There’s no doubt that the greatest obstacle to success in F&I and CSI is the time it takes to complete the F&I portion of the car-buying process. From relying on technology to experimenting with hybrid sales/F&I managers, there have been endless suggestions, discussions and debates on how to meet this ongoing challenge.

After all the trial and error, the end result is often the same: Customers still complain that it takes too long to complete a vehicle purchase. In fact, according to a 2014 customer-experience study conducted by Autotrader, customers spend an average of 61 minutes in the F&I office — more than two-thirds of the ideal 90-minute transaction time consumers desire. But the blame shouldn’t fall squarely on F&I, as the sales team can disrupt the flow to F&I by failing to follow a specific set of steps that lead to a successful handoff.

The good news is speeding up the F&I process can take little or no effort — just as long as the sales and F&I teams work from the same playbook on a consistent basis. Now here are my recommendations for creating a more efficient F&I process.
Rapid Improvement

Every dealer knows that incomplete and incorrect paperwork passed from sales to the F&I department causes delays, but there are three more common culprits you may not have considered:

  1. Procrastination: When F&I managers wait too long to get involved in a sale, customers have to wait while they review the details of the transaction. F&I managers should be prepared to greet their customers and establish a connection when the customer is ready.
  2. Violation of Protocol: Your F&I team must follow a planned sequence of steps to set up their product presentations, get the proper documentation signed and put the vehicle on the road. Any variance will cause a ripple effect throughout the process.
  3. Drawn-Out Pitches: One symptom of a lack of F&I training is a long-winded product presentation. F&I managers should know their products and stick to the script, as wearing down customers with wordy presentations hurts production and generates poor CSI scores.

Each of these contributing factors can be traced, to some degree, to an old rule still followed at many dealerships: The F&I process is initiated only when the customer is present and ready to take physical delivery of the vehicle. This outdated mindset ignores the fact that the customer may have submitted inquiries or filled out a credit application online, conversed with a sales consultant via email or phone, or paid an earlier visit to your store. So why wait until they show up to take delivery to get the F&I process started?

The time and manner in which your F&I team responds to a sold customer will make or break your profit potential and the customer experience. So to get the F&I process on the right track, you must treat Internet, phone and walk-in customers in the same manner and take immediate action regardless of how or where the deal was consummated.

That means F&I must take the reins as soon as the dealership — along with the customer — has reached an agreement on a specific vehicle, price and, most importantly, a delivery scheduled without delay. This gives the customer a sense of solidarity and gets the F&I manager involved in the transaction early. It also all but guarantees a more favorable outcome for both sides.

Getting the Green Light
Once the sale is consummated and the sales team is on solid ground with a customer, the F&I manager must verify the deal details and gather information. There are two ways to get this done, depending on whether the customer is at your store or working with the dealership from home.

If you have ever worked in F&I, you probably remember scrambling to reprint paperwork because you relied on inaccurate information in the DMS. Or maybe you entered the information into the DMS yourself, only to find out while reviewing the documents with your customer that something was miscalculated or needed updating. There is a cure for that problem: Verify the information prior to entering it in the DMS or printing the paperwork.

When working with an off-site buyer, the F&I manager must contact the customer as soon as possible by either phone or email to determine his or her method of payment (convert, if necessary) and to review the customer’s personal information for accuracy. Once the F&I manager has everything needed to set up the physical delivery date and time, he or she should then verify the figures while gathering information about the buyer’s ownership traits.

Now that F&I has all the correct information, it’s time to print all the nonessential forms, including the menu and disclosures. These documents should be ready the moment the customer arrives to take delivery. All that’s left at that point is to make the menu presentation and hopefully secure a few product sales before getting the paperwork signed.

Given this scenario, do you think your customers will be more responsive to the products you offer? Of course they will!

The same rules apply for deals consummated at the dealership. The only difference is the process is completed face-to-face. So get off your axle — or as I call it, “GOYA” — walk into the showroom and invite the customer into your office. Then turn your computer display toward him or her and begin verifying the details by moving from screen to screen in the DMS, gathering information about the customer’s ownership traits as you go. Once everything is verified and confirmed, the forms can be printed and the menu presentation, deal disclosure and signing can commence.

Perfect Pitch
Now that we’ve covered some time-saving recommendations, let’s move to what Autotrader deemed in its customer-experience study as the longest step in the F&I process: the product presentation. According to the study, educating customers and allowing them to decide on whether to purchase F&I products takes an average of 28 minutes.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for F&I pros: If your presentation lasts more the three minutes — from reviewing the final figures to asking the customer to choose options — you are taking way too much time. In fact, it should take less than three minutes. Any longer and customers will begin to lose interest.

Skilled F&I managers keep their customers focused on the presentation by telling, not selling. They explain what the product does with an emphasis on how it protects specific components on the vehicle — not how it will protect the customer. They save that for when they attempt to gain a purchase commitment. Here is a concise word-track for tire-and-wheel protection:

“The tire-and-wheel program will pay for claims for five years. When the tire is damaged by a road hazard, it will be repaired. If the wheel is damaged by a road hazard, and our technician is unable to create a seal around the rim, it will be replaced. A road hazard is anything that shouldn’t be in the roadway, such as debris or potholes.”

Note that the word-track only points out the features of the product and how it protects the vehicle. It neither overstates the benefits nor sounds like a sales pitch. Work with your F&I team to develop similar descriptions for all your products, and present them in a manner that ties them into a single option or column on your menu.

To deliver unparalleled customer service, we have to streamline our processes. That means the F&I team needs to take action by contacting customers as soon as possible. They must also review the details, verify, confirm and gather data, enter the correct information in the DMS the first time and print nonessential forms. This stage should take 10 minutes, while the product presentation should be completed in three.

So, yes, it is possible to provide your customers with the chance to secure their investment with your F&I protections in less than 20 minutes. More importantly, they’ll be engaged throughout your more efficient process, and they’ll remember your store as the one that didn’t waste any of their time.

Gerry Gould serves as director of training for United Development Systems Inc. (UDS). Email him at [email protected].