So you’ve started a new agency. Congratulations! Now, as a trainer, I have to ask: What does your F&I development program look like? If your answer is “I don’t have one,” well, don’t worry. I’ve met agents who have been in business for years and still don’t have the basics covered. And that’s a shame, because the best way to solidify your value to dealership performance is to show an increase in production.
The training curriculum should support your dealers’ overall objectives, reinforce the procedures each dealer plans to use to accomplish those objectives, and provide your dealers with the most up-to-date methods, skills and knowledge necessary to flourish. Recognizing training opportunities along with specific subject matter to train on is an important element in reaching new heights for your agency and your clients.
At some point you will have to decide whether you’re going to train your dealers’ F&I managers yourself, hire an outside trainer, or partner with a training provider. No matter which path you choose or how big your agency grows, the foundation of F&I training remains: You have to put your F&I managers in a position to deliver an effective presentation to every customer.
To do that, you have to teach them how to deliver the car, maintain high levels of customer satisfaction, minimize the number of contracts in transit (CIT), remain legally and ethically compliant, and maximize product sales. Let’s take a closer look at each component and how they combine to create an effective F&I training program.
- Deliver the Car
The No. 1 priority for every F&I manager should be to deliver the car in an upfront, honest and ethical manner — as well as by the most practical means. It takes more than just being able to pitch products and hand-pick the best call off the finance portal.
The keyword here is “transparency.” You can’t fake transparency. You can try, but people shut down when they feel they’re being taken. You have to present every product and service with no smoke and mirrors. I often tell my trainees they have to build a bridge from sales to F&I. “You’re here, you bought the car, now let me give you the blueprint for taking delivery.”
Without that bridge, there is no sense of urgency and no foundation for trust, and trust is what we’re selling in the finance office. Our products are intangible. They are highly valuable, but the customer derives no instant gratification from buying them. That’s why it’s so important to build and maintain a process that gives the F&I manager an opportunity to deliver on ever deal. There should be no whining about cash deals and lease deals. The F&I manager’s mindset is “I’m here to deliver the car.”
- CSI and ESI
Maintaining a high customer satisfaction index (CSI) and employee satisfaction index (ESI) is one of the most challenging tasks for F&I managers. They are expected to deliver a world-class customer experience while navigating the dealership culture and communicating with the sales staff.
As an agent, the best advice you can give to an F&I team is to set customer expectations on the showroom floor. If you asked 100 F&I professionals whether they would have better results if they could set expectations for F&I while the customer is still on the show floor, not one would say “No.” They know customers like it when they’re asked questions about their needs — particularly after they just spend $45,000 on a new car. But when the sales guy tells the customer it’s only going to take another 10 minutes, can you blame them for losing patience after 20?
Teach your F&I managers to be good communicators. I’m not talking about building rapport and making every customer smile and laugh. I’m talking about setting realistic expectations — including an accurate timeline — and then do it, period.
The first thing that happens is CSI goes through the roof. The second thing that happens is the sales department is influenced to set reasonable expectations themselves.
- Contracts in Transit
CIT are often silent but always lethal. They weigh on the F&I manager’s mind and have a huge influence on their production. Between all the minutiae they know they have to fix and all the pressure coming from the GM and the accounting office, some F&I managers would rather get a deal funded than take the next turn. You might as well put coffins in their offices, because they are constantly in panic mode.
Your agency’s training program should include a module on CIT and how to prevent them. As with CSI and ESI, it all comes down to setting expectations. Use your time with the customer effectively, making sure all their information is correct before it’s printed on any form and you are going through all the proper disclosures. Get all the signatures the first time. “This is your payment and term, this is the vehicle service contract you agreed to buy, this is the 1-800 number, sign here, here and here.” Use a checklist. It helps!
When you can control your CIT, there is a powerful residual effect. The F&I manager is making money and focused on the next customer, not chasing numbers and signatures all day long.
- Ethics and Compliance
When it comes to ethics and compliance at the dealership, ignorance is no excuse. Each of your stores has to have a culture of transparency, and depending on the dealer, you may have to take the lead on that initiative. Are you going to manage the business or will the business manage you? You need to know what’s right and what’s wrong so you can protect the dealer’s assets.
Industry knowledge is critical. It amazes me that, to this day, some F&I managers don’t know what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is or even what “FTC” stands for. They don’t know because they don’t seek that knowledge.
It’s your job as an agent to bring it to them. Subscribe to the industry journals and keep yourself informed. Remember, there is a target painted on every rooftop. Government agencies, state attorneys general and private attorneys are fielding complaints and taking action. Ignorance is no excuse.
- Additional Profit
Whether in paper or electronic form, F&I menu/option disclosure procedures and processes should be outlined in a manner that promotes its full profit and compliance potential without sacrificing CSI or the F&I manager’s ability to deliver the car.
You have got to maintain a process that promotes maximum product sales. It should be consumer-friendly. It should not be designed to “wear the customer down” — in fact, it should have the opposite effect. It should get the customer involved. It should be so transparent that the customer feels completely engaged.
All we’re asking of the customer is that they make a smart decision. Give them the opportunity and do so consistently. That’s how you sell F&I products.
Are you capable of providing your client the resources necessary to achieve optimum success? Constant training is one of the most valuable resources you can provide. If you can’t do it on your own, invest in outside training. Every dime you spend will come back twofold. Every minute you spend with an F&I team improves their production.
So once again, congratulations on your new agency. It’s a great time to be in our business. Now let’s get to work.