Photo courtesy of iStock.

Photo courtesy of iStock.

It’s no secret that satisfied customers spend more than dissatisfied customers. When it comes to buying a car, arguably the biggest area of frustration — and, therefore, the biggest opportunity to increase customer satisfaction — is in the F&I process.

From long wait times to confusing menu presentations and overzealous sales efforts, customers often rate their visit to the finance office as their least favorite part of the car-buying experience. However, many dealers and F&I professionals are working to change that. Here are six changes you can implement today to create a better and more productive transaction tomorrow:

1. Reduce Wait Times

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. You have selected a new car. You are excited and can’t wait to drive it off the lot. Then you are escorted to the F&I manager’s office and told to wait, wait and wait some more.

The longer your customers wait, the more frustrated they get and the less amenable they are to sitting through what they perceive as nothing more than a sales presentation. Creating a process to reduce this wait time is critical to improving overall customer satisfaction — as well as paving the way to bigger profits. Ideally, the average wait time should be 15 minutes or less, and definitely no longer than 30 minutes.

To help expedite this process, many dealerships are incorporating mobile tablets into their F&I processes. When F&I managers are alerted to a new deal, they go out, greet customers, then hand them a mobile tablet that walks them through a variety of menu presentations. While they’re waiting, customers answer questions about their driving habits and history, and how they plan to use the car. Not only does this make the time go quicker, but it greatly reduces the time involved in the next step.

2. Customize Your Menu Presentations

Remember the 300% rule? We were all taught to offer 100% of our products to 100% of our customers 100% of the time. This is no longer a viable strategy if your focus is on customer satisfaction. These days, trying to sell everything puts customers into a defensive mode and breeds distrust. You still need to offer every product on the menu, but not until it’s customized to each customer’s needs.

Time goes faster when you’re talking about yourself, so keep the customer engaged by asking questions about their wants and needs. To create trust and the perception that you’re not trying to sell them everything in the store, review the products you can immediately eliminate based on the vehicle they selected, their equity in the deal and their driving habits. Then reiterate what they’ve already told you: “Based on the fact that you’ve lost your keys before, you may want to consider our key replacement service. These days, a new key can cost $300, so even if you use it just one time, it will more than pay for itself.”

If the customer has already answered questions during a mobile tablet presentation, their preferences will already be in the system. This saves even more of their valuable time. Instead of selling, you’re simply restating their preferences and giving them pricing information on the products and services they need.

3. Integrate Your Menus With Your DMS

Most large dealer groups and dealerships have already taken this step, but if you are considering a new F&I menu system, you want to ensure it’s fully integrated with your dealership management system. This eliminates the need for double entry. If you’re structuring five to 10 deals a day, that time really adds up. With seamless push/pull integration, information entered by the salesperson automatically populates the appropriate fields in F&I, which also increases accuracy.

Unfortunately, some DMS providers still charge third-party F&I vendors a small fortune to integrate with their systems, and these costs are passed directly onto the dealership. Explore your options, because there are vendors that adhere to open standards integration, giving dealerships more third-party options at a much lower price.

4. Educate Your Customers

Selling doesn’t seem as much like selling when you are educating. But before you can educate your customer, you must educate yourself. Know as much about your products as possible so you can explain their benefits and costs. Putting yourself in an advisor’s role instead of a sales role inspires greater consumer confidence.

This is another area where mobile tablets can help. The ability to show educational videos that highlight product benefits greatly increases customer engagement. The videos are linked to product menus and many vendors provide this educational video content at no additional cost to the dealership.

Photo courtesy of iStock.

Photo courtesy of iStock. 

5. Eliminate Paperwork

Paperless F&I, better known as econtracting, offers the ability to file all deals electronically. The primary benefit is faster funding, but econtracting also saves time and reduces contract errors. Many customers appreciate the fact that there is no paperwork and they perceive the dealership as being more tech-savvy.

6. Follow Up on Lost Sales

There are times when customers experience a mild case of sticker shock during the purchasing process. By the time they walk into the F&I office, they don’t want to spend another dime. That’s understandable. In fact, up to half of customers leave without purchasing anything.

When a customer declines a product, add them to a follow-up list. If your F&I system is integrated with your DMS, you can easily run a sales report. Follow up via email, text and phone calls, whichever contact method your customers prefer. Follow up several times over a period of six months. By that time, the customer will be accustomed to their new monthly payment and may not be averse to adding to it. We have dealerships customers who have done this and managed to net a 10% return rate on lost sales, resulting in thousands of dollars of recovered revenue per month.

Focusing on the customers’ needs is the best way to increase satisfaction and boost your bottom line. Going forward, the trendsetters will benefit the most, so you may need to be open-minded about creating new processes and adding new technology solutions that can help you and your customers make their next visit to the F&I office an enjoyable experience.

Vince DeMare is a product knowledge expert at Auto/Mate Dealership Systems and a 12-year auto retail and finance veteran. Email him at [email protected].