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Ditch the Interview

F&I pro makes a case for ditching the F&I interview. He says a quick discussion with the salesperson and a look at the customer’s credit report and trade appraisal will tell you all you need to know.

December 2016, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Ryan Fischer

“In the event of your untimely death, who would be responsible for making the payments?” The question still sends shivers down my spine. Yet, it’s only one of many intrusive questions F&I managers across the country are instructed to ask when conducting a customer interview at the salesperson’s desk; the goal being to gather enough information to tailor the F&I product presentation and pitch to the buyer’s supposed needs. However, if you’ve ever had your own words used against you, you’ll understand why I don’t like the F&I interview.

Listen, buyers aren’t stupid. They are our friends, family, neighbors, teachers, scientists, physicians, and religious leaders. They weren’t born yesterday, and your questions about driving habits don’t go unnoticed. For all but the first-time car buyer, people know what is coming next in the process: a visit to the finance office to sign paperwork and decide on protection options.

F&I’s Bad Rap

The typical customer interview goes something like this: The salesperson hands F&I the deal and the manager goes out to greet the customer and introduce himself. The finance manager then sits at the same desk where the price-haggling just took place and begins reviewing pertinent information about the vehicle purchase with the customer. After some time, the manager begins to ask questions about the customer’s driving preferences. A bewildered customer answers the questions, while internally questioning why this would matter.

The problem with this is the interview takes place in the same spot the customer just spent hours haggling with the salesperson over price. So he connects finance to the negative feelings he had negotiating. That’s why he immediately knows another sale has begun the moment the producer asks about his driving and ownership habits. And that’s what causes customers to dig in their heels. Why else would the “paperwork guy” need to know these details?

The customer is now in your office and the paperwork part of the process begins. The menu is next, and you begin referencing the customer’s answers to your interview questions to explain why you are offering protection products. “Mr. Customer, you mentioned that you drive approximately 10,000 miles per year. Therefore, we are offering a five-year, 50,000-mile vehicle service contract.” All of a sudden, it clicks. The customer now understands that the entire interview at the salesperson’s desk was a way for you to gather information in order to sell product. Congratulations, you just lost all credibility.

Let Them Breath

Many pro-interview trainers and managers will point to improving numbers as proof that the interview works. I beg to differ. The increase in production is the result of two things: First, you are now following a process, and following a process usually leads to better results — no matter how good or bad the process is. The second reason is you gain confidence in the new process, so you dive into the menu with more authority and conviction.

Well, I’m here to say you can realize these positives without the customer interview. In fact, I’m confident you will experience more success without it.

So the next time the salesperson hands you a deal, head out and greet the customer like you normally would. But instead of sitting down at the salesperson’s desk, shake the customer’s hand and congratulate her on her purchase. Then let the customer know you will be finishing her paperwork and that you’ll be back with her shortly. This should take less than 30 seconds.

What you’ve done by sticking with this simple meet-and-greet is allowed the customer to reset her clock. Hey, before you came along, the customer had just exhaled after price haggling with the salesperson. In her mind, the hard part was over. So let the customer take a breath while you tap into the knowledge the salesperson gained while working with the customer. Then use the credit report and trade appraisal to make an educated assessment of what products best suit the customer. 

As F&I managers, we tend to want to stick with what we have been doing. Change is not our preference, and many of us tend to feel that we have it figured out. But as F&I trainer George Angus says, “What we think is less important than what is going on in the customer’s mind.” In my opinion, it’s time to put this archaic process to bed. Happy selling!

Ryan Fischer is the store manager for Rochester, N.Y.-based Dorschel Automotive Group. Email him at ryan.fischer@bobit.com.

Comment

  1. 1. Dan [ December 06, 2016 @ 10:06AM ]

    And THIS...is what I've been talking about in a lot of my comments. I've often seen the interview as very easy to "counter" by simply saying "No Comment" or something to that effect.

    To those who do use interviews: I pose this question: What would you do if a customer refused to talk about their driving habits?

  2. 2. Mad Marv [ December 06, 2016 @ 12:12PM ]

    And what is the ONE product the interview is focused on? Drum roll......................the VSC! Yeah, I've read all the defending point of views that claim we should accurately be presenting a customized presentation, but if we are observing the "300% Rule" aren't we going to present all the available products the customer qualifies for every time anyway? Sure we are! So why drill the customer about miles?

    You can calculate their annual miles driven by the things you already have in hand as Ryan pointed out so what's left to ask? Uh........let's see. Are your kids going to drink grape juice in the back seat? Does your employer provide long term disability? Ever had to replace a wheel because of a pothole? The questions can go on and on but they're all meaningless. Just make the presentation and handle the customer concerns with intelligent forethought and you'll do just fine.

    Hint: Customers will appreciate you getting down to business quickly saving them time and will probably react more favorably to your presentation likely buying more than you could ever set them up for with "you told me" snappy comebacks because no one wants their own words used against them.

  3. 3. Buddy [ December 07, 2016 @ 04:26AM ]

    I just helped my daughter buy a new Honda. As I always do, I knew the price I wanted to pay, the value of her trade, and the financing available based on her credit score of 807 beacon. When I negotiate, I always focus on the net of price less trade.

    We negotiated with the sales person and reached agreement on the price and trade, our net, in less than 30 minutes including the test drive.

    It took about four and a half hours to finish with the F&I process. Even though the dealership was not particularly busy.

    From a buyers point of view, this is intolerable. Particularly when my daughter's credit score is considered. Needless to say, we were not in a particularly good mood when we finally got into the box.

    Addressing this article, we never got to see the F&I manager until we entered his office, after waiting more than three hours.

    I think most buyers would love to see the F&I process streamlined and shortened.

  4. 4. Ryan Fischer [ December 07, 2016 @ 07:52AM ]

    Buddy, thanks for your comment and I apologize that you had to wait so long to reach finance. I really appreciate you bringing the time aspect into the equation because it’s something that I didn’t focus on enough in the article. Unfortunately, your situation is something that happens all too often in dealerships across the nation.

    You're right in the assessment that the F&I process must become more streamlined. That word, streamline, often causes red flags to pop up in the minds of Finance Managers when they hear it. But it's not a bad thing. Streamlining the F&I process is as simple as what I wrote in the article above. It is removing the unnecessary steps that we have built into our procedures over time. It is detoxing the department from the waste that has accumulated due to old sales tactics and improper training.

    The first way to streamline the process is to remove the customer interview that typically takes 5 to 10 minutes and replace it with a 30 second meet and greet. It may not sound like a lot of time, but what customer wouldn’t want to begin driving their new vehicle 5 to 10 minutes earlier? And when you consider the average finance manager turning 75 deals per month, you’re talking about a cumulative savings of between 6 to 12 HOURS per month when switching to the meet and greet instead of a customer interview. What a savings!

  5. 5. Paul [ December 07, 2016 @ 10:15AM ]

    This is exactly what I have been saying for years. The customer is spent after negotiations. I feel like it is my job to reset their clocks and relax. Also, a quick hello allows me to double check license, insurance, and correctly filled out credit applications. Finding omissions now allows the flow of the delivery to go much more smoothly. Also, the customer sees that you're trying to help them conclude their purchase in a positive, professional way.

  6. 6. James Morgan [ December 12, 2016 @ 10:00AM ]

    I've been on this way of thinking for a long time now. Any one who has purchased vehicles over the last 20 years has more than likely had this script used on them. I have often wondered what people are thinking the second and third go around.

    Nice article.

  7. 7. Ryan Fischer [ December 14, 2016 @ 01:04PM ]

    Right on James. We act as if this is people's first rodeo.

  8. 8. Been there Doin It [ December 16, 2016 @ 12:10PM ]

    Without an Interview, you cannot have the 3 most powerful words in sales. YOU TOLD ME. Quit trying to reinvent the wheel. F&I profits are at all time highs. Polish your process, but you must have a process. Simply touching base with a customer wastes time. Without an Interview Ryan, you wouldn't be here.

  9. 9. Greg [ December 17, 2016 @ 08:07AM ]

    Ok, I see your point of view. It makes me think, hmmmm? We are in the people business. So where does the rapport building and relationship building take place. In today's world, the CSI is so sacred and FI is where the brunt end of the survey is tracked to. A bad FI experience, a bad CSI. CSI is based on relationships with the customers. Their perception of value.
    While your at it, why not just put a kiosk in the store, channel it to dealer track, a printer prints their contracts and let the customer complete the transaction themselves. Poof, there goes the FI manager to an $11/hr clerk.
    Stick to the basics, don't reinvent a successful wheel. Meet n greet at the salespersons desk to build a base of a trusting relationship. 2-5 minutes. Who says you have to ask those questions there. How about some conversation about anything but the deal? You are in the people business within the auto industry.

  10. 10. Johnson [ December 17, 2016 @ 08:21AM ]

    Just wondering are you guys higher or lower volume store Ryan? How many F&I managers do you have and how did they perceive this process change?

  11. 11. Johnson [ December 17, 2016 @ 08:22AM ]

    Ryan just wondering if this has helped your F&I PVR and if so what type of lift are you seeing? How many F&I manager do you have and how do the my like not doing the interview?

  12. 12. Jeff [ December 17, 2016 @ 09:35AM ]

    I want to echo the questions Johnson has, the proof is in the numbers. Have you seen an increase in PVR, PPD or PPP etc...

  13. 13. Mad Marv [ December 20, 2016 @ 02:58AM ]

    I ditched the interview years ago and watched my numbers climb across the board.

  14. 14. George Spatt [ December 20, 2016 @ 07:56PM ]

    If this is F&I heresy, then imprison me with the other heretics. Although I would add "verifying the information" to re-setting the clock. It is not fun to redo all the paperwork due to erroneous information that was assumed by a salesperson. See if you can establish genuine rapport in those few minutes without collecting any transparent "You told me's". 😊

  15. 15. Dan [ December 23, 2016 @ 06:51AM ]

    So to those of you who swear by the interview. What do you do with a customer who refuses to answer?

    Marv has the right idea. So does Ryan. So does Paul. You don't need it. it wastes time and raises the customer's defenses.

    When I leased my Avalon over the summer. I did purchase Tire and Wheel. Not because of any "you told me Earlier" tracks, but because the manager recommended it and phrased it as a suggestion nd not pressure.

  16. 16. Rob [ December 23, 2016 @ 12:27PM ]

    One thing you pointed out initially was the dreaded "in case of your death" question, which leads to believe the "interview" must be filled with cold, robotic questions. One main issue with the typical interview is drilling into a rehearsed set of questions that is very off-putting. If you can inject some personality, and gather the right info through a great conversation, not "interview," you'll put the customer at ease, drop their defenses, and get the info necessary for a killer product presentation. Sales 101 is finding the prospect's hot buttons and needs. Isn't it also preferable to have any errors/issues fixed on the showroom before letting things blow up in the F&I office?

  17. 17. Ryan Fischer [ January 29, 2017 @ 08:53AM ]

    @Rob - Customers still see through it. They're not stupid! You can make the same conversation in your office and fix any errors while staring at your screen.

    @Johnson - I've worked for dealers who sell over 300 vehicles per month, and dealers who sell only 30 per month. Prime delaerships, subprime dealerships and buy here pay here dealerships. My process is the same for each.

 

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