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Handling Skittish Customers

Asking customers to divulge sensitive information about themselves can sometimes lead to a polarizing exchange between the F&I manager and customer. The magazine’s compliance insider offers a few ways to put customers at ease.

August 2014, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by David Robertson

Recently, a member of an F&I manager Facebook group I frequent asked fellow members how they would handle a customer who refused to allow her driver’s license to be photocopied. The discussion coincided with a spike in phone calls and emails I’ve received from certified practitioners regarding similar skittish customer conundrums.

It would be easy to write off these incidents as little more than a sign-of-the-times malaise. Truth is, they’re indicative of how little customers trust F&I practitioners. During my time in the box, I used to joke that if I told my customers the dealership was on fire and they needed to evacuate the building, about half of them would have perished in the flames. If the F&I person said it, it can’t be true, right?

So to help you deal with these situations, I’ve prepared a few recommendations designed to assuage a wary customer’s concerns:

1. Explain Before Asking: Don’t ask customers to provide nonpublic personal information without first mentioning one of the two reasons you need it. The first is that it’s for the customer’s protection. Second, it’s required by dealer or lender policy to properly document the transaction.

A request for additional information should also be prefaced with this: “In order to make certain someone isn’t fraudulently buying this vehicle using your good credit …” That will normally elicit a positive response. Citing an applicable regulation or policy also works: “It’s our company policy” or “The state or federal regulations require …,”

The key to seamless data gathering is properly reading each customer. It’s easy to discern between the people who’ll tell you anything and those who’ll grudgingly divulge only their name, rank and serial number. When faced with the latter, being preemptive may reduce the prospect of a polarizing exchange.

For example, prior to seeking additional information, a casual inquiry regarding the customer’s concerns about his identity being compromised may serve as a nonthreatening segue into the steps the dealer has taken to protect customers.

2. Provide Documented Proof Justifying Your Request: Operating under the premise that the customer thinks you’re full of beans, a doubting customer’s concerns may be quelled by simply providing printed material identifying the source of your request.

For example, I recently helped an F&I pro address an inquiry as to whether it’s legal to photocopy a driver’s license in California. An online search revealed that it is legal to photocopy a license to verify a customer’s identity if it is copied in color and at the same size as the actual license. Also, driver’s licenses issued in many states have a special coating that, when photocopied, identifies that representation as a copy. Handing the customer an official agency policy citing photocopy rules will hopefully put this matter to rest. (The aforementioned example was intended for illustrative purposes only; consult the proper source for detailed information about photocopying driver’s licenses in California or any other state.)

Additional inquiries required to clear identify-theft Red Flags or checks with the Office of Foreign Assets Control are common sources of customer distress. If challenged, handing customers a copy of the store’s identity-theft prevention program or an official bulletin published by the OFAC or a credit portal will aid in dispelling most customer concerns.

As a preemptive measure, the Association of Finance and Insurance Professionals (AFIP) sells large and small versions of a sign that states: “CUSTOMER NOTICE: To help protect you from identity theft, this dealer employs the detection and prevention procedures addressed by the Red Flags Rule as established by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 681.”

The large signs are placed in showrooms to thwart identity-theft purchases. It is similar to the placards placed at the entrance to homes protected by ADT and other home security providers. The smaller desk signs are used in the F&I department to give customers a sense of confidence about divulging their nonpublic personal information.

It’s easy to forget that what we see as a routine customer inquiry may be perceived as an unjustifiable intrusion in the eyes of a skeptical customer. If you take the time to first tell the customer why you need the information, most will be more forthcoming in providing what it is you need to know.

David Robertson is executive director of the Association Finance and Insurance Professionals. Email him at david.robertson@bobit.com.

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