The first F&I practitioner training session I conducted was in a twin-bed Holiday Inn room. I sat on one bed with my training material and my student sat on the other bed taking notes on a legal pad. It was 1976.
As primitive as the process may have been, it included an essential component of training for retail automotive personnel — a face-to-face interactive relationship between a student and a qualified instructor. Lessons conveyed in this way carry additional weight, deepening understanding and facilitating the student’s ability to apply the lesson in real-world situations.
Now it’s 2020. I’m in front of a video camera providing face-to-face interactive state and federal regulation instruction to 23 dealership employees in various locations attending on their iPads. Questions are asked and answered, whiteboard examples provided.
In this virtual classroom, in addition to providing a working knowledge of the rules, the instructor’s personal rapport with the attendees — dealership personnel or lender, vendor or general agent field operatives — prompts student inquiries about in-store practices. “Is the store using an outdated form?” “Is a specific practice legal or ethical?” Potential compliance and legal hassles are nipped in the bud.
I’m often asked whether I find teaching in the digital age daunting. In its nascent stages, live online training was a challenge. Training was often delayed or interrupted by technical issues. And many organizations simply didn’t have the minimum system requirements.
Today, however, the technology has evolved to provide a seamless experience, most dealerships have high-speed internet, and the curriculum is now tailored for a virtual classroom. It’s become much more user-friendly — and natural — for training dealership personnel.
A few years ago, a university asked me to fill in for the instructor of a course on automotive retail federal regulations who couldn’t finish the semester. The school had a fully interactive audio/video virtual classroom supported by electronic whiteboard. Regardless of my location, I used my iPad to teach the class. It was a déjà vu experience. I heard the same student excuses for not completing an assignment that I gave to my college professors many years ago.
It’s easy to be dazzled by electronic wizardry. And virtual classrooms eliminate the expense of on-location instruction with minimal attendee time away from the job. These benefits only carry value, however, if the end result is not compromised.
An F&I practitioner’s confusion about a product feature may result in the loss of a sales opportunity. A manager’s uncertainty about the application of a state or federal regulation has the potential for dire consequences.
For training in-store personnel in dealership regulatory compliance, a recitation of the rules isn’t enough. What is sacrosanct — and the key to changing behavior — is the live visual interactive connection between instructor and student. It’s the Q&A and class discussion that solidify a working knowledge of a rule — how it applies to real-world customer transactions. It’s the bond that makes it easy for store employees to ask the tough question or give full weight to the regulatory information learned.
Which makes sense. We are, after all, a person-to-person business.