More stores hear customers, tailor F&I

Automotive News | June 13, 2012 - 12:01 am EST

Finance and insurance managers are learning to dump the product hard-sell and listen to customers' needs.

That might sound obvious.

But dealership consultant Michele Peterson says that at some stores, respecting customers' wishes hasn't always been a priority.

Once when Peterson was buying a car, she recalls telling a dealership finance manager she was not interested in any F&I products. Yet he wouldn't stop talking, Peterson says.

"It was two hours and they wouldn't let me out. They kept saying, 'What about this and what about that?' I specifically told them I work in the business. I know the game and I do not want anything. And, yet, they still did not listen."

Her solution was simple: "I would not go back there again."

But she says that hard-sell approach is slowly changing.

Peterson is the global director of digital sales consulting for Dealer Services Group in Detroit. The group, an affiliate of Urban Science, is a consulting, training and data center for dealers.

Dealer Services Group's data on how many dealerships are actually tweaking their practices to better meet and respect customers' needs is too new to provide hard numbers.

But anecdotally, Peterson says the days of bombarding a customer with all the various F&I products regardless of the customer's interests or needs, is changing. More dealerships appear to be listening to a customer's needs and then offering a package of just two to three F&I products that a customer might find value in.

Salespeople start the process. "It's very important that prior to a customer getting to an F&I department, there is someone listening to a customer's needs," Peterson says. "That's starting to happen more."

The goal is to keep customers from saying no. But if they do, accept it.

"You need to respect that and move on," Peterson says. "You can possibly loop back to it later, more subtly, but not at that moment. This is a referral business. You might get a few more customers if you respect their wishes."

The left side of this 68-year-old man's face is significantly more aged than the right side. He spent years driving a truck, where ultraviolet rays entered through the driver's side window.

Buchanan uses 3M Accents film that's applied in-house to all new vehicles. His store has been doing so for about seven years, he says.

He sells the option to used-vehicle buyers as an aftermarket accessory, he says.

"Customers sometimes ask for it, but not very regularly to be applied on their own, if they purchase a used car," Buchanan said. "They do like it preloaded on the new vehicles."

But some dealers in nonsunshine states such as Indiana don't consider window tint a hot item. One manager at a dealership there told me there's no strong demand for such a UV-protection product at his store.

I wonder if that might change.

This study garnered national attention, even landing on Facebook posts with some people urging others to wear sunscreen, even inside a car.

A savvy dealer could follow Buchanan's example, even using this study and photograph as selling tools.

Jamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive NewsJamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive News

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