We all know the old saying…a customer has a good experience and they tell one person. They have a BAD experience and they tell 10 people. If this bad experience was at a dealership, however, the stakes and the potential costs are much higher. Fines, bad PR, and a ruined community reputation can have far reaching impacts that can affect your bottom line.

The good news is that there are some common-sense strategies to help your store combat customer complaints in the F&I department and minimize their impact across the organization.

F&I is the most active profit center within the dealership. Due to the increased Federal and state regulations governing how F&I products are sold and how the paperwork is executed, it makes sense that it can be the source of many customer complaints if the staff is not following ethical standards. Customers sometimes view the F&I manager as less than trustworthy and are always looking for dubious sales tactics or misrepresentation of the products. Their guard is already up.

Let’s take a look at some easy ways to safeguard the department and minimize the damage…

The Paper Trail

Keep accurate records of everything a customer says, everything they sign, and everything pertaining to their interaction with staff. It cannot be said enough…having proof of everything throughout the F&I experience can be the difference when an accusation is levied. This also applies to any electronic communications such as emails between the customer and the F&I staff.

Something as simple as their initials on a document or disclosure can help make the case that products and their prices were presented properly. These are often the first items an attorney will ask for on both sides of the case. Document everything.

Act Quickly

It’s easy to get so busy and wrapped up in closing deals that customer complaints go unnoticed for too long. Sometimes management has so many erroneous complaints to address that the serious ones ‘with teeth’ can go unanswered for too long. Address them with the F&I manager immediately. Don’t let them pile up. By the time you get to it, you will be answering to an attorney or media outlet rather than simply the customer. Quick action and decisive resolution (if possible) can prevent months of hassle.

A Consistent Dealership-Wide Protocol

Consistency is key when addressing a customer complaint. Have a set protocol in place with defined steps throughout the process. Who gets the complaints? How far up the chain do they go? What remedies are offered first? Second? What is the threshold for your company attorney to get involved?

Bottom line – do not fly blind. Complaints can affect ALL dealer profit centers (service, F&I, parts, sales) but if your store can implement a consistent process across the organization, it can be a strong first step to insulating it against future losses.

It Starts with Good Training

Another way to help deal with customer F&I complaints is to ‘training up’ your staff to avoid them in the first place. If your F&I managers are well trained in both regulatory requirements and ethical selling skills, you will have helped reduce the likelihood of complaints by a large margin. They may few, if any, complaints at all.

Hire good people who understand the right way to sell product, educate the customer, and follow the rules and your dealership will not have to play defense in the court of public opinion.

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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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