeavor when the entire team participates and provides a "Total Dealership" platform, not just one to sell units!

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