The more informed consumers become, the bigger the wedge seems to get between buyers and the F&I office. What they’re demanding is better service, and they’re stepping foot into dealer showrooms with certain expectations on how the automotive transaction should go. Unfortunately, they never seem to be able to communicate what they want.

During a panel discussion at the 2012 Vehicle Finance Conference, Thomas Gilman, TD Auto Finance’s former CEO, shared results of a customer survey his company conducted that highlighted the challenges facing the industry. Sixty percent of customers polled said they are reluctant to go to a dealership, while 82 percent said they don’t want to walk into an F&I office. Fortunately for us, the customer continues to tolerate the process in the business office.

Would you like to offer customers something new and different? What I’d like to talk about may be a viable option for some operations. However, it is not the norm and the process may be difficult to comprehend at first. But if you have the right situation and the right store, what I’m about to propose may represent the key to increasing your F&I numbers to levels that were once unobtainable.

The process I’m talking about is hybrid F&I. You may have heard some rumblings about this in F&I and Showroom or in your 20 Group meetings. Hybrid F&I, or what is also referred to as single-touch F&I, is a process that allows specially trained sales teams to sell and deliver a vehicle, present and sell F&I products, and contract the customer without a traditional business manager’s involvement.

Now, if you are a business manager who is about to discard this article, please continue reading. This new process does not eliminate the business manager’s job; rather, it changes some of the traditional F&I manager’s responsibilities. In fact, the business manager remains a critical component in this process.

My introduction to hybrid F&I happened more than three years ago while I was working with a dealership that was considering a new approach to the business. And so far, the results of our work with this operation have surpassed my expectations. By the way, if you have heard about this process in your 20 Group meetings, there is a good chance you heard about it from the president of the dealership.

The dealership is Austin, Texas-based First Texas Honda, one of the six operations to be named by F&I and Showroom as a 2013 F&I Pacesetter. The process we installed there integrates F&I into the sales process. Think of it this way: If a business manager could spend two hours or more with a customer before entering the business office, how much more successful would he or she be at selling products?

And chances are, you as an F&I producer have probably had customers in your office who had yet to be closed, hadn’t taken a test drive and were unsure whether they wanted to buy the vehicle. That probably means you had to perform the vehicle walkaround, the test drive, and close the customer on the vehicle. By that time, I’m sure you had enough information to justify the sale of F&I products.

With all that said, not every team member on your sales floor will be able to operate under this process. There is high level of accountability required and individuals must have the ability to be trained and stick to what they were taught to do. More importantly, they must be able to handle paperwork effectively. And that’s why First Texas Honda and other stores that have employed the hybrid F&I process maintain the traditional business manager’s role. Those individuals also act as the F&I director in the hybrid F&I situation.

The director is also responsible for deal structure and working with the finance companies. He or she is also responsible for the hybrid F&I team members. So, just like in the traditional F&I role, the business manager remains a critical component in this new way of doing business.