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Consider Cross-Training For the F&I Process

You don’t want hybird car sales reps, so consider a change in the F&I process.

BY MARK TEWART

Doesn’t it make more sense to let them handle any issue your customer has with buying a car, loan or insurance for the F&I process?

There are two things we know for sure in the dealership business. First, customers have complained about our F&I processes for many years. Second, they think the entire process (which of course covers F&I) of buying a car takes too long. Don’t dealers know enough to conclude it’s time to rethink their F&I process?

Some dealership groups and even some manufacturers would like to eliminate stand-alone F&I departments. These dealerships typically cross-train their salespeople to handle both vehicles and F&I products. However, for purposes of this article, let’s assume that you are a dealer who has decided against a hybrid sales rep but that you would like to explore another solution to customer dissatisfaction with F&I.

Now, as a dealer, you probably know that the turnover rate for automotive salespeople nationwide last year was 66 percent. You almost certainly have experienced the challenges of recruiting, hiring and training capable sales reps. You also may have struggled to get your salespeople to adequately perform their current sales duties and cannot fathom assigning them still other responsibilities (especially job functions that are critical to your dealership’s profitability and involve highly technical aspects of a sale that could expose your business to legal liability).

Given that you already have decided that a turnkey salesperson is not a road you want to travel, what’s next? What are your viable options?

Line Between Sales, F&I Process Has Blurred

Before I explore one alternative, let’s look briefly at how we got to the current structure. In many dealerships, the role and job functions of the sales manager and F&I manager have evolved over the years. In effect, the job duties have morphed between the two departments. Once dealerships began using tools that allowed their sales managers to simultaneously run credit reports, review bank deal structures, submit deals to lenders and get credit responses in real time, the roles of sales and F&I managers were forever changed.

At these dealerships, an F&I manager now may take a turn with a customer who has bought a car at the point of sale. He or she will conduct interviews, prepare and present an F&I menu, and execute necessary paperwork. However, for many F&I managers, the days of structuring deals and lender relationships based upon rehashing deals and communicating with the lender are gone. The sales manager often performs those duties at the desk.

I would question why your dealership would continue to maintain the traditional “siloed” sales and F&I departments. I believe a “customer concierge” structure works better. While I haven’t seen it employed yet by a dealership, several of my clients have committed to try it at some point.

Managers Become Generalists

Consider the following possibility: You no longer have separate sales and F&I managers. Instead, you cross-train each front-end manager to be a “customer concierge,” with duties of both sales and F&I management. These managers are trained to perform as a team and to handle whatever is necessary for a buyer of a car, a loan or an insurance product.

The managers will be housed in one large office, while the rest of the current F&I staff works from their current area to present the menu and execute paperwork. The managers will be expected to work together on deals and to communicate with the salespeople and customers faster and more effectively.

Imagine if the wait times for a customer to speak with an F&I manager at either the point of sale or delivery, or with the sales manager about some aspect of the deal, were virtually eliminated. In the traditional “silo department/silo manager” structure, huge inefficiencies result in ineffective down time for managers when they could be working for and with salespeople and customers.

Heading Off A Bad Customer Experience

Those inefficiencies would go away if your managers were effectively cross-trained and shared job duties based upon the TLC (“think like a customer”) concept. Typically today, a customer is experiencing a peak level of excitement when he or she has bought a car. Then, the dealership has that customer wait to meet with an F&I manager, the simple idea of which often scares him or her to death. Depending on the day and deal activity, the wait could be prolonged – even for hours at many dealerships!

At this point, that previously elated customer is experiencing anxiety, which can devolve into more fear and even anger before long. This dealership is creating its own sales prevention department. Making things worse, the customers can look around and see some of your staff without customers while they wait for some mystery F&I person. They cannot figure out why wrapping up the business takes so damned long and why they have to meet with F&I anyway. They can’t understand why the employees who aren’t waiting on customers can’t help get them out the door.

At this point, you have perpetuated negative car buying imagery in the customer’s mind and this often results in getting bad CSI scores and potentially bad reviews that affect future buyers, their impression of your dealership, and their decisions shopping/buying decisions about you. With a few changes mentioned, most if not all of this can be avoided!

Why You Should Act Now

Good companies always share good leadership, excellent communication, strong and well-executed processes, and willingness by their leaders to display a teachable spirit. Good leaders are always looking to learn and grow and are not reticent about change. They don’t get behind the tired axiom of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and avoid attitudes of “We have always done it this way.”

In today’s marketplace, dealerships must be willing to adapt and change quickly. Being static is like a deadly cancer. Competitors that are changing will dominate you before long. The days of insisting, “Let’s wait to see how Dealership X does with its changes before we do anything” are over.

Consider the potential positives and negatives of eliminating siloed departments and managers. The positives: Better communication, better cross-training, fewer inefficiencies, improved handling of customers, reduced or eliminated customer wait times and happier salespeople. The negatives: Well, what are they? I have a hard time coming up with a list.

If nothing else, isn’t the concierge manager approach at least worth a test at your dealership?

The road to the sale has changed. It is not realistic to pretend that the roles of your managers and the nature of their involvement with customers must also change. The harsh reality of today’s marketplace is that either you can change, or the market will do it for you.

Mark Tewart
Mark Tewart
Mark is a sales expert and professional speaker, trainer, consultant, entrepreneur and author of the best seller “How to Be a Sales Superstar – Break All the Rules and Succeed While Doing It.” He has a 27-year career ranging from sales to becoming an executive manager at age 27, to founder and president of four successful companies. He is a professional member of the National Speakers Association and the Author’s Guild. Visit his website at www.MarkTewart.com.

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