Michael Cassinelli is a sales and finance training specialist from IPS Agency. MCassinelli@AutoDealerMonthly.com

Michael Cassinelli is a sales and finance training specialist from IPS Agency. [email protected]

Google hasn’t been kind to finance departments, and the effect is damaging to the culture inside your dealership. Without taking proactive steps to fix this issue,your attempt to provide valuable protection products to consumers can be shot down by this powerful search engine.

But as finance departments continue to take it on the chin, consumer trust of the sales department has vaulted dramatically. Why is that? If you guessed the Internet, you’d be right.

Think about it. A 10-minute search online can validate an entire vehicle sale from hundreds of different sources. A customer can crosscheck pricing, options, availability and even fees and taxes in no time. And chances are, your astute, net-sweeping buyer has decided to purchase the car before he or she ever steps into your store. Even better, that customer probably feels very comfortable with the terms of the purchase.

Unfortunately, a Google search on F&I doesn’t produce the same sentiment. There’s this comment Consumer Reports made about the F&I office’s go-to product: “Don’t buy a troublesome automotive service contract.” The advice issued by Bankrate.com isn’t any better.

“Beware of the extended warranty add-on,” the site warns consumers. Then there’s Crosby and Crosby Insurance Services, which has this to say about GAP: “You can save $500 to $1000 by skipping the dealer’s offer of GAP coverage and getting it under your auto insurance policy.”

Even the Federal Trade Commission gets in a few shots: “A service contract is ... an add-on that might not be worth the price (and may) make it nearly impossible to get repairs when you need them.” What’s scary is consumers can find hundreds of these types of statements by conducting a single Google search. Even worse, salespeople and other dealership peronnel can find these disparaging comments on Google, too.

So how can we reverse the damage caused by these Google search results? Well, the following are just a few examples of what you can do to stop this F&I grinding search engine:

1. Educate Sales Staff: Your entire sales team should be well versed in the benefits of in-dealership financing, the products your F&I producers offer, the quality of the companies that provide the options, and the reasons it is important for your customers to be protected. Your sales team also needs to understand how the various protection products can actually make their jobs easier by helping them avoid "heat cases" later.

Any by educating your sales team on why we choose to sell a particular product or do business with a particular company, the overall culture of our dealership improves. You also make your salespeople champions of the F&I cause.

2. Study What Customers Read Online: The second you finish this article, take it directly to your finance manager. Have him or her run some queries on “service contracts” or “GAP insurance,” and have him or her note the things your customers are reading. Many of the most common objections that come from these searches can be easily overcome — just as long as your F&I team is prepared.

3. Promote Products and Providers: Use your dealership’s website, Facebook page and any other customer communications channels to promote the quality of the F&I products your store offers. Since we know a majority of cus- tomers finding negative results on Google are also scrolling through our various digital media outlets, it is important that we use our channels to separate the protections we offer from the ones being disparaged online.

4. Select Providers With Top- Level Reputations: A healthy bit of due diligence can go a long way to prevent many potential problems. So head to the computer to do a little research on the F&I product providers you are considering before you commit to selling their products.

What you’re looking for are reader reviews, company ratings, and other valuable pieces of information that will help you select the right company. And just imagine if your customers found the same positive reviews about the company you selected when they do their own due diligence?

The perception our customers and employees have of our finance department is directly linked to customer satisfaction and your dealership’s overall profitability. That’s why we have to be aware of what’s being said about F&I online, and we have to educate our people to prepare them for the battle the Internet wages daily on our finance department.