The Finance & Insurance Department probably plays the most important role of ensuring high customer satisfaction. Since 70%-80% of customers are either financing or leasing their automobile, the function we perform in F&I is key to their buying decision. How we handle their financing needs affects the customer's perception of the process, either positively or negatively.

As a finance manager, I'd frequently have customers return months after they had purchased their automobile. Instead of asking for their vehicle sales person, they'd ask for me.

I was the person they remembered most even though the sales person might have spent hours with them and I was with them 20-30 minutes. Many F&I managers tell me that happens to them, too.

I think this is because customers' payments are so important to their decisions. Also, we're typically the last person they conduct business with before leaving the dealership.

A couple of years ago there seemed to be an effort to do away with the F&I department.

Some manufacturers suggested eliminating the F&I person, and assigning showroom sales people to both jobs of vehicle selling and financing. Come again? Take a highly specialized function that is so key to a customer's buying decision and have 15 different people trained individually on how to do it, and this will improve the process? That's an unreasonable expectation.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and I'm sure there are people reading this who've instituted such a process and made it work.

It is my humble opinion that doing so might get rid of one problem — turning over a customer to a different staffer. But it creates many other problems such as returned bank contracts, taking more time preparing the paperwork, unprofessional product presentations and lack of continuity in dealing with the lenders.

Not to mention that your sales force is preoccupied with something that doesn't involve selling automobiles.

Make no mistake. The customers are speaking loud and clear. They are unhappy with the way many dealerships conduct the F&I process. That discontent can range from feeling deceived to feeling their time is being wasted.

There are steps that a dealership can take to make sure the F&I process is working positively towards customer satisfaction.

  1. Don't give the customer unrealistic expectations of what their payment will be prior to delivery.

    If a customer is quoted an exact payment using an “A” tier rate, only to find at delivery they were approved as a “C” tier, they might sign the paperwork, but they won't be happy about it.

    If we quote the customer a payment range, we accomplish what most customers want: to make sure the payment is within their budget limits. We can be precise after we receive the approval from the bank, and it is time to sign the delivery paperwork.

  2. The sales department should turn over each customer at point of sale.

    Our intent here is to handle financing if possible, but also to make sure we will be prepared to make their delivery efficient.

  3. The F&I manager needs to have all tasks for the delivery (except selling the products and printing the forms) completed prior to bringing the customer into the F&I office.

    Our customers have two expectations of us: that we are efficient and that we don't waste their time. That's what they look at most when rating CSI as it relates to the F&I process.

  4. The finance manager should use a customer satisfaction survey as a lead in to their presentation.

This approach serves two purposes: 1) make sure the customer is happy with their buying experience and that they send the survey back when they get it, and 2) it serves as an excellent lead-in to the F&I presentation. Here's how it works:

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith, I'd like to thank you again for purchasing your vehicle from us. We understand that you had a choice of who you were going to buy from and we appreciate you choosing us. It is our intent to take care of your driving needs for many years to come. We have found that whether you come back to buy from us again depends not only on the quality of our vehicle, but also on the experience you had while you were here. Could I ask you a couple of questions?

  1. Did the sales person take care of you?
  2. Are you satisfied with your choice?

  3. Has the delivery process gone smooth?

The last part of the sales process is what I do. I would like for you to be able to say once we're finished, that I was prompt, straightforward, efficient, and most importantly that I have explained all the financial benefits that are available to you and I'd like to take a couple of minutes to do that right now.”

Being an aggressive selling F&I Manager is not only about profit, it is about taking care of the customer. Customer satisfaction is everyone's responsibility at the dealership, but we have a vital role since we are the last person the customer deals with and provide an important part of their buying decision. I am not suggesting that we give up F&I profits for customer service, quite the contrary. I am implying that if you sell with enthusiasm and have prepared for their visit, not only will you earn high marks with the customer, but your F&I profits will soar.

Ron Martin is the author of the book “The Vision of Finance and Insurance” and a national sales trainer and consultant for automotive dealers. You can learn more about his company, The Vision of F&I, Inc., or order his book by visiting the web site