- Photo by SeventyFour via Getty Images

Photo by SeventyFour via Getty Images

When we are different, it gets the cus­tomer’s attention. They listen more, talk more, and eventually buy more, and they are glad they did. One of the most important things I have learned about customer service is to always look at the person across from you as if they are a family member, then treat them accordingly.

As F&I professionals, we sometimes lose sight of the simple fact that we are in the business of customer service. And the ultimate test of customer service is whether you are helping the customer make good buying decisions or just try­ing to sell something. They know the difference.

In a competitive environment, the way we treat our customers and the ex­perience we provide during the buying process is essentially the only thing that can set us apart. F&I is typically the cus­tomer’s last stop on the road to the sale. It should be our mission to make sure they leave with a good impression of our dealerships. It is our duty to add value to the experience, not aggravation. Here’s a three-step process you can try today:

1. Drop Your Bad Habits.

There are two old-school practices that customers hate. The first is making them wait to get into the F&I office while we load their information into the computer and create the perfect menu. They don’t know or care why it takes so long. They just hate the wait. And every minute they wait it is making our ability to help them more difficult.

The second bad practice is keeping a customer in your office for an hour or more and chipping away one product at a time. This model of step-selling can sometimes be effective; however, you are stepping your way into a bad CSI score and too many chargebacks.

Our customers want to be informed. They want to know what their options are. They want us to value their time in the process. Over the years, I have had numerous customers thank me for not keeping them in my office forever like the last dealer did. Many have cited a past negative F&I experience as the reason they didn’t return.

Car buyers who prefer a consultative approach to financial decisionmaking will be discouraged by aggressive, interrogation-style F&I presentations. 
 - Photo by PSISA via Getty Images

Car buyers who prefer a consultative approach to financial decisionmaking will be discouraged by aggressive, interrogation-style F&I presentations.

Photo by PSISA via Getty Images

2. Strike Up a Conversation.

Most of today’s customers seem to prefer an F&I experience that feels more like a conversation than an interrogation or a sales pitch. I always sell more product when I listen more and listen to learn.

The first thing we must always do is thank the customer for buying a vehicle from us today. Put the customer at ease by focusing on the positive experience of them buying a new car. Everyone always wants to talk about their new car. Keep the positive conversation flowing. You will learn what is important to them and the needs their new vehicle will fulfill.

We are not selling products in the F&I office; we are selling solutions. Uncover your customers’ challenges and offer solutions.

3. Maximize Your Time.

Ask the right questions and skip the old-school interview. You can get the facts from the forms you help them complete, which can lead to very easy open-ended questions you can ask to discover their needs.

For example, when doing the trade-in odometer, ask, “When did you guys buy this one? Did you buy it new or was it used? What kind of repairs have you had to do?”

Think of the wealth of information you can get from those few simple questions! You now know how often they trade, how many miles they drive, and any costly issues they encountered — all as part of a simple conversation. The questions you ask reveals to a customer what you are most interested in: helping them or selling them.

The last thing a customer wants to meet in the F&I office is another salesperson. And if they do, the walls of resistance go up, and the likelihood of selling any product goes down. The strange truth is the less you try to sell, the more you will end up selling!

4. Make the Benefits Tangible.

Using visual aids and third-party validation with every customer is a critical part of the F&I process. It helps each customer understand that you are sharing knowledge that you have learned with them and helps build your credibility and trust in the transaction.

Trust is the foundation of every sell. When they trust you, they will listen to you and view you as a person with insight and expertise who will help them. We always have to help the customer see the need of each product by making it visual for them and getting them directly involved in the presentation.

It’s hard for the customer to understand what they need if they don’t understand the potential costs of repairs on newer vehicles. Use simple visual aids, such as common repairs and their associated costs or charts showing the prices of factory wheels and tires. If a customer really needs to have GAP coverage on their vehicle, draw a picture to show them how it works.

Walk through the information together and have them help you with the calculations. That assures they will see them as “their” numbers and you are just helping them discover the need for themselves. It’s hard to argue with simple math. The moment that customer feels like you are trying to sell them rather than help them, the roadblock pops up and your job just got much tougher to do.

If we are focused on doing the right thing and serving our customers to the best of our ability, the numbers will take care of themselves. If you want to change the results you are seeing, change the customer experience by showing that you genuinely care about them.

If you wake up every morning with the belief that it is your obligation and duty to take care of customers, you and your customers will both benefit greatly. Remember we all have that choice to make: We can choose to be like everyone else or we can choose to be different. I choose to be different.

John Daugherty is an F&I manager at Marion Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac in Marion, Ill. Email him at [email protected]

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