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Leave F&I to the Pros

Reconnecting with a true F&I pro helped restore the editor’s faith in the industry he covers.

May 6, 2016

Leave it to a true F&I pro to set me straight. See, I was beginning to drink the Kool-Aid some of these tech companies have been serving up through studies that point to how much car buyers dislike the F&I office. I’m not saying these studies don’t have merit; I just wonder if these tech companies fail to appreciate what a true F&I pro brings to the table.

But it’s not just the studies. There was the social media thread that had an F&I manager defending the inclusion of “leg” in payment quotes. The “can’t fix stupid” Facebook threads about customers refusing better finance offers because of their loyalty to credit unions was also a little discouraging. Don’t get me wrong, the F&I managers behind those posts definitely had valid complaints, but it didn’t sound like they were looking for solutions.

Then there was the conversation I had with a colleague during a recent happy hour. Being married with a kid, I don’t get out much these days. But an offsite workmate was in town, so I decided to go. Sitting next to me was my audience marketing manager. He said he had been reading the magazine to better understand our readers.

“Your industry is very interesting,” he said, and I asked him what he meant. He explained that his last new-car purchase went fine until he entered the F&I office. “I just wanted to sign my paperwork and go, but all they wanted to do was sell me something.”

Then there was the comment a consumer left under a news item we posted online about another study that showed how much Millennials dislike the F&I office. “From a customer point of view, I can definitely agree. I loathe the few minutes spent with an F&I salesperson presenting his or her menu and then the word-tracks and props. All I want to do is sign the papers and be on my way.”

So I guess you could say I was in a vulnerable state when I attended the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)’s 2016 convention, where vendors showcased tech solutions designed to address the very issues these consumer studies had identified. There was MakeMyDeal’s F&I Connect tool, which is the company’s response to the 63% of the 500 vehicle shoppers and buyers it surveyed who said they would be more likely to buy F&I products if they could learn about them on their own time.

Meanwhile, CDK Global issued the results of its own consumer survey. It showed that nearly 70% of consumers want dealers to offer the ability to configure a payment on their website. More than half said they would like to start the credit process online. Interestingly, those findings sounded very similar to the experience the company’s new online car-buying solution aims to deliver.

Yeah, these studies are a little self-serving, but they can’t be dismissed out of hand. Consider this stat from the MakeMyDeal study: 61% of respondents said they believe F&I products are just ways for the dealer to make money. Hey, according to the 2015 NADA Data report, F&I product sales penetrated at a 41.7% rate in 2014, so that finding just about lines up.

That true F&I pro I previously mentioned is Justin Gasman, the magazine’s 2014 F&Idol winner. I reconnected with him to prep for a panel discussion we’ll be participating in at this month’s F&I Think Tank.

He talked about how he uses phrases like “burn through it” to drive home how quickly a customer will be out of factory warranty coverage based on his or her driving habits, how he responds to a “No thank you, I’m good” objection with a “No problem, I can totally appreciate that,” and how he turns to print out the final menu before saying, with a slight stutter and a confused look, “C-c-c-can I ask you something?”

He also talked about how he explains his process to his customers, including how he’s going to present their options and even make a fair profit if they decide to buy. “I put the ugly baby right there on the table,” he said. He also described how he paces his jokes and one-liners during the form-signing portion of his process to lighten the mood and build rapport with the customer.

“There isn’t a word or phrase that’s not planned,” he said. “You’re almost like an entertainer.”

That’s when I realized that true F&I pros understand that the biggest objection they need to overcome is the one a customer never utters — that the F&I office is not to be trusted. Maybe these tech tools can help, or maybe software makers need to leave F&I to the professionals.

Comments

  1. 1. Tom [ May 07, 2016 @ 09:18AM ]

    Justin is a pro's pro. Whenever I'd visit with him, my role reversed from trainer to student. I learned more nuances and techniques from watching and listening to him than I ever thought possible. We all need to continue to perfect our craft in the offices and be aware of the changing expectations of the customers we serve. Tech is great, but only as a tool. It all comes down to building trust and knowing how our products will enhance the customer's ownership/lease experience.

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