Dealership selling of finance and insurance products comes down to the “V” word: value.

So says F&I trainer Ron Reahard of Reahard and Associates. “Unfortunately, the process at some dealerships is designed to add value for the dealership, not the customer.”

F&I managers are most effective when they convey an impression of professional helpfulness. They stumble when customers sense a hard sell.

“Does the customer feel you are trying to help or sell?” Reahard says. “The process has to help them, or they’ll do everything to avoid it.”

He tells of a successful F&I manager who breaks down customer resistance by saying: “You don’t have to buy anything. I’m here to help you and answer questions you might have.”

In satisfaction surveys, customers sometimes slam F&I. “You want someone leaving a dealership saying, ‘Wow, what a great place to buy a car,’” Reahard says. “A bad F&I experience can destroy that.”

Customers’ F&I beefs typically center on someone pitching something they expressed absolutely no interest in, too much time spent enduring lengthy product presentations and waiting to get into the office in the first place as part of finalizing a vehicle purchase.

“You’d be surprised how many F&I managers will make the customer wait until they are ready,” Reahard says during a presentation entitled “Crank Up the Value of F&I” at a F&I Management and Technology conference.

While visiting a dealership as consultants, he and his staff have witnessed some egregious delays.

“Forty minutes once,” he says of an F&I manager keeping a customer waiting. “He denied it, but we timed it. It’s not so much time in the F&I office that drives people crazy, it’s waiting to get in.”

Dealerships can time-manage to mitigate such delays. “But even that won't solve every issue,” says Marv Eleazer, finance director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, GA, citing imponderables.

“What happens if the customer is a subprime candidate and the deal needs to be worked with lenders and perhaps even the car needs to be switched?” he says.

Eleazer recalls a recent unexpected backup caused by a married couple getting into a lengthy and heated argument while discussing protection plans in his office. They even took it outside at one point. “I had another customer waiting.”

A Fort Wayne, IN, F&I manager, noting the vagaries of auto retailing, tells of a slow business day until just before closing time when he was “bombarded with four deals in a row.”   

Yet, needless delays often stem from F&I managers sequestered in their offices while preparing customized menus for impending customer presentations, Reahard says, questioning the wisdom of creating “a secret menu behind closed doors.”

It’s more palatable if a customer instead is in the office during that preparation period, he says. “Customers are more understanding if they see you working on their stuff. Use various templates to put together a menu with them across the desk from you.”

Without first learning the automotive needs of particular car buyers, an F&I manager is “perceived by customers as someone whose sole purpose is to sell them something they don’t want and don’t think they need,” Reahard says. “That’s not adding value, it is adding irritation.”

He offers ways F&I managers can shape positive customer perceptions.

  • Be helpful, trustful and care what’s best for the customer.
  • Make the F&I office look comfortable and inviting. “Some look like sales pits.”
  • Present products of true value. “If a customer is not interested in a product, why are you presenting it?”
  • Offer products that are priced fairly and realistically.
  • Keep it conversational. “Utilize a dialogue approach to sales. Have a conversation and let the customer discover value.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com