The finance and insurance office and the service department are the two most profitable areas of an auto dealership, but they often work in silos: F&I managers accomplish their tasks, and service advisers focus on their orders.
To be most effective, though, F&I and service have to work hand in hand. Otherwise, the dealership is missing out on ancillary product sales, customer retention, service business and more, dealership insiders and other F&I experts say.
When F&I managers know the service advisers and what repairs the service department makes, they can use that knowledge to illustrate the value of F&I products and services, says Matt Woods, director of field operations at Service Group, an F&I company in Austin, Texas. Some F&I managers even walk customers to the service lane to show them repairs being done, he said.
That scenario wouldn't be hard to envision at Timbrook Kia in Cumberland, Md., where the F&I and service departments work cohesively. With just two service advisers and three to four salespeople, the dealership's small number of staffers pays off.
If service advisers don't know how to check a customer's coverage, for example, they ask General Manager Dina Wilson or a salesperson.
"We are a little bit more close-knit because we're in more of a rural area," said Wilson, who's also the store's F&I director. "We're small enough that you don't have to wait very long for someone to help you."
Still, most F&I managers don't establish a relationship with the service department, and it can hurt their business, says Ash Bauer, executive vice president of the Warranty Group's Resource Automotive division in Chicago. In fact, he says, many F&I managers go to the service department only when they are walking into or out of the dealership.
"They aren't back there spending time with their service advisers, building that relationship," Bauer said. "That's pretty important" for boosting F&I product referral business from the service lane and for service advisers knowing how to file claims, which, when bungled, can push customers away from the dealership forever.
Woods also links product referrals to relationship building. When he worked at dealerships, he visited with the service advisers whenever he had downtime. Because of that relationship, the service advisers directed F&I product candidates to him. "That only happens when F&I moves out of their world" and heads to service, he says.
Yet other than for "a few exceptions when it comes to more progressive dealers," F&I and service departments overall "really operate like separate businesses," says Max Zanan, president of Total Dealer Compliance.
And they're leaving revenue and customer goodwill on the table.