In many dealerships, the F&I process is based on what worked 10 or 15 years ago. It’s not an enjoyable experience for the customer, nor is it perceived by them as helpful, educational, informational or necessary.
As independent agents, you have the opportunity to help. I’d like to lay out nine things we as an industry need to do to ensure the F&I process is viewed by every customer as a valuable part of the purchase experience. Read through them and determine for yourself whether your dealer clients are meeting the standards of today’s F&I office.1. Start With ‘Why?’
Simon Sinek, a professor at Columbia University, found that all the great, inspiring, and successful companies think, act, and communicate who they are and what they do “from the inside out.” By that, he means, you must determine your purpose, your cause, your belief, your reason for being.
That’s what I believe we all have to do with regard to the F&I department and F&I products. Profit cannot be the primary reason why dealers have an F&I department, or why they sell F&I products. Profit is merely the result of having a professional help customers make good decisions with regard to the options available in connection with their purchase. We have to continually reinforce the idea that we offer F&I products because they help customers and provide real value, not just because they make us money.2. Establish Parameters for the Desk
Today, the desk should help educate customers, not attempt to outsmart them. If the desk is allowed to quote payments, the dealer must establish parameters, including using an average interest rate prior to obtaining a credit bureau report, and predetermined rate from rate grid after obtaining a credit bureau report. The customer’s actual interest rate is not determined until the financing has been approved by a lender.
We have to increase, not reduce, the F&I department’s value to customers, to lenders, and to the dealership. At the very least, the F&I manager must be the person who communicates lender terms, APR and exact payment to the customer!3. F&I Must Be Involved in Arranging the Financing
The customer needs to see that the F&I manager is helping to arrange their financing. The F&I manager should be the customer’s advocate with the lender. He or she should personally review the credit application and credit bureau report with the customer prior to submission to a lender.
The customer has to perceive the F&I manager as helping them obtain favorable financing terms, not just someone who is trying to sell them something. If the F&I manager is not seen by the customer as an advocate, then their time in the finance office lends no value to their purchase experience; it’s just added aggravation.4. F&I Has to Expedite The Delivery Process, Not Extend It
F&I managers should meet the customer in the salesperson’s office and then bring them back to the F&I office as soon as possible. We have to stop forcing customers to answer a series of questions on the showroom floor designed to benefit us, not them, and then make them wait while an F&I manager tries to create the perfect menu.
F&I managers have be capable of asking needs-discovery questions while they prepare the customer’s paperwork. The F&I process must be totally transparent. The customer needs to see the F&I manager preparing their paperwork and doing everything possible to help them take delivery of their new vehicle as quickly as possible.
5. F&I Has to Be Easy to Do Business With
It ought to be fun to buy a car. F&I managers should have fun with customers, and treat customers the way they would want their mother treated. We have to change the emphasis from selling products to helping customers. F&I managers have to stop making product presentations and have conversations instead. We need to help each customer based on their agenda rather than the dealership’s agenda. We also have to be capable of selling customers the way they want to buy, whether that’s online, on the phone or in their home.6. Prevent Menu Madness
Attempting to create the perfect menu with the right products and packages before even presenting it to the customer is a waste of time. The customer needs to actually see the F&I manager at work. It’s better to customize the menu when they’re sitting across the desk than making them wait in the salesperson’s office. It’s not the time they spend in the F&I office that drives customers crazy. It’s the time they spend waiting to get in the F&I office!
7. Turn the Internet Into an Ally, Not an Adversary
Just like customers, F&I managers have to do their research. They have to know what consumer reports and other websites are saying about service contracts, GAP and environmental protection. Keeping links to websites with favorable information on our products adds third-party credibility. Access to favorable information can help offset and negative information they may have found elsewhere.
Some great sites you might want to put shortcuts to on your F&I manager’s computer desktop include Edmunds.com, MyFICO.com, NICB.org , EPA.gov, CCIAonline.com, ConsumerAutomotiveResearch.com, Motortrend.com, KBB.com and JDPower.com8. Make the Invisible Visible
An F&I professional should use visual aids to help customers “see” the need for F&I products and keep them engaged in the process. A simple hand drawing makes it easy for a customer to see the need for GAP, tire & wheel, or a service contract. So rather than telling the customer when they’re going to be out of factory warranty, we have to let them see when they’re going to be out of warranty.
The best F&I managers have learned to stop lecturing customers on the value of F&I products and start asking the questions that allow them to discover it for themselves. “Let me ask you a question” is more likely to keep the customer engaged than “Let me show you something.”9. Implement an F&I Wellness Program
For F&I to remain a viable department, you have to implement an ongoing F&I training program. Training has to be a process, not an event. You can’t send someone through a three-day class and then leave them twisting in the wind. Track each manager’s training activity. If you want performance to improve, you can’t just track results. You have to track effort!
Pay plans are another key factor. If you expect an F&I manager to embrace an ongoing training program, it has to be part of their compensation. F&I managers don’t get better because you tell them to, they get better because you put in place a process to ensure it happens.
As an independent agent, staying competitive requires staying hungry, embracing change, and bringing value to your business relationships. Your agency must be perceived by your dealers as their F&I partner with the expertise and commitment necessary to help them maximize F&I income. For the F&I department to not just survive, but thrive, we need to remember the fundamental purpose of every successful business — and department — is to help customers.