(Originally featured in F&I and Showroom on January 1, 2022)
Transparency is a widely used term in retail automotive, but what does it really mean? The term transparency can mean a lot of things to different people, so I think it is important to define it. A definition helps to establish a standard that can easily be understood by both consumers and dealers, so that both parties can set an expectation for the car-buying experience.
First, let’s get real. Historically in this industry, dealerships have tried to guard information from the consumer during the sales and F&I process. This was done for multiple reasons, whether it was fear of losing profits, fear of giving the consumer too much information, or fear that the consumer would make decisions that we felt were not the best for us.
All that changed during the pandemic. Dealers were forced to be more transparent in order to complete transactions remotely. But the degree to which that transparency continues varies greatly from dealer to dealer. So, let’s define what it means to have a transparent sales and F&I process.
1. Give the consumer information they want
Consumers have been demanding transparency from car dealers for years. Now that they have had a taste, they are not going to accept being kept in the dark. The more information you can provide the consumer, the better—and this means everything: vehicle price, discounts and rebates, trade-in quotes, accurate payment quotes, prices for optional F&I products and services, and so on.
Most car shoppers do quite a bit of research on third-party sites, so it is common for them to have questions about the information they find. You may not agree with all the information they find, but don’t dismiss their data as wrong. If you have a different opinion than the consumer’s chosen resource, show them the data that supports your position. Better yet, partner with the third-party sites that you trust and share their information on your website and in your showroom.
The bottom line is, consumers will find the information they want somewhere. Why shouldn’t that somewhere be your dealership? This is not complicated. Post the information that consumers are searching for. Give consumers the information they want. Answer their questions quickly and honestly. Do what you say you will do. The more you delay and beat around the bush, the more likely they will take their business elsewhere.
The more information you give, the more the consumer will trust you and the more confident they will be in their decision-making process.
2. Be Consistent
The second aspect of the definition of transparency is providing cohesive and consistent information throughout the car buying process. Training is a crucial part of this. Make sure that your employees are not providing wrong information or contradicting what someone else has said, or something that is on your website. It is crucial that as new third-party research is added to your website, that your team is aware of the information added, as well as trained on it.
Make sure the terminology they are using is correct and that your employees have all the information and visual aids that can help make the buying process a positive one. If your sales team is aware of the resources on the website and cites it, uses it, and/or refers to it, it further builds credibility in the resource itself, and in your dealership.
Providing car shoppers with a cohesive, consistent experience is critical if you want to establish trust. Look at the messaging on your website and in your marketing materials. When a car shopper walks into the showroom, are they hearing and seeing those same messages? When they call and talk to two different people, are they getting the same answer?
Remember that the consumer is not the only audience for information. Your employees need to know the trusted resources and where to access this information quickly. If transparency is the goal, leadership should also walk the talk and demonstrate how to be transparent in all of their customer communications.
The automotive retail business has evolved in the last two years to be more transparent. For consumers, there is no going back. Car dealers who can meet these consumer expectations by providing a transparent, streamlined purchase process will attract the most customers, along with their trust and long-term loyalty.