F&I training experts offer five suggestions to elevate the F&I customer experience.  - IMAGE: Getty Images

F&I training experts offer five suggestions to elevate the F&I customer experience. 

IMAGE: Getty Images

F&I training then and now has some major differences. What worked in the past to sell F&I products may not work now. The new paradigm requires dealerships to up their training game. 

Experts in the “F&I Training Isn’t What It Used to Be” roundtable discussion at the 2021 Industry Summit Experience offered five suggestions to improve F&I training and elevate the customer experience. 

Pick the Right People

“I don’t believe we should call the F&I position F&I anymore,” says Mickey Quinn, president of Vanguard Dealer Services. “They are business managers. They are the last person to work with customers during a sale.”

A position this important requires a detail-oriented individual with empathy for customers and an understanding of “what the ownership experience should be.” Buying a car spans more than the purchase itself. It involves an experience over the customer’s ownership of the car, Quinn stresses. 

“It’s very important that they have a likeability factor, and can work hard in stressful situations,” he adds. “They also must understand they may need to come in on their day off and be ready to deal with it.” 

Jeremiah Shelton, vice president of training and development at EasyCare, adds to Quinn’s list. “The ideal person also has to be a motivator and leader,” he says. “They may have a management title, but many finance people do not respond as managers.” 

Connect Younger and Older Generations

The younger generation, Shelton says, is looking for purpose and a sense of belonging in their jobs. “They often don’t see F&I as either of those things,” he says. 

Successful dealerships home in on what younger generations seek in a job. Teach them why they do what they do and find their purpose for having the job. Do they want to buy a house? Do they want to pay off student loans? “Once you focus on their purpose, their numbers will go through the roof,” he says. “If they are just there to sell a bunch of stuff, they won’t be happy. They need a purpose. That’s how you connect older and younger generations.”

Teach them, he adds, that “their job is to take care of customers and their F&I needs. [Car buyers] want an honest, genuine experience.” 

Then, when you pair older generation customers with younger F&I managers, Shelton says the presentation comes together “because they have a genuine approach and want to help their customers. They are not trying to slide in anything.”

Quinn adds it’s a fantastic time for dealerships to employ older and younger business managers. Years ago, the older generation didn’t want to teach younger employees anything. And there was nothing the younger generation could teach them. “Today that’s a different story,” he says. “Now, the older generation depends on the younger generation to help them use modern technologies, like new electronic menus.” 

On the flip side, the older generation can pass off their experience to younger employees, especially when they struggle or have a difficult day. They can encourage and support younger employees as they grow in their jobs, Quinn says.

Make Training Ongoing

When asked for the most overlooked part of F&I training, Scott Howard II, training consultant for Reahard & Associates, answered, “the value of ongoing F&I training.”

He explains, “For any training program to be truly effective, it has to be an ongoing process and not a onetime event. Implementing and maintaining an ongoing F&I training program is the key to improving F&I performance and profits at dealerships.”

Howard stresses that building and maintaining a good F&I department is like building and maintaining a house. Good design, use of quality materials, and outstanding craftsmanship translates to few problems, minor repairs and a great house overall. Bad design consists of cheap materials, poor construction and leads to ongoing problems, endless repairs and a lousy house overall.

“We need F&I managers who want to master their craft and provide ongoing training that cements core values over time to maintain the F&I department,” he says. “Everything becomes less about in-house maintenance, which can supersede growth, personal growth and the overall customer experience.”

John Tabar, vice president of training at Brown & Brown, says younger F&I members are hungry to learn then dealerships fail to deliver training. In turn, dealerships struggle with turnover. Ongoing training “increases retention and helps dealerships keep F&I managers longer,” he says. “It shows the dealership cares about them and their success. The dealerships that provide ongoing training will retain F&I professionals longer. That adds money to the bottom line. Talent is hard to find.” 

Quinn adds it is important to help F&I managers understand that what they do in F&I “brings customers back to the dealership group, thus creating customers for life. PVR is important. But we need to consider what we sold to the customer that will bring them back for service.” 

Tabar says F&I managers need to see their role as “a business within a business.” “Bringing somebody back for life implies that F&I follows a customer throughout the ownership of their vehicle,” he says. “We have multiple opportunities with that customer; each one building value for the previous one.” 

Digital learning done well can advance learning opportunities, adds Tabor, noting online classes must be engaging and interactive. “They cannot be just a lecture,” he says. 

Digital, however, does not replace in-person training, adds Shelton. “Digital training can cover the technical pieces, but what’s missing is that personal connection,” he says. “When I hit pause and we have a break, that’s when connections occur. Those are missing in a virtual environment.”

Empower Staff to Communicate

“There are very few management-level trainings available,” says Shelton. “So, most people don’t know how to be a manager.”

Without this training, circumstances crop up when people become frustrated. For example, the sales desk keeps quoting rates that are not achievable, then the F&I desk must move rates up, and it lowers F&I sales. “The F&I manager explodes,” he says. “That’s never a good way to approach things.”

He suggests dealers begin each day with a meeting between sales and F&I. Review the previous day’s sales and the process. “If you do that every day it opens the doors for communicating about what’s going right and what’s going wrong,” Shelton says. 

Train F&I managers how to communicate what the problem is and how to fix it. For example, with the above problem regarding rates, the problem is quoting great rates without running credit first. “Instead of freaking out and going to the GM screaming that the sales staff is quoting rates without running credit and costing you $300 a car, you can say, ‘I know I can make another $300 a car by having sellers quote rates after they run credit,’” he says.

Shelton cites five key steps to problem solving for F&I managers.

  1. Figure out the issue. Know what is causing the problem.
  2. Know the impact of the problem.
  3. Identify how to solve the problem.
  4. Review your concerns and the proposed solution with management.
  5. Commit to the new strategy.
  6. Move forward and track results.

But finance managers need to feel empowered to have these conversations, he adds. “F&I managers need to learn how to communicate those things with upper management,” he says. 

Elevate the Customer Experience

“F&I needs to become more of an F&I system than an F&I process [to elevate the customer experience],” says Tabar. “We need to give information about F&I to consumers earlier. We still keep those things secret.” 

Dealers that introduce F&I through product videos and other means help consumers understand how these products work and the benefits they bring. 

He explains that Brown & Brown recently held a consumer focus group where participants agreed they wanted information about F&I products before they get to dealership. “The first entry to a dealership is its website. That is where we need to introduce F&I products,” he says.

The second way to elevate the customer experience is through an efficient process. Brown & Brown’s focus group participants told them that the car buying process should take only an hour, with the F&I process spanning 15 minutes. “That’s their expectation, but it currently takes almost three hours to buy a car and the average F&I time is well over 30 minutes,” he says. “We need to look for ways to make the process more efficient and reduce the time customers spend in F&I.”

Finally, he adds, follow that customer out of F&I. “We can enhance their experience by following up,” he says. “F&I managers can call customers to see if they have questions. And we can follow them throughout the ownership experience, whether or not they purchased products. Give them opportunities to add products. They may have said ‘no’ initially, but realize they need them later.”

The F&I experience isn’t what it used to be. Consumers now expect to learn about these products earlier and have opportunities to purchase them throughout their ownership experience. Keeping F&I training ongoing helps F&I managers deliver on these expectations.

Ronnie Wendt is an editor at F&I and Showroom.

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