Retail Front

Skipping F&I Interview Shocks Some

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Tom Wilson.jpgAn automotive conference attendee can’t believe what he just heard.

He asks how dealership finance and insurance managers can sell F&I stuff without first interviewing customers about their needs.

“Not doing an interview goes against everything I’ve ever seen,” he says after listening to a panel of top-flight F&I folks tell how they skip the question period and get right to it.

Tom Wilson of McDonald Auto Group.

One school of thought spurs F&I staffers to do the so-called “pre-presentation qualifying interview” or “needs analysis” to learn things from customers such as who mainly will drive the bought car, how many miles a year they expect to put on it and how long might they keep it.

Advocates of that approach say information gleaned from the Q&A helps the F&I manager pitch products, such as extended-service contracts, best suited to a particular car buyer.

Tom Wilson doesn’t utterly object to those interviews. He just doesn’t see the dire need for them.

Ask a lot of questions, and “customer resistance goes up immediately,” Wilson, finance director for the Michigan-based McDonald Auto Group, says at the F&I Management and Technology Conference.

“If the customer doesn’t want you to question them, sing a song or bake them a cake, don’t do it,” he says.

But know your market, he adds. “If they want an interview, fine, do it. But you can get a lot of information about customers by talking to sales people who just spent two to three hours with them.”

Still, isn’t building customer rapport another asset of the interview? Conference panelists don’t necessarily think so.

“I’m not going to spend 15 minutes trying to build rapport that way,” says Joe Papa, business manager at Brown’s Ford of Johnstown in New York. “I look them in the eye and tell them what I am going to do. You need to be clear, believe in the products and transfer that enthusiasm across the table.”

F&I managers can learn a lot about customers without formal interviews, say Angelia Butts and Marv Eleazer, F&I directors respectively at Jenkins & Wynne Ford-Lincoln-Honda in Clarksville, TN, and Langdale Ford in Valdosta, GA.

“I pick up a lot of information from what’s going on at the desk,” says Butts, referring to the store hot spot where proposed deals are reviewed and approved. “I was born to do F&I, but you can’t do it without strong relations with the desk.”

Eleazer gets useful customer information from credit reports and other sources. “Customers appreciate that you are prepared and know something about them without asking a bunch of questions,” he says.

Skip asking car buyers how much they drive, if you can get that from a trade-in odometer, says Chris Cochran, finance director at Haddad Motor Group in Massachusetts.

“And if you don’t know how much they drive, start off offering them the longest service warranty,” he says. “If they say, ‘But I don’t drive that much,” say, “Great, we have a shorter version that’s less expensive.”

Questioning needn't take the form of a formal interview, says Matt Nowicki, information technology director at IAS, a dealership software provider.

Rather than resort to an actual interview, present it as a survey that includes questions about miles driven and repair costs estimated, he says.

If interviewed customers give information, avoid using it against them later on, Butts warns. “If they resist a product during your presentation, don’t say, ‘But you told me…’

“It’s like saying, ‘Remember that nice, friendly interview where I asked those questions? Well, I’m using what you told me then to beat you up now.’”

The fact that some people advocate interviews, some don’t and some recommend doing them like a survey shows the different approaches to auto retailing.

“There are so many ways to get the job done,” Cochran says, noting the marked differences of markets. “If you put a guy in a clown suit and put him in a circus town, he’ll sell a lot.”

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