Finance directors have different ways of approaching customer interviews. Relying on the sales team works for some, while others, such as the F&I team at Findlay Honda, want more independence.
Dealerships typically view F&I profit per vehicle as the measurement of F&I success. Sanchez's way equates to about $1,200 in F&I gross income per vehicle retailed and few chargebacks.
Sanchez decided soon after she was named the dealership's finance director in 2010 that relying heavily on the salespeople for customer profiles was a disservice to everyone involved. It slows and unduly burdens the salesperson and doesn't allow the customer to explain nuances and preferences that might be relevant to F&I but not sales.
"We always go out and interview the customers ourselves," said Sanchez. "We use the basic information from the salesperson and tailor it to suit each customer. We keep everything very conversational. If you go out and start asking specific, pointed questions, people aren't as open."
Sanchez also reminds managers to watch their body language when approaching and working with clients. An open, welcoming persona will often relax even the edgiest of customers.
"We want them to think of us like a warm blanket," said Sanchez. "We want them to sit down, relax and discuss their wants and needs with us. Their lives are overloaded, and we want to do what we can to simplify things for them."
That approach is smart business, said author and consultant Max Zanan, president of Total Dealer Compliance, a dealership service consulting firm in New York.
"People buy from people, and F&I has very limited time to establish rapport," said Zanan. "It's too much to ask a salesperson to provide F&I with a lot of information. F&I staff have a completely different function. That's why it's important F&I managers gather the pertinent information themselves. That's the best way they can offer customers custom-tailored menus."
Of course, not everyone follows that path.
Marva Laws, business manager at Volvo Cars Annapolis, in Maryland, relies on dealership salespeople to fill her in on the customers she will meet. Gender, relationship status, age, personality type and other details help Laws prepare and quickly find commonality with customers.
That arms her to begin to develop a custom menu for each customer.
But she doesn't stop there. Laws' office is also conducive to relaxation. Customers who step inside hear soft music playing, enjoy a gentle scent misting through the air and sit across from her always clean desk as she focuses solely on them.
"It's important to give the customer as much personalized attention as possible," said Laws, who averages $1,500 in F&I gross income per vehicle retailed. "They shouldn't have to repeat themselves. The customer spent $60,000, $70,000 or more. They deserve all the respect and attention we can offer."
Sanchez agreed, noting that stereotypes can start conversations off on the wrong foot. Not every baby boomer is tech challenged, and not all millennials avoid one-on-one conversations, she said. Sanchez noted that many of her customers are members of the active military, and she and her staff are aware of their duties.
"We aren't formal for formality sake," said Sanchez. "We have a genuine appreciation for what they do."