Many of us veteran F&I professionals know how good the business was in the recent past. With higher gas prices, portfolio troubles with banks and subprime lenders, and a sputtering economy, producing good results in the F&I department is definitely a challenging task. Add to that declining sales and the higher cost for a dealer to operate effectively and you’ve got a pretty difficult situation for a lot of dealers nationwide. These situations have made F&I performance not only necessary, but critical for some dealers to survive.
Now, forget for a minute that you work in the car business. Put on your customers’ shoes and you may find yourself in the same boat most Americans find themselves in. Today’s typical consumer has tightened up the purse strings. Prices are higher for many of the basic necessities needed to function and live the American lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to. The average American is forced to allocate a much bigger portion of his or her paycheck for fuel, food, utilities, and many other essentials, leaving little to no room for extra expenses or unexpected emergencies. This has created a lot of stress and problems for the average consumer.
The financial and emotional turmoil leads to one thing: F&I is more important to consumers and dealers than ever before. Now is the time to step back and take a look at your career. You are employed to help customers and guide them through the auto purchase process. You must believe this simple fact: What you do and what you say in the one hour you spend with a customer can potentially change someone’s life. It’s a profound statement that holds so much truth.
Making Vehicle Ownership Better
If you do not believe that your products can affect someone’s life, ask someone who has made a claim on a credit life policy.
Some time ago, a customer walked into my dealership. She asked what would happen if she voluntarily surrendered her car to the lender? I learned her 58-year-old husband had passed away from a sudden stroke. After doing some research, I found out the gentleman had purchased the car on his own, as well as a credit insurance package. He did so because he was the only one in the family employed.
When I informed the customer she would be able to keep the car and never have to make another payment, she broke down and cried right in the finance office. She explained to me that they did not have a lot of money saved away and that her husband intended on working for as long as he could. The only life insurance he had was a small policy given to him by his employer, which was equivalent to 12 months of pay.
She said without the car, she didn’t know how she would find work to earn the money needed to keep her home. That credit life policy so many of us take for granted changed her life.
F&I products are important, not just for a dealer’s bottom line and your job security, but for the very people who purchase them. Take for example the benefits of a vehicle service contract. Today’s complex cars, trucks, and SUVs are more expensive than ever to repair. Higher emissions standards, customer demands for performance and luxury, and tighter safety requirements have forced auto manufacturers to cram today’s vehicles with loads of sophisticated technology, computer systems, and high-dollar components.
All of this results in repairs that cost consumers double, even triple, what they paid 10 years ago. Today’s cars are much easier to diagnose, yet parts and labor rates have skyrocketed due to the changes in repair practices. A blown head gasket or a bad throttle position sensor is no longer just an inconvenience to a customer; it can become a financial catastrophe for a family already stretched to the limit.
Imagine an average family of four living in suburban America having to make significant cutbacks in expenses just to stay above water. The family decides to limit itself to one short weekend getaway for the year to relax and unwind. Next thing they know their four-year-old car refuses to start because the engine control module went out. The vehicle is towed to the dealership, which gives an estimate of $1,400 to replace the part. The customer now has to decide if he or she should cancel the family’s only summer vacation, or pay for the repairs. The service advisor notifies the customer that the VSC they purchased with the car will cover the entire repair, which will be completed in three days.
You better believe that family is breathing a huge sigh of relief as they jump into their rental car, which is also paid for by the VSC company. Not only is the customer relieved, it’s a safe bet they’re the dealership’s new customer for life.
Getting to That True Objection
It is your responsibility to guide customers through the different products and services your dealership offers. That means tailoring your presentation to fit their needs, which you found out by asking questions and listening to your customers’ answers. A customer may say they are not interested in a particular product, but if you have done a proper interview, you can show them why a certain product is critical to their situation. Use visual aids, and paint a picture of the customer using the very product you offer.
When a customer raises an objection during the product presentation, make sure to first acknowledge the objection and take the customer’s side. Let them know you are not there to sell them a product they would never see any value in purchasing. Instead, listen to what they are telling you and ask simple, open-ended questions to find out the real reason for the customer’s objection.
F&I manager Nate Hall says the financial and emotional turmoil has made F&I more important to consumers and dealers than ever before.
There are many reasons for a customer to raise objections to purchasing F&I products. Some customers have purchased products in the past and have had bad experiences with claim procedures or poor product performance and support. Other consumers have read articles and talked with people that have advised them to decline anything the finance manager offers, even though some of the products would be useful in their situation.
Remember, most of the time price has little to do with the customer turning down a particular product. Asking those open-ended questions and listening to what your customers are saying will give you the information you need to turn those objections into a sale.
While looking for ways to improve your F&I department performance, take a close look at the products you offer. Develop a relationship with your vendors and make sure the dealership is not exposed to potential problems with substandard products and loopholes in the language of the contracts. And make sure the products you offer are going to benefit your customer; after all, they are the ones who will be using them!
Besides, if a customer has a bad experience with a product, there is a good chance he or she will not buy that product with the next vehicle purchase. If a customer does run into a problem with a vendor or product from the F&I department, make sure you are prompt in getting the situation resolved. Get involved, and find a solution to the problem in a timely manner.
Same thing goes for cancellations of purchased F&I products. Make sure to process cancellations and make sure a customer receives a prompt refund. This shows the level of commitment you and your dealership have to ensuring that the customer receives the highest level of service.
Be passionate about your products! Put some enthusiasm and excitement into your deliveries. Showing customers you are genuinely interested in helping them with their vehicle purchase will not only result in good customer satisfaction index scores, but it will propel you to the head of your department and assure your success in this ever-changing market.
Nate Hall is a finance manager for a Honda dealer in Kentucky. He has been in the F&I industry for four years. He can be reached at [email protected].