American drivers spend more than 84 billion hours driving a year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Cars are part of American life for city and country dwellers alike—the main way people get to work, run errands, visit friends and family, and generally go about their lives.
All that driving causes wear-and-tear on vehicles, but for many car owners, affording repairs can be financially out-of-reach. Owning a car is expensive, and purchasing it is just the start. There is also gas, insurance, services, and added costs, like parking, to budget for. Many Americans, however, don’t have any money in savings or enough to cover emergencies and unexpected expenses. In fact, 62% of Americans don’t have enough savings for things like a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair.
For people without a financial cushion, non-critical car repairs, like bodywork and maintenance, pose a significant challenge. And yet, unplanned auto repair expenses are common. Most Americans have to fix or repair their cars fairly often, and a recent survey from Automotive News revealed that 43% of consumers wished financing options were available for repairs.
This is why it’s important for car dealers to offer fair, fast and comprehensive consumer financing options through their Fixed Ops departments, such as Sunbit (our provider of choice). Here are some best practices for how dealers have to meet customers where they are.
Put the financing options front and center
A customer walking into a car dealership knows there are financing options available, but the same is not true for someone walking into a service center. When hearing about the fixes and maintenance a car needs, customers often tune out if they know they can’t afford it. Let the customer know up front, right out of the gate, that financing options are available. If the customer knows they can use a payment plan to get repairs, they will be more receptive to hearing about what may need to be done. Every employee who interacts with customers should know what to say. You can also raise awareness by placing signs on your website and at the service center.
Reinforce and follow-up
Financing options should be integrated throughout the Fixed Ops process. For example, a good financing product can serve as a helpful planning and budgeting tool when writing up estimates. This also provides customers greater insight into the purchasing power they have with the dealership and allows them to review monthly payments. Greater visibility helps customers make smarter financial and car-related decisions.
Also, mention the financing option when quoting prices and providing status updates on the phone and at car pick-up. Really, any customer touchpoint—physical and digital—is an opportunity to let customers know they have choices. And include information about financing options in subsequent marketing communications, whether it’s a declined work reach-out or an invitation for a check-up.
Make it flexible and universal
No two customers have the same financial situation, so if a financing product is rigid or only applies to certain situations, it won’t get you very far. A good financing solution should approve as many customers as possible, including people with varied incomes and credit histories. People with high FICO scores already have other options. This is why it’s so important that a financing solution is underpinned by robust technology. A sophisticated platform that can quickly and precisely make a high rate of approvals provides peace of mind for both dealers and customers, who don’t have to worry that they will be embarrassed by being denied for credit reasons.
The need for speed
Speed is critical when a customer is making a financial decision over a repair. If the process of getting financing for repairs is time-consuming, involving an extensive application process and requiring a driver to provide detailed personal information, like their income, the barrier to entry is too high. That person will walk (or drive) away. The approval process should take minutes, or less, and only require basic pieces of information: A driver’s license, phone number and email address. The easier you can make it, the better.
Financing should be treated like any other amenity your dealership offer, such as shuttle service, onsite free wi-fi, rental car agreements, and even the coffee served in waiting areas. By offering flexible financing broadly, to all customers, throughout their experience, you can enhance your customer relationships and satisfaction while also growing your business.
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Aaron Mayfield is the general service manager at LA-based Honda World Downey, where he encourages his team to stay on the cutting edge of sales technology that improve customer service outcomes.