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Listen Up! Customers Have Something to Say

August 2006, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Rick McCormick - Also by this author

At a summer wedding reception in Central Florida, an older gentleman serving as an usher was seen outside staring into a bush. Someone asked him what he was looking at and he responded in awe: “Do you know there are 18 different kinds of crickets in that bush!?!”

“No sir,” was the response. “I never even heard a cricket at all.” But the older gentleman, a graduate student of entomology at the University of Florida, had learned to distinguish over 200 different kinds of cricket calls with his natural ear. Imagine listening to crickets until you were able to distinguish 200 different calls!

You see, a person “learns” to listen. A listening ear is something that is developed. While we are born with the ability to hear, learning to listen, whether to crickets or people, takes purposeful effort.

It is impossible to talk and listen at the same time. A majority of F&I managers invest more time in sales presentations than they do asking probing questions and listening. You must be more concerned with helping the customer buy than you are about selling your products. Too much talking is an ineffective method and the result of a lack of planning and preparation.

Consistently Practice 70/30 Rule

Customers should be doing the talking 70 percent of the time. This means that if the average time spent in your F&I office is 45 minutes, then the customer should be talking for 31.5 minutes.

Practice when talking to coworkers, waitresses and people you deal with in everyday life. Ask a question and then listen. People love to talk about themselves. They love to talk about their family, job and hobbies, so let them.

There is a direct correlation between your ability to listen effectively and the level of your success in any area of life. The information learned while listening to the customer is vital to tailoring a package of products to meet that customer’s unique needs. Customers today demand this needs-based, consultative approach. When that approach is not present, they buy less and score the dealership poorly in CSI surveys. The best F&I managers are the ones who talk the least.

Ask Good Questions

It is impossible to be a good listener without asking the right questions. Questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” give people the opportunity to do what they love to do most: talk about themselves. To an older couple, a simple question such as, “How many children do you have?” will almost always have them talking about the irgrandchildren within 30 seconds. Then you can simply follow up with a needs-discovery question such as, “Where do they live?” or “How often do you travel to see them?”

Each form covered in the process of a deal has questions that pop out. For example, the buyer’s order lists the customer’s address. That should prompt you to ask, “Where will you park this car?” If they park on the street or driveway, you have discovered the need for GAP and theft deterrent products.

When confirming trade-in information, it’s a perfect time to ask how long customers have owned the car they are trading. Other questions include: “What type of service did you get out of the vehicle?” and “How many miles did you put on this vehicle?” With each question, you discover why customers need an extended service agreement and you build your case as to how it will benefit them.

It’s easy to ask needs-discovery questions while the credit application is being examined. While verifying customers’ income, ask: “Has your income gone up or down in the last five years?” If it has increased, congratulate the customer. You have just helped refresh the customer’s memory that she has had a substantial increase in salary since her last car loan. Now when the payment becomes an issue, because her last car payment was much less, you have the information you need to justify the increase.

The ability to ask good questions is a learned skill that must be studied and practiced regularly to be effective. Good open-ended questions will leave the customer thirsty for the knowledge you have. The questions are endless; however, a good balance of open-ended questions (3-to-1 is a good ratio) in a conversational style will allow you to put customers at ease, get them to open up and enable you and them to discover their needs together.

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