Dealers know that the one part of the car buying process that their customers dislike the most is the having to go into the F&I office. Maybe it was years of hard sales tactics, less-than-ethical practices, or awful caricatures of grizzled and brash F&I managers pushing through paperwork at a dizzying pace that made this part of the process so unappealing.

But the F&I office is evolving and there are some simple strategies your store can implement immediately that can change how your customers view their experience even before they walk in.

The Old Days Are Gone…

The F&I office has always been viewed as the one place you had to have your guard up as a car buyer. The salesperson would sell the car just fine but now the customers had to survive going in ‘the box’ and listen to the fear-based sales pitches about the need for extended warranties and credit insurance. Customers would rather have a root canal than go talk to the F&I manager.

Compliance and regulatory agencies, both at the federal and state level, have changed much of that. CFPB and FTC keep dealers under an increasingly watchful eye. F&I managers have a very short window of time to say the right thing and have error-free paperwork or risk the dealer being fined. It’s in some ways a higher-pressure job now than it was 30 years ago but that doesn’t mean that the F&I office experience can’t be a positive one for staff and customer alike.

Simple Changes, Big Impacts

Here are some small but powerful ways to guarantee your customer has a positive experience in the F&I office…

  • The Introduction – Don’t wait for the customer to be walked in. Go out and introduce yourself on the sales floor and invite them into your office. Smile, shake their hand right away, and do a sincere introduction. Offer a cup of coffee or a glass of water before you get started. It goes a long way and it’s such a simple courtesy that many busy stores may be lacking.
  • The Interview – Take time to get to know the customers…driving habits, how they intend to use the car, why they chose this brand/model, etc.  Making a genuine effort to get to know the customers can help sell more product, sell the RIGHT product for them, and establishing a rapport with the buyers rather than going through the motions.
  • The Office – Messy desk, cluttered mind…isn’t that the old saying? Have your desk clean and ready for the paperwork and presentation. Keep a photo of your family or a picture on the desk that gives the customer a warm sense of who you are. Also, don’t eat your egg salad leftovers in the office for customers to smell when they walk in. Again, it seems silly but the customers’ senses do play a part in their overall experience.
  • The Kids – Sometimes the F&I managers with the highest profit-per-deal are the ones who understand the importance of keeping kids happy and occupied while their parents sign paperwork. They have a drawer with toys, coloring books, or even a tablet with kid-friendly games preloaded. The parents will appreciate the gesture and you will have their attention for the product presentation.
  • The Follow Up – Every customer expects the salesperson to follow up after the sale but almost no one expects the F&I manager to do the same. Why not make it a standard part of your process? Take the extra time to email or drop a quick ‘thank you’ note in the mail with your business card inside. Your customer will be more likely to remember that you took the time to thank them for choosing your store and it could increase the likelihood of referrals. This can also help with product sales after delivery.

The F&I process often happens in a very short window of time depending on how busy your store is. Some of these tips can be implemented well before the customers make their way to the office and the rest can simply become second nature. Your CSI scores will rise and your customers will be more likely to give good reviews online.

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Kristine Cain is a freelance writer who loves the car business, hiking long trails, and the Steelers (not necessarily in that order). After finishing a degree in psychology at George Mason University in Virginia, she got her first taste of the dealer world working in the service department of a high volume Honda store. Warned early on that the car business would ‘get in her blood’, it did and Kristine made the leap into F&I departments at several stores around the Washington DC area and later to an automotive information company in dealer sales. A veteran of over 20 years in B2B sales to dealers, she leverages that knowledge to help write within the dealer market. Kristine lives in Holly Springs, NC with her husband and family.


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