At car dealerships, there always is the element of time, and how much of it consumers want to devote to car buying, financing and hearing presentations on finance and insurance products.
The F&I office has never been a place where people like to linger, but today's customers in particular are more time sensitive, says Dave Duncan, senior vice president of Safe-Guard Products International, an F&I provider.
“They are more impatient. They expect more efficiencies,” he says.
Generation Y buyers seem especially time-conscious. “They want to come in and within 15 minutes buy the car they picked out,” says dealer Michelle Primm, managing partner at Cascade Auto Group in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. “We have to let them know we must take it slower and dot the ‘i's and cross the ‘t's.”
But it's not just young customers who can start tapping their feet early on, says Cindy Kanellis, finance director at Freemont Chevrolet in San Francisco. “Everyone is in a hurry.”
Respecting people's time is important because customers who start feeling like captives can retaliate by giving dealerships poor marks on customer-satisfaction surveys and online dealer-rating sites.
Yet, F&I managers can use certain tricks of the trade while playing beat the clock.
One is to meet customers, ask qualifying questions and take care of preliminaries on the showroom floor. It cuts time spent in the F&I office where the clock is ticking, says Glenn Roberts, national training and business-development manager for Zurich Insurance.
If 30 minutes in the F&I office is about right before an antsy customer starts clock watching, why spend 5-10 minutes of that time on introductions and rapport building that could be done elsewhere. “You're shooting your selling time,” says Roberts, a former F&I manager. “You are using up precious minutes.”
He calls it a front-end F&I system. He stresses keeping it short while initially with the customer at the car salesperson's desk or workstation. Gather information and resist the temptation of selling then and there.
Showroom sales people are in the business of selling cars, but they need to do a better job qualifying customers and guiding them to vehicles they can realistically afford.
Otherwise, it creates trouble for finance managers, who get stuck with flawed deals, Roberts says.
“It's bad if a deal gets to the F&I office and doesn't belong there,” Roberts says.
For unenlightened shoppers showing little self-restraint, sales people should steer them to cars that fit their needs and budgets, and ones that stand a chance at getting financed.
“Switching cars is a lot easier to do on the showroom floor than in the F&I office,” Roberts says.
The dealership staff needs to know a customer's ability to pay well before the prospective deal gets to the F&I office. Sales managers in particular must know the art and science of a deal structure, Roberts says.