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As the automotive retail sector continues to navigate its way through COVID-19, many aspects of how we do business have changed as part of our collective new normal – not the least of which is our BC dealerships’ approach to Finance and Insurance Department (F&I).

Personally, and professionally, the past year has been one of adapting to the evolving nature of the pandemic – but continuing to connect in the most authentic way possible has been critical, both for our own peace of mind and because it’s a key aspect of how we engage consumers. In some respects, our reliance on Zoom or other virtual platforms means that we are communicating in a more personal manner than ever before because, after all, every interaction brings you into someone’s private space.

In the automotive retail sector, the past year has been one in which sales plummeted at the outset of the pandemic, but in the ensuing months, sales trended in a positive direction and today consumers are largely back – buying or leasing vehicles at a healthy rate – which in turn has created a steady surge of demand for new inventory.

However, where sales have traditionally occurred almost entirely on the showroom floor, that process has undergone a dramatic change, with more reliance than ever before on new technologies such as Zoom and online platforms to conduct sales. As a result, the essence of building, nurturing and maintaining a consumer connection, remains a cornerstone.

The fundamentals of a customer relationship start with a review of a dealer’s F&I performance and a list of prospects. Dealers are continuing to be pushed to be strategic and prioritize follow-ups based on those clients who have shown interest but have not yet made a purchase. Customer shopping and buying trends have certainly changed over the past year and will continue to do so into the future.

Dealers have had to create an interactive online presence that mimics in-person shopping, to ensure consumers are having an optimal shopping experience. The digital experience continues to drive change across dealerships, and this includes F&I.

Before the pandemic, we were already seeing a big shift in purchasing trends. There was a push to a more seamless online to instore consumer experience. The pandemic only exacerbated the need for more in depth online tools, and it was great to see so many dealers adapt under the circumstances.

Though we continue to see the shift to online purchases, there is one thing that consumers are always looking for and cannot be forgotten – the personal touch. Consumers still want to connect on a personal level, regardless the amount of digitization involved.

F&I can be complex, but it doesn’t need to be complicated – as long as the sole focus and commitment continues to be thoughtful and transparent client service.

Blair Qualey is President and CEO of the New Car Dealers Association of BC. You can email him at [email protected]