You and your F&I colleagues are busy. You have to stay on top of a million details. And you have to establish a rapport with customers in a fraction of the time available to sales staff. The best way to do so may come down not to what you say, but to what you don't say.
"You can't watch every word, but over time, you learn there are some things you just shouldn't say," said Stephanie Soerens-Borkowski, owner of Soerens Ford of Brookfield (Wis.).
Most experienced F&I staffers know how to keep customer interactions positive. But in the crush of business, even seasoned professionals can slip up and inadvertently antagonize a customer. To help ensure that doesn't happen, experts suggest F&I professionals make it a habit to keep these negative words and phrases out of business discussions.
1. "Contract." "What happens when we get involved with a contract? First of all, it's a legal document. Mom and Dad have always told us never to sign one and to read the fine print," said Heather Wilkinson, training manager at JM&A. "To get out of one often involves a lawyer." Wilkinson recommends using the words "agreement," "paperwork" or "form" to avoid the negative connotations associated with "contract."
2. "Cost" or "price." When you use these words, customers visualize money flying out of their wallets. Instead, say "total amount" or "total investment," Wilkinson said. "When you make a wise investment, you get something of value for it, don't you?"
3. "Girls" or "guys." Many professionals use casual language in the hopes of breaking down barriers with customers. Some of that lingo might translate into "How are you, guys?" or worse, "Hello, girls." Each customer is different, said Soerens, but it's best to err on the side of formality. Use Mr. or Ms. until the customer requests you use a first name.
4. "No-haggle" or "stress-free." "Any negative words, even when framed in what could be construed as a positive context, should be eliminated," said Erik Radle, CEO of Miller Ad Agency in Dallas. Such language can sound hackneyed and also bring to mind negative thoughts about hassles and stress.
5. "Discount." Refrain from using this word wherever possible because it will devalue your entire sale. "'Discount' shows that you are desperate for a sale, and the customer will start working you for heavier discounts," Wilkinson said. "Arbitrary discounting is probably one of the quickest ways to lose credibility. While it is true that the word 'discount' brings sparkle to customers' eyes, it is usually tied with products being overpriced in the first place."
6. "Sign" or "signature." Yes, everyone uses those words, but that may be a mistake. When you tell customers to sign or ask for a signature, they mentally cringe. The words prompt them to think about the money they are spending. Wilkinson suggests asking for a customer's "approval" instead.
7. "Honestly" or "frankly." Those words make the customer question everything you said before. "These words introduce doubt," Radle said.
8. "Um," "clearly" or "you know." You may not realize you use these verbal crutches, so ask your co-workers, friends or spouse to tell you if you do. Both Wilkinson and Radle say eliminating those words ensures you sound more professional and confident.
9. "Just" or "only." Don't use these words when talking about pricing, Radle says. Customers value money in different ways. A $500 price might seem low to some and astronomical to others. Stay neutral and don't use money as the only way to value a service contract or protection product.
10. "What will it take to earn your business?" This sounds old-fashioned and hackneyed, Wilkinson says. Instead, ask questions that probe customers' needs. That's a much more effective way to understand what motivates customers to buy.
11. "Where do we need to be?" This phrase makes an F&I manager appear to acknowledge discounting is necessary, gives the impression of tremendous price flexibility and gives the buyer extra control, Wilkinson says. Don't use it.
12. "Don't you want to save money?" That confrontational question serves as an immediate turnoff for some customers, Wilkinson says. Don't use it.
13. "Is the price holding you back?" That makes it sound as if you're begging the customer to ask for a discount, Wilkinson says. It also implies you can and will offer a discount to make the sale.
14. "But." After you build up a positive impression with the customer, using the word "but" erases it, Radle says. "But" also can make the customer feel as if you're arguing with them, Wilkinson adds.
To be sure, there are many words and phrases that could give customers a negative impression of you and your products, but eliminating these would be a good start. It's also vital to keep your tone professional and upbeat. A positive, helpful attitude will often put customers at ease.
Go a step further and use words and phrases that remind customers they are in charge, Radle advises. "'You're free to choose' takes the stress of implied compliance out of any sales ... by imputing freedom," he said. "If customers don't feel they are in charge of decisions, they will often decide not to decide, which is, in effect, a no."