Some F&I managers dislike it, others swear by it. Some say it’s the single most important part of the F&I process, and they won’t deliver a vehicle without it. What we’re talking about here is the customer interview.

Only you can decide whether the extra five minutes per customer is worth your time. If it is, then it’s worth doing it right. Let’s delve into the customer interview and highlight a couple of must-haves for making it work for your dealership.

Perception Is Everything

F&I managers who favor the customer interview prefer it be done in the showroom, either at an empty office or at an empty table. The key is that it be done outside of the F&I office, as it allows the customer to remain in his or her comfort zone.

Whether based on past experiences or stories they’ve heard from friends, customers perceive the F&I office as the place where buyers have their payment and rate bumped. To them, F&I is where they are lied to and pressured into buying products they don’t want. At the very least, they know they will have to sign piles of paperwork.

So, if that’s how customers feel about the F&I office, how could they possibly be in the the right state of mind to listen to everything the F&I manager has to say? The good news is that those walls of resistance can be broken. And the best time to do that is when the salesperson has a signed purchase order, a customer application and a credit report.

Once those items have been collected, the F&I manager should go out to the customer and introduce himself or herself. Be sure to provide your name and title while shaking hands with your customers and congratulate them for their purchase. Then, ask them if they will join you for a quick discussion.

First, list your responsibilities as F&I manager, which includes completing and reviewing his or her paperwork and assisting with his or her financing options. You also want to make sure you tell the customer that your job is to get him or her on the road as quickly as possible. Doing this sets a realistic time expectation for the entire process, which is key to keeping customers in a listening and, hopefully, buying mood.

This nonconfrontational, downstream approach will work wonders for your dealership’s customer satisfaction index. Customers feel relaxed and in control, and they will more likely have a positive impression of you.[PAGEBREAK]

The customer interview should take no more than five minutes. You can gather customer information, set service contract terms and determine if a sale is a straw purchase.

The customer interview should take no more than five minutes. You can gather customer information, set service contract terms and determine if a sale is a straw purchase.

Keys to an Effective Interview

Now that you have permission to begin the process, it’s time to start the interview. The benefit of the interview is it can provide a wealth of information about the customer if the right questions are asked. It can help you set the terms of a service contract or prepaid maintenance program. You’ll also learn whether the sale is a straw purchase and if a demo ride was taken.

More importantly, the interview will provide the F&I manager with the information he or she needs to obtain lender approval, which is our primary goal. It also can plant the seed for the sale of F&I products. More important, you’ll have the opportunity to use the three most important words on the road to a sale: “You told me …” Those three little words can be critical to overcoming an objection when you get the customer into the F&I office to present your menu. Here are some examples of what I mean:

1. Service contract: “You know, I’m surprised. You told me earlier that you are going to put 15,000 miles per year on the vehicle, and you plan to keep it for five years. That means you will be out of the factory warranty in two-and-a-half years. So what it is about the service contract that concerns you?”

2. Prepaid maintenance: “You told me earlier that maintenance was important to you. What is it about the prepaid maintenance program that concerns you?”

3. Appearance protection: “You told me earlier that keeping your vehicle looking showroom-new was important. What is it about the appearance protection (or dent program) that concerns you?”

4. Credit life insurance: “You told me earlier that in the event of your death, you want your spouse to receive the title. What is it about the credit life insurance that concerns you?”

I have had the privilege of managing and training hundreds of F&I managers through the years, and I can tell you that the only way the interview works is if it is conducted 100 percent of the time with 100 percent of your customers. But that also requires a 100 percent commitment among the staff — from your dealer to your sales manager and the rest of your team.

Yes, there are times when there is a backup of customers waiting to get into the F&I office, which makes sticking with the showroom interview difficult. And sometimes, in a rush to get the customer on the road, the salesperson may be the reason the interview is skipped. Whatever the cause, your dealership could be leaving money on the table.

Look, it takes about 15 seconds for the F&I manager to walk to the salesperson’s desk and less than five minutes to conduct the interview. If you buy into this process and get everyone committed to making it happen on every deal, you could see a nice increase in your store’s F&I profit per vehicle retailed.

Don Geroni serves as the national sales and F&I trainer for PermaPlate Inc. He also served as the national director of F&I training for Auto-Nation Inc. E-mail him at [email protected]