“In the event of your untimely death, who would be responsible for making the payments?” The question still sends shivers down my spine. Yet, it’s only one of many intrusive questions F&I managers across the country are instructed to ask when conducting a customer interview at the salesperson’s desk; the goal being to gather enough information to tailor the F&I product presentation and pitch to the buyer’s supposed needs. However, if you’ve ever had your own words used against you, you’ll understand why I don’t like the F&I interview.

Listen, buyers aren’t stupid. They are our friends, family, neighbors, teachers, scientists, physicians, and religious leaders. They weren’t born yesterday, and your questions about driving habits don’t go unnoticed. For all but the first-time car buyer, people know what is coming next in the process: a visit to the finance office to sign paperwork and decide on protection options.

F&I’s Bad Rap

The typical customer interview goes something like this: The salesperson hands F&I the deal and the manager goes out to greet the customer and introduce himself. The finance manager then sits at the same desk where the price-haggling just took place and begins reviewing pertinent information about the vehicle purchase with the customer. After some time, the manager begins to ask questions about the customer’s driving preferences. A bewildered customer answers the questions, while internally questioning why this would matter.

The problem with this is the interview takes place in the same spot the customer just spent hours haggling with the salesperson over price. So he connects finance to the negative feelings he had negotiating. That’s why he immediately knows another sale has begun the moment the producer asks about his driving and ownership habits. And that’s what causes customers to dig in their heels. Why else would the “paperwork guy” need to know these details?

The customer is now in your office and the paperwork part of the process begins. The menu is next, and you begin referencing the customer’s answers to your interview questions to explain why you are offering protection products. “Mr. Customer, you mentioned that you drive approximately 10,000 miles per year. Therefore, we are offering a five-year, 50,000-mile vehicle service contract.” All of a sudden, it clicks. The customer now understands that the entire interview at the salesperson’s desk was a way for you to gather information in order to sell product. Congratulations, you just lost all credibility.

Let Them Breath

Many pro-interview trainers and managers will point to improving numbers as proof that the interview works. I beg to differ. The increase in production is the result of two things: First, you are now following a process, and following a process usually leads to better results — no matter how good or bad the process is. The second reason is you gain confidence in the new process, so you dive into the menu with more authority and conviction.

Well, I’m here to say you can realize these positives without the customer interview. In fact, I’m confident you will experience more success without it.

So the next time the salesperson hands you a deal, head out and greet the customer like you normally would. But instead of sitting down at the salesperson’s desk, shake the customer’s hand and congratulate her on her purchase. Then let the customer know you will be finishing her paperwork and that you’ll be back with her shortly. This should take less than 30 seconds.

What you’ve done by sticking with this simple meet-and-greet is allowed the customer to reset her clock. Hey, before you came along, the customer had just exhaled after price haggling with the salesperson. In her mind, the hard part was over. So let the customer take a breath while you tap into the knowledge the salesperson gained while working with the customer. Then use the credit report and trade appraisal to make an educated assessment of what products best suit the customer. 

As F&I managers, we tend to want to stick with what we have been doing. Change is not our preference, and many of us tend to feel that we have it figured out. But as F&I trainer George Angus says, “What we think is less important than what is going on in the customer’s mind.” In my opinion, it’s time to put this archaic process to bed. Happy selling!

Ryan Fischer is the store manager for Rochester, N.Y.-based Dorschel Automotive Group. Email him at [email protected].