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To Interview or Not to Interview: That Is the Question

Trainer shares six proven methods for preserving the F&I interview without needlessly annoying your customers.

May 2018, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Dwayne Wiggins

The race to reduce transaction times has spurred much debate regarding the F&I interview. Some say it’s a waste of time. Others say it’s indispensable. Both sides defend their positions with vigor, especially on social media.

For those of you on the “waste of time” team, I’m with you — but only if it is a bad interview. Bad interviews (known to car buyers as “interrogations”) should be stopped immediately. All they do is cause the customer to become defensive, take up valuable time, and diminish opportunity.

On the other hand, a good interview makes all the difference. It provides critical information that allows for a personalized approach when consulting the customer on protective products. After all, that is what customers want. They want to consult with a professional to make the right purchasing decisions for their needs and lifestyle. And when done right, the customer will never know the interview is happening. It will simply seem like a casual conversation. In fact, the customer may even discover that he or she has a few things in common with you.

Most automotive professionals start on the sales floor and work their way into the business office and other management positions. So imagine a sales manager walking up to a new sales pro and saying, “We would like to save time during the sales process. So going forward, we want you to stop having a conversation with the customer before you select, present, and negotiate the purchase of his or her new vehicle.” Sounds crazy, right?

I believe we would all agree that taking a shortcut like that would cause production to decrease significantly. I think we can also agree that we probably would not have followed those instructions. Instead, we would have come up with another solution to build rapport and gather the information needed to maximize our opportunity, but in the newly allotted timeframe implemented by management. A conversation to build rapport and gather needed information is too critical in the process to shortcut. It also directly contributes to your success by maximizing each opportunity.

So how is it different in the business office? It’s not. In fact, a good interview may be even more critical to business managers since they are presenting intangible products. Customers cannot simply test drive or smell that new-car smell with F&I products. It is up to the business manager to illustrate the value of the products and how they meet their true needs.

With that, my answer to the question posed in the headline is, yes, conduct the interview. However, successfully executing the interview may not be so simple.
Time is the main reason the interview is skipped. Everyone is in a hurry, no one has an extra second, and everyone is concerned with how their time is spent. No one wants to spend their time being “interrogated” about products they “don’t really need.” So maybe the better question is how do we keep the interview in the process and still meet the demands of the “I’m in a hurry” generation? Here are a few ideas:

1. Identify Where the ‘In a Hurry’ Comes From.
Too often, the business manager is told by the salesperson, “The customer is in a hurry, so can you just get them in and out?” This leads to the business manager feeling pressure to accommodate this request, so he sacrifices conducting a proper interview for the sake of keeping the customer happy and earning a high CSI score. Then the business manager discovers afterward that it was really the salesperson who was in a hurry, not the customer.

One suggestion to combat this is to reset the clock. For example, after you introduce yourself and review your responsibilities, give the customer an accurate expectation for completing the transaction: “This will take us between 20 and 30 minutes to finish things up, so let’s get started.”

2. Have a Conversation While Signing Paperwork.
There is required paperwork the customer must sign in every transaction, which is often coupled with awkward silence in the business office. Take advantage of this time to have an effective conversation facilitated by the easy forms.

For example, when the customer is signing the odometer disclosure, ask, “What made you decide on this one?” This simple question can provide valuable information and will not add any time to your process. Two very important things are being accomplished here: forward progress in the deal and information-gathering.

3. Streamline the Sales Process.
J.D. Power determined the time spent in a dealership was up to an average of 187 minutes (more than three hours) in 2017. The biggest offender of wasted time for customers is the time spent waiting to transition to the business office. On average, a customer will wait up to 32 minutes to see a business manager after negotiating the vehicle price with the salesperson.

Help your team find a more efficient way to get the customer from saying, “Yes, I’ll take it,” to getting them into the business office. Freeing up some of those 32 minutes to conduct a good interview can help the dealership, as a whole, see a positive difference — including increased sales, more customer retention, and higher CSI.

