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4 Ways to Change Perceptions

September 2007, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Ron Reahard

With all the warnings customers get from 20/20, consumer reports and their local credit union about deceptive sales practices and “hidden profits” dealers make in the F&I department, some days it feels like there is a big yellow warning sign outside the F&I office that reads “Caution: F&I Manager Ahead!”

I travel in airplanes all the time. Occasionally, I’ll get into a conversation with my seatmate. Invariably, at some point, they all ask the same question, “So, what do you do for a living?” You ought to see the look I get when I tell them I train finance managers for car dealers. You’d think I was a terrorist. Their eyes get big, they swallow hard and they start looking around for a U.S. Marshal to throw me off the plane. After a few seconds of awkward silence, they feel compelled to relate the sordid tale of the last time they bought a car, and the horrible experience they had in the F&I office.

Many complain about having been forced to wait 20 to 60 minutes just to get into the finance office. Once they are finally allowed an audience with the F&I “god,” they perceive him to be pushy, less than honest and focused on his own agenda (i.e., trying to sell them something). Often, they describe F&I managers as unprofessional and confrontational. Even worse, if the customer doesn’t immediately agree to buy what he is selling, the F&I professional becomes downright rude.

Today’s customers don’t want to wait 30 minutes just to get into the finance office. They want the paperwork to be easy to complete and understand, and they want their questions answered. They want to deal with a knowledgeable professional who treats them with courtesy and respect, whether they buy anything or not. Customers expect to be able to choose from a variety of financing plans and options, and they want to feel like they got a “fair deal.” They don’t want to feel pressured to buy something they don’t want.

The only way to change the customer’s perception of the financial services process, as well as the media’s perception of F&I, is by changing the way we do business. We must create a measurable difference in the mind of the customer that separates us from the competition in a positive way.

Today’s financial services professional must utilize a dialogue approach to sales, as opposed to a memorized or canned product “sales pitch.” You can’t just whip out a brochure and launch into a sales pitch if the customer isn’t interested in the product.

A financial services professional must focus on the customer and their unique needs, not merely product benefits. We want to exceed customer expectations and delight customers by providing a more satisfying and enjoyable purchase experience, while increasing dealer profits through a customer-focused financial services process.

Every dealership, every customer, every sale is unique; and every F&I presentation must be tailored to that customer’s unique needs. To ensure every customer receives a thorough explanation of their options in the minimum amount of time, with the maximum chance of F&I product sales, there are four keys to ensuring a customer-focused financial services experience. Let’s explore each one.

Get Down Off Your Throne

For a customer, going back to the F&I office is like going to see the Wizard of Oz. Remember that scene, when Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow shook and trembled as they walked down that ominous hall to see the Wizard? We can eliminate the customer’s fear of the unknown by getting down off our throne, coming out from behind the curtain and greeting them where they’re relaxed and comfortable (i.e., in the salesperson’s office).

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