Customer Expectations Breed New Innovations
Hoss Devine, who has spent the last 15 years of his career successfully consulting dealers on best practices, came to the conclusion several years back that there wasn’t an F&I menu software on the market that was good enough for his clients — so he decided to develop it himself. Thus, after years of working overtime, Automotive Innovations, and its inaugural software — SmartChoice — was born.
Making Smart Choices
In years past, the car-buying process was simpler, quicker and, simply put, more enjoyable for the consumer. Today, with the onset of countless F&I products — from maintenance plans to theft protection and beyond — car buyers end what is otherwise an exciting process bogged down with overwhelming numbers, contracts and prices, without quite understanding what they are saying yes or no to.
This contributes to an unfortunate stereotype that dealers all over the nation are faced with; it’s no secret that consumers are under the impression that dealerships are not trustworthy and are just trying to make as much money as possible. As much as automotive professionals can work to debunk this largely believed falsehood, in order to change customer perceptions, it’s important that they feel included in the nitty gritty of the car-buying process, especially when considering F&I.
In fact, Hoss says keeping your customers involved in the whole process actually leads to more success. “For the last 15 years of my career, I taught dealers how to be transparent while still being profitable,” he explains. “Actually, in every case, [dealers were] more profitable by being transparent.” Now, Hoss has expanded his services to help any dealer create better transparency, not just his clients. Through his company, Automotive Innovations, and its newly developed F&I menu, SmartChoice, dealers have the opportunity to quickly and easily involve and engage their customers in the F&I process.
SmartChoice is a digital F&I menu that automatically showcases a customer’s F&I package on an interactive screen of the dealer’s choice — one of which Automotive Innovations has dubbed SmartDesk. Looking over the 32-inch high-resolution touchscreen on an F&I manager’s desk, the manager can work with a customer to develop the perfect suite of F&I products. The live product menu is customized to the individual’s monthly budget, driving habits and more, creating a completely customizable experience the customer has a hand in creating. With automated changes to any F&I plan taking place right in front of a customer’s eyes on the SmartDesk, the process is quicker than the paper F&I route — no time is wasted on page after page waiting in the printer’s tray.
With this intelligent software, the relevant information is also presented in an easily digestible way for the consumer. Hoss explains, “We can present things in such a way that the customer understands what we’re talking about. It’s easy to digest … they feel involved in the process, and there’s no more scribbling stuff on a piece of paper and talking about it. It’s all right there on the screen and being drawn and presented to you in a way that’s just not possible with any other solution.” For Hoss, this solution is all about helping customers feel confident about the products they agree to — it just happened to be a great way for dealerships to make more profits too.
Lithia Springs Ford
One dealership that believed in Automotive Innovations’ vision from the start was Georgia-based Lithia Springs Ford, which was a beta store for the SmartChoice product. Lithia Springs Ford has been serving its community for over 50 years, but when new management purchased the Ford dealership in 2019, it aimed to provide updated innovations for its customer base.
“With this intelligent software, the relevant information is also presented in an easily digestible way for the consumer. We can present things in such a way that the customer understands what we’re talking about. It’s easy to digest.”
One update was partnering with Automotive Innovations to improve the customer experience in the F&I department. Lithia Springs Ford Managing Partner and General Manager Joey Hobson, who has a long-term working relationship with Hoss, was on board with this new product because he liked how it helps his customers feel confident about the F&I offerings. “If you give a customer a choice, they’re going to make the best choice for themselves,” he shares. Now that his customers are better educated through the SmartChoice software, their best choice is often agreeing to F&I products, instead of simply declining.
While customer feedback from using the SmartDesk has been nothing short of glowing reviews, Hobson reveals that his favorite aspect of the software is the fact that it makes his team’s jobs easier. While he boasts that he has some of the most talented F&I managers on his team that he’s seen in his 30-plus year automotive career, he finds solace in the fact that SmartChoice can assist a newbie F&I professional to seamlessly work with a customer.
“My biggest [note] on this is being able to bring an experienced salesperson that is ready to move into finance and they are able to use this tool with the same level of professionalism and skill set as a 20-year veteran,” Hobson shares. “One of the things that intrigued me was that the next generation of finance managers are going to be on a different level.”
Ushering in a new generation of finance management is inevitable, if not through attrition, then through consumer demand. And this new generation is going to require a different learning and onboarding experience. They’re a generation that grew up with a headset and a game controller in their hand, and they learn through computer simulations, video tutorials and being hands on with intuitive software. Cue Automotive Innovations. A company that’s built intuitive software that anyone can learn to use effectively and is particularly Millennial through Gen Z adoption friendly. Next gen F&I is here, and it appears to have a name.