4. Start the Delivery Process While the Customer Is Waiting.
Time is a perception thing. People do not mind investing time in something if they perceive that their time is not being wasted. Keep customers engaged by starting the delivery process while they wait to get into the business office. As a side note, doing this will also ensure that the customer has a good understanding of all the technology equipping the vehicle before discussing protective products.

5. Keep It Brief and Don’t Forget to Share.
When did the interview become anything more than showing genuine interest in the customer and having a brief conversation with purpose? Remember that conversations are short and two-sided in today’s world, thanks to technology. Interrogations are not received well in any situation. If the customer finds you going too deep into the weeds on a subject or just firing off question after question, they will move to the “I’m ready to get out of here” mindset.

6. Recognize the Customer’s Signs.
You will see clear signs from the customer that you have reached interrogation status. When you do, switch to a more casual, two-sided conversation. Some signals that the interview has morphed into an interrogation are:

  • The customer’s body language changes, e.g. folding their arms across their chest. 
  • The tone of their voice becomes more defensive. 
  • Their responses become very short and direct. 
  • It begins to feel like the entire conversation is rushed. 

Following these ideas will help meet the time demands of today’s industry, while still conducting a proper interview. After all, it comes down to one choice: to interview or not to interview. As with a lot of things in the automotive industry, it is choice and not chance that makes the difference, so be sure to choose wisely.

Dwayne Wiggins is a trainer at American Financial & Automotive Services’ F&I University. Contact him at


  1. 1. Rob [ June 05, 2018 @ 01:39PM ]

    Agreed, I think most managers shy from the interview process, because they correctly do not want to interrogate the customer, and that's the only way they know how to do the interview. However, it is a certain skill to develop a consultative line of questioning integrated into a natural, upbeat conversation. This is what ultimately helps build rapport and lower customer's defense.

  2. 2. Spattman [ June 06, 2018 @ 09:13AM ]

    Dwayne, this is a well written article on an important topic. You have covered both points of view in an even handed manner. However, in my view, your reasoning that those who do not conduct an interview, do so because of time restraints, is not accurate. I have been on the "for interview" side of the aisle since I began using, then teaching the use of, the menu in the mid 90's. I have recently moved across the aisle for one major reason. The interview, especially at the salesperson's desk, signals that the F&I Manager is an extension of the last "closer" that the customer has just met. It's that simple. However your technique of asking questions during the process of completing the paperwork, is a good one. I suggest that is not an interview at all. But rather a conversation that is expected during a transaction. A minor point, I realize, but I believe one that should be pointed out. Good thought provoking article.

  3. 3. Cory [ June 06, 2018 @ 11:22AM ]

    So I fully believe that you need to have an "interview" but it just needs to be a conversation and informative for both the customer and the finance manager, I find that when giving the customer what they want, which is information about what to expect and how much longer they not only appreciate but will reciprocate when you are in need of information if it helps their cause of simplifying and shortening their stay. A good finance manager can and will do that and great finance managers do it with such ease that the customer feels like they are being taken care of and in the best hands possible to assist them with one of the biggest financial transactions of their life. I believe we all need to hold ourselves accountable for pushing our abilities and skills to be the best we can be and I think that there may be a lot of old school thinking when it comes to the business office which is GM or DP may not have had any experience or very little in the business office so they rely on the word of their lead finance manager to make the decisions and if they are not pushing themselves your never going to know. So what we need to do is make a road to the sale for finance just the same as we did for the sales floor and take the accountability for process back to the GM and DP so we can make the best decisions for the dealership as a whole and the interview is a very important part of that. Sorry for getting off on a bit of a tangent there but obviously I feel very strongly about this and I think as dealerships we would do a much better job for the customer which means a lot more return business and we all know how important that is to a dealership these days.

  4. 4. learned one... [ June 22, 2018 @ 11:39PM ]

    Buyers like me know that some purchasers will pay top dollar ...and some smart buyers will get the better deal.

    As a cash buyer, I always announce my intention to pay the agreed price, plus tax and license....that's it. I don't want the F&I upsell.

    Having another dealer offer in my pocket...and announcing I have one...really helps speed the F&I doc signing time.

    Print it out for signature...signed check....I'm gone.


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