Know Thy Customer

We all know time is of the essence in the Finance and Insurance office when closing a customer. So good use of the limited time is essential. Most customers only have a 20-25 minute attention span and truly appreciate you not wasting precious minutes. If they perceive that you are, it can show up on customer satisfaction surveys. So I ask: What is the single most important step in the F&I process?

We all know time is of the essence in the Finance and Insurance office when closing a customer. So good use of the limited time is essential.

Most customers only have a 20-25 minute attention span and truly appreciate you not wasting precious minutes. If they perceive that you are, it can show up on customer satisfaction surveys.

So I ask: What is the single most important step in the F&I process?

You may think the menu presentation, the credit analysis or even document preparation. But consider for a moment the interview.

Yes, that dreaded step in the F&I selling process that seems mundane and requires you to slow down and actually pay attention to the customer's needs.

Ironically, by slowing down to gather important facts, you can actually accelerate the process by accurately presenting a qualified menu.

“Why is this step so important?” you may ask. “What's wrong with just presenting the menu and getting the customer's OK to do business?”

What's wrong is that you may be leaving on the table by doing that.

Face it, very few customers saunter into your office with plans to initial off on your top-of-the line F&I platinum plan.

Most are interested in interest rates. Many think they don't need any of your product offerings. So most of the work you do is uphill.

Enter the Qualifying Interview

It's vital because it probes the needs of the customer. Those needs can then be assembled to create a professional, empathetic presentation with the right product mix.

“Why not just roll out all my packages and let the customer choose rather than all this useless rhetoric?” you may ask.

You can, but run the risk of sounding like a street vendor hawking cheap stuff and taking too much time doing so.

Most customers have been pitched menu offerings at other stores by less than professional F&I managers, and know the drill. Separate yourself from this practice and interview the customer.

Consider this; the 300% rule doesn't apply to every customer because every customer doesn't qualify for every product.

Too many F&I trainers have drilled the 300% rule into the heads of F&I managers to the point that some are desensitized as to its importance.

A 75-year-old man with a history of trading in a car every three years while driving 10,000 miles annually probably isn't interested in a vehicle service contract, but he may be interested in GAP, tire-and-wheel protection and pre-paid maintenance. We know he doesn't qualify for credit life.

This is a situation where a well-crafted interview can yield huge dividends by understanding the customer's needs and fulfilling them, not offering a canned sales pitch.

When and Where to Interview

That's up to you. Some F&I managers prefer to interview the customer in the salesperson's office where they're the most comfortable. Others choose the quaintness of their own office.

The obvious advantage of floor interviews is that less time is spent in your office conducting the interview while maximizing selling time once the customer is in your domain. The clock tends to start ticketing when customers are in your office.

The important thing is to do customer interviews daily, while paying close attention to the needs and desires of the person across the desk from you.

Your customers are real people with real needs. They want to be understood, not just sold to. One of the greatest human needs is the need to be understood.

The better you become at this most necessary step of the F&I selling process the more consistent your sales and gross profits will be.

Marv Eleazer has served in many positions, most notably finance manager and director, during his 30 years in automotive retailing. For the last 10 years, he has been at Langdale Ford in Valdosta GA. Contact him at [email protected]

Questions or comments about this column? Send us an e-mail at [email protected].

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