Some experts say that attempts to sell extended-service contracts in the service lane will likely fail if service writers steer customers back to the F&I office.
But Mike Casisa, finance director at Southern Chrysler Jeep-Greenbrier in Chesapeake, Va., says his store is an exception.
He says the dealership's service writers are trained to flag good prospects for service contracts. And, he says, he's rarely too busy to see a customer who has been referred from the service department. That removes a stumbling block. If Casisa really is too busy, he tries to greet the customer and give them a business card.
He spoke this week with Automotive News Special Correspondent Jim Henry.
How is selling service contracts to service customers going?
What better customer to approach about a service contract than one who already loves your service department? It's easier selling to a service customer than it is cold-calling. Often it's easier than a new-car customer.
But you're the finance director, not the service manager. So the service contract sales actually take place in the F&I office, right?
Right. A lot of times the service writers will notice, "Hey, this customer's warranty expires in two months." Or they may say, "This customer's warranty expired. Take a look at the bill they just had to pay." I can use that to approach the customer about maybe renewing their warranty.
Our service guys are trained. They know our warranties go up to 150,000 miles. It used to be 120,000 miles. Most service departments would think those cars are too old, but our guys have learned all that.
Do the service guys get paid a spiff for doing that?
I do that for our service writers. For a service writer, a customer having a warranty is just a lot easier to deal with. Whether their repair needs two parts or five parts, if they know it's covered it doesn't make any difference to the customer.
If they have a warranty with this benefit, they will be getting a loaner car. They're not sitting in the lounge all stressed out, they're not pushing the technician to fix it as fast as possible so they can get out of there.
Do you use video e-mails?
Yes. Today you need something a little different. Another big problem we have is that so many customers tell us they're getting these notices in the mail, "Call us immediately" or "Your warranty is about to expire." They think it's coming from us at the dealership. So when we send an e-mail it has our template, it has my face on it, it has a link to the Better Business Bureau, it has a link to our site. They know it's from us.
In the F&I office, do you use a menu? Is your menu getting bigger, with a lot of new products, or does it feature the traditional products?
We do sell off a menu. Of course the biggies are extended warranties. It's just such a great product; it benefits the customer and it benefits the dealership. And GAP. I would say that for the last year, the last year and a half, more and more people are interested in GAP. And like a lot of dealerships, we offer credit life and disability.
I see a lot of companies offering lots and lots of additional products, but it's always a challenge to get banks to accept it as something they want to include in the financing. Also, I've heard of dealerships offering 15 or 20 products. I don't think anybody wants to present or sit through the presentation for 15 or 20 different products. I like to stick to the ones that work.
Do you interview customers in advance? That could be a way to cut down 15 or 20 products to a more manageable menu.
Time permitting, yes. But like a lot of dealerships, the finance department is someplace that always seems to be short of people and strapped for time. So sure, time permitting I will meet with the customer and introduce myself and tell them a little bit about the process and what they're about to see.
It can also help to find out if the car they're coming out of has GAP or an extended warranty or other policies. I can assist them with the cancellations. With the refunds on those it can also help the customer to come up with more money down.
Any other tips?
A lot of people, even though it's an obvious thing, they forget that customers have other cars in the family, in their driveway. Maybe they didn't buy it from us. I ask them if they have other cars, do they have a warranty? Is it expired? If they have one, are they happy with it? It's just a matter of asking. I don't know why people are afraid to ask.