Out here in the real world, where we F&I managers earn our living one deal at a time, the daily grind of personal habit can often blind us to what the customer actually sees and experiences. With that in mind, I thought I’d offer up a few useful tips to polish your act.
The old “perception is reality” saying really does apply in the F&I office, and it can work in your favor if you’re willing to fine-tune a few things. Now is just as good a time as any to take inventory of your habits, practices and personal processes. We all have our little quirks, but we rarely give much thought to how we’re perceived by others, especially the customer sitting across the desk.
The following are just a few of my suggestions. You’re probably already doing many of them, but keep reading. You might find something that inspires positive change in your office.
1. Have a cash menu ready: We know cash customers are more difficult to close, but you miss 100 percent of the opportunities if you don’t take a shot. Have a menu with the appropriate products ready before the customer arrives to take delivery. If they pass, insert the menu you presented into their paperwork and make sure it’s the first document they see. And be sure to encourage them to give the menu another thought. You never know what might spur them to return.
2. Feed the beast: Begin plugging data into the DMS once you’ve entered the deal into Dealertrack or RouteOne. This is a time-saving recommendation. And once you get the approval, print all your state docs and title forms. The goal is to be as prepared as possible so you have more time to present and close your customers on your product offering.
3. Clear your desk: Be sure to remove all the other deals from your desk before the customer arrives. Hey, customers love it when they know they’re your only focus, so make your desk their desk.
4. Turn off your cell phone: No, I didn’t say to put it on “vibrate.” And don’t forget to turn down the ringer on your office phone. And for gosh sakes, do not take any calls when you’re with a customer. The last thing you want them to think is that a random phone call is more important than they are.
5. Set the mood: No, I’m not suggesting you treat the customer like a hot date. All I’m suggesting is that you consider some soothing background music. If your store doesn’t pipe in the tunes, invest in satellite radio or maybe sign up for an Internet radio service like Pandora. Trust me, it helps.
6. Shut the door: Privacy is important. You may even want to make sure everyone in the dealership knows not to knock when the door is closed. Nothing is worse than an unnecessary interruption, especially if it’s a staffer looking for a form.
7. Dress professionally: I know everyone else wears polo shirts, but what’s wrong with looking the part? I’ve even gone back to keeping a blazer in my office, and I’ll throw it on before the customer arrives or before I walk out to greet him or her on the show floor. The look simply says I’m serious about doing business.
8. Be the customer: What I’m suggesting here is that you consider what your customer sees when he or she enters your office. Take a look around. Are those plaques, awards and brochure racks a turn-off? Could they be creating sales resistance? How about those pictures hanging on the wall? Are they in good taste? The point is, you never know what can trigger negativity in a customer, especially one who is still straddling the fence.
9. Don’t leave them alone: I know there are times when you need to retrieve something from a salesperson. If such a situation should arise, try calling or paging them. Then proceed as though everything is in order. You never want to let the customer know you’re frustrated because something is missing. The F&I experience needs to be free of hiccups. Your customers are already wary, so don’t add to their angst.
10. Eat lunch elsewhere: If you must eat while you work, find a spot that’s furthest from where your customers sit. The last thing you want is your customer smelling the onion-laced burger you just wolfed down.
11. Don’t just sit there: Stand up when you greet your customers. And make sure to give them a firm handshake. Instant eye contact is another must, but don’t forget to include a warm smile. The goal is to appear approachable.
Always be kind, courteous and professional. It’s the only way to earn your customer’s confidence. And in my experience, customers come to the table expecting us to be trustworthy, so don’t disappoint them with an amateur act.
Marv Eleazer is a finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected]