Author Archives | Rick

Small Choices Lead to Big Explosions!

Small Choices Lead to Big Explosions!

When reading automotive industry publications, among the great articles about effective processes and success stories, we unfortunately often find headlines concerning another dealership or group that is being pursued legally for deceptive practices.

I have worked one-on-one with dealers for many years. Among them I have found some of the most gifted entrepreneurs our economy can offer, as well as some of the highest levels of self-effacing integrity. The automotive industry drives our economy and provides a workplace in cities across America for some of her finest citizens. Yet the misbehavior of a few continues to tarnish our efforts.

I’ll leave it to the compliance experts to provide an in-depth look into the list of practices that we must exclude in our industry. I simply ask you to consider two of the principles that make some feel comfortable providing a less than transparent and honest process.

In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart in midair just 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members. The cause was traced to failure of the “O-rings” on the rocket boosters due to the low air temperatures that day. However, in retrospect, a commission later concluded that two practices of the organization were more to blame. It should sound warnings to all of us if we see them in our organization.

1. The Consistent Warnings of Experts Were Ignored.

One of the engineers heavily involved in the design of the rocket warned in a conference call that the O-rings were not capable of performing at the low temperatures forecast for the day of launch. After his warnings were ignored, he reportedly sat and screamed to others that “The rocket will explode, and everyone will die!”

Our industry has been greatly helped by some of the finest legal minds who have dedicated themselves to educating our industry on the facts and effective ways to implement a transparent, customer-focused process. And surprisingly (to some), many of those who have adhered to the most transparent and stringent guidelines recommended have reached record levels of income and profits. They listened to the experts and adjusted where necessary. Others have waited for an explosion that they were sure would never happen to motivate them.

2. Urgency