21st Century thinking and embracing a new era of transparency in F&I department will bring about a positive change in the auto industry. BY REBECCA CHERNECK
Pet peeves. We’ve all got ‘em. They course through our veins and pick at our last nerve. I’ve got no shortage of my own – but instead of complaining about everything that I see going wrong in the auto sales industry, I figure it’s high time to start offering up common sense solutions to some of the industry’s longest-standing progress barriers. Here are my top 10 solutions to negotiating some of the auto industry’s most pervasive stumbling blocks with transparency in F&I.
- The Interview – Prior to coming into the F&I office, the interview serves to ensure every last detail of an auto sales transaction is accurate. It raises product awareness and breaks down barriers. Every single time a deal goes into the F&I office unchecked, the chances are high it’s riddled with errors. Taking the time to review all documentation for accuracy, prior to sending the customer to F&I, makes all the sense in the world – and yet a puzzlingly high number of sales pros don’t do this. My question: Why? My suggestion: Don’t drop the ball on this all-important task. Earning a customer’s trust is tough enough without having to try to get it back after you’ve lost it. Be sure to conduct a thorough interview with all buying customers. It can save everyone a load of time.
- Lengthy Delivery Time – Once a customer touches down inside the F&I office, the wheels of delivery should already be turning. Dealerships should be working diligently to reduce the time it takes to deliver vehicles. How is this done, you ask? Great question! The answer is: by validating all information from the aforementioned interview to ensure accuracy. Working overtime to clean up paperwork errors can cost you. Instead, be sure to first get a signed deal checklist from the sales manager. This keeps all those proverbial little duckies in a row and makes sure things go smoothly where they all too often go awry.
- Not Getting a Buyers Agreement – It stands to reason that all deals should have a buyer’s agreement prior to entering F&I. But instead, these are often substituted with wacky, off-the-wall worksheets that can be near impossible to decipher. Be sure to get the buying numbers properly signed off by the customer or desk manager before forwarding deals into F&I. Just that one step can make a world of difference.
- Neglecting Compliance – Doing things by the book may be a total drag, but it’s got to be done. Confirming payoffs before contracting the customer takes more time, but it’s worth it in the long run if the result is ensured profits and customers not coming back the following day.
- Spot Deliveries Gone Bad – Okay, this one mystifies me just a tad. I’m not quite sure if this happens because otherwise well-intentioned folks don’t know any better, or because they simply don’t want to. If you’re re-contracting on different terms, a dealer is required to send out an adverse letter reaction. If you’re playing outside the rules, you may want to consider an arbitration agreement – it might come in handy.
- Skipping the OFAC Form – I’ll be honest. I think the OFAC form is silly, too. But the government doesn’t. They want every customer – cash customers and lease customers alike – to be verified to ensure they’re not on the OFAC list. The good news about this is that it’s easy to do and it doesn’t even have to take place in the F&I office. It can be done in advance, saving everyone a bunch of time and needless stress.
- Not Presenting Menus – We should all know by now that a menu allows you to present 100 percent of your products, 100 percent of the time, to 100 percent of your customers. It’s easy, it’s no hassle, and it’s fast. It’s also been proven that customers will buy if they aren’t pressured to do so. The other reason we utilize menus is to ensure a customer understands all of the buying numbers prior to presenting them with products. This includes the base payment for the vehicle. Dealers spend tons of money on menu software programs. Why not put them to good use?
- F&I Managers and Desk Managers Quoting Payments… and More – I don’t think I’m alone in my belief that F&I managers and desk managers shouldn’t be in a position to quote payments, offer financial arrangements, or handle a customer’s personal information without first undergoing proper training. When you’re dealing with people’s sensitive financial information, it’s imperative that you be properly trained for this. This can head off some serious heartache down the line and your customers will appreciate you all the more for your diligence.
- Bemoaning CFPB – I know you don’t like talking about the CFPB. Neither do I. But they’re here to stay, and they will continue to train their watchful eyes on everything the auto industry does – looking out for deceptive and discriminatory lending practices, as well as product gouging. Don’t think you can pick and choose which customers you offer a product at whatever mark-up you decide, simply because you think Big Brother’s not watching. He is.
- Promoting Sales Managers to the Desk Without Prior F&I Experience – You wouldn’t hire just anyone to handle your accounting. And you wouldn’t dream of letting someone poke around under your hood without making sure they’ve got the proper certification. The same should go for Sales and F&I. Anyone who’s promoted into these important positions should be given thorough training that will enable them to quote structured deals to the cent, based on the customer’s credit criteria and bank guidelines. Taking proactive steps in this area will avoid nasty scenarios like sending deals into F&I with an underwater payment, or terms unavailable for the F&I manager to figure out and close.
Change is possible – even in the auto sales industry. To quote John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Today, a growing number of auto sales professionals are parting ways with old methodologies and embracing a new era of transparent procedures and by-the-book plays that are bringing about giant leaps in the way that we do business. To thrive in the 21st century, auto dealerships have got to take on a uniquely 21st century attitude. Remember, nothing ever changes when you’re standing still. But when you take bold, positive steps, the future is yours for the taking.