Many best-in-class lenders now use F&I to make money, not just take money. The F&I (Finance and Insurance) process is a gold mine of opportunity. Once the most dreaded part of buying a car, the finance customer experience is turning into one of the best channels for building the customer relationship.

The length of the auto loan or lease is not the defining factor, but it does help. Today the average new car auto loan lasts more than five years, often surpassing the warranty period by several years. The pay-off comes from how the top global auto finance companies are engaging the customers over the life of their loan or lease. Most brands are realizing above-industry averages for email open rates and a 5+ percent increase in customer retention while enjoying significantly reduced marketing expenses.

How do they engage customers?

ChannelNet manages over 12 million consumer websites for 6 of the top 10 automotive finance companies. Each company provides a unique customer experience and employs different tactics. They all use personal URLs (PURLs), or personal customer microsites, to create a cadence of lifecycle communications.

Below are the five best-in-class customer retention tactics we see.

1) Welcome customers immediately

Customers are 5 times more likely to engage during the first 90 to 100 days than at any other point in time. It is essential that you open the dialogue with the right tone in the beginning. Regardless of what a brand or dealer wants to sell (vehicle service contracts, tire and wheel coverage, another car), the relationship needs to start on the right foot. A friendly ‘thank you for your business” or freebie (car wash or oil change) can accomplish this.

2) Make life’s daily tasks easy

There is only one time when a customer actually enjoys paying for a vehicle — the last payment. That is why it is important to make the other 59+ touch points as painless as possible. When it comes to providing online self-service accounts, the top tier lenders make the user experience as easy as possible. Customers appreciate it when they can quickly find the information they want such as loan- or lease-end payoff information or contract end-dates.

3) Work as a team

Brands that integrate their online account services with their dealers and customer service centers score high with customers. Integrated systems track customers’ behaviors, such as the intention to buy their lease car or a new car. Dealers automatically receive notifications and leads so they can proactively reach out to customers. Some share special deals from the customer’s preferred dealership. Companies that understand that no one organization owns the customer relationship reap the benefits of increased retention.

4) Maintain your end of the conversation

Good communication is huge in any relationship and it must be two-way. Best-in class-brands map the customer lifecycle from the first contact to consideration, purchase, use and repurchase. They use well-timed, proactive, targeted communications to provide relevant information based on the customer’s lifecycle to make a customer feel special. Offers combined with service reminders and other pertinent information make for happy customers. This includes calls to action in a customer’s online account. A reminder can serve double duty by promoting both services and perks: Need an oil change? Use our free Wi-Fi to work while you wait.

5) Stamp out surprises

The end of a lease is a particularly tricky time. While the vehicle owner may have been happy with the purchase, a poor turn-in experience can totally sour the relationship. It’s a cliché but it’s true: you are only as good as your last success. The top captive automotive finance companies provide lease-end education, videos on the lease-end process, a repair calculator, options to purchase mileage and more. Their customers know exactly what to expect when they turn in their vehicle.

Top automotive finance lenders are integrating F&I processes with marketing automation to create a personally relevant experience that gives customers  the control and experience they demand. It is critical because the digital generations Y and X now have more buying power than the Boomers. According to a J. D. Power study, these generations are not loyal to brands or dealers.  They reject mass marketing tactics and prefer social media and a personal experience. Leveraging your F&I tools just makes cents.