The race to reduce transaction times has spurred much debate regarding the F&I interview. Some say it’s a waste of time. Others say it’s indispensable. Both sides defend their positions with vigor, especially on social media.

For those of you on the “waste of time” team, I’m with you — but only if it is a bad interview. Bad interviews (known to car buyers as “interrogations”) should be stopped immediately. All they do is cause the customer to become defensive, take up valuable time, and diminish opportunity.

On the other hand, a good interview makes all the difference. It provides critical information that allows for a personalized approach when consulting the customer on protective products. After all, that is what customers want. They want to consult with a professional to make the right purchasing decisions for their needs and lifestyle. And when done right, the customer will never know the interview is happening. It will simply seem like a casual conversation. In fact, the customer may even discover that he or she has a few things in common with you.

Most automotive professionals start on the sales floor and work their way into the business office and other management positions. So imagine a sales manager walking up to a new sales pro and saying, “We would like to save time during the sales process. So going forward, we want you to stop having a conversation with the customer before you select, present, and negotiate the purchase of his or her new vehicle.” Sounds crazy, right?

I believe we would all agree that taking a shortcut like that would cause production to decrease significantly. I think we can also agree that we probably would not have followed those instructions. Instead, we would have come up with another solution to build rapport and gather the information needed to maximize our opportunity, but in the newly allotted timeframe implemented by management. A conversation to build rapport and gather needed information is too critical in the process to shortcut. It also directly contributes to your success by maximizing each opportunity.

So how is it different in the business office? It’s not. In fact, a good interview may be even more critical to business managers since they are presenting intangible products. Customers cannot simply test drive or smell that new-car smell with F&I products. It is up to the business manager to illustrate the value of the products and how they meet their true needs.

With that, my answer to the question posed in the headline is, yes, conduct the interview. However, successfully executing the interview may not be so simple.
Time is the main reason the interview is skipped. Everyone is in a hurry, no one has an extra second, and everyone is concerned with how their time is spent. No one wants to spend their time being “interrogated” about products they “don’t really need.” So maybe the better question is how do we keep the interview in the process and still meet the demands of the “I’m in a hurry” generation? Here are a few ideas:

1. Identify Where the ‘In a Hurry’ Comes From.
Too often, the business manager is told by the salesperson, “The customer is in a hurry, so can you just get them in and out?” This leads to the business manager feeling pressure to accommodate this request, so he sacrifices conducting a proper interview for the sake of keeping the customer happy and earning a high CSI score. Then the business manager discovers afterward that it was really the salesperson who was in a hurry, not the customer.

One suggestion to combat this is to reset the clock. For example, after you introduce yourself and review your responsibilities, give the customer an accurate expectation for completing the transaction: “This will take us between 20 and 30 minutes to finish things up, so let’s get started.”

2. Have a Conversation While Signing Paperwork.
There is required paperwork the customer must sign in every transaction, which is often coupled with awkward silence in the business office. Take advantage of this time to have an effective conversation facilitated by the easy forms.

For example, when the customer is signing the odometer disclosure, ask, “What made you decide on this one?” This simple question can provide valuable information and will not add any time to your process. Two very important things are being accomplished here: forward progress in the deal and information-gathering.

3. Streamline the Sales Process.
J.D. Power determined the time spent in a dealership was up to an average of 187 minutes (more than three hours) in 2017. The biggest offender of wasted time for customers is the time spent waiting to transition to the business office. On average, a customer will wait up to 32 minutes to see a business manager after negotiating the vehicle price with the salesperson.

Help your team find a more efficient way to get the customer from saying, “Yes, I’ll take it,” to getting them into the business office. Freeing up some of those 32 minutes to conduct a good interview can help the dealership, as a whole, see a positive difference — including increased sales, more customer retention, and higher CSI.

4. Start the Delivery Process While the Customer Is Waiting.
Time is a perception thing. People do not mind investing time in something if they perceive that their time is not being wasted. Keep customers engaged by starting the delivery process while they wait to get into the business office. As a side note, doing this will also ensure that the customer has a good understanding of all the technology equipping the vehicle before discussing protective products.

5. Keep It Brief and Don’t Forget to Share.
When did the interview become anything more than showing genuine interest in the customer and having a brief conversation with purpose? Remember that conversations are short and two-sided in today’s world, thanks to technology. Interrogations are not received well in any situation. If the customer finds you going too deep into the weeds on a subject or just firing off question after question, they will move to the “I’m ready to get out of here” mindset.

6. Recognize the Customer’s Signs.
You will see clear signs from the customer that you have reached interrogation status. When you do, switch to a more casual, two-sided conversation. Some signals that the interview has morphed into an interrogation are:

  • The customer’s body language changes, e.g. folding their arms across their chest. 
  • The tone of their voice becomes more defensive. 
  • Their responses become very short and direct. 
  • It begins to feel like the entire conversation is rushed. 

Following these ideas will help meet the time demands of today’s industry, while still conducting a proper interview. After all, it comes down to one choice: to interview or not to interview. As with a lot of things in the automotive industry, it is choice and not chance that makes the difference, so be sure to choose wisely.

Dwayne Wiggins is a trainer at American Financial & Automotive Services’ F&I University. Contact him at [email protected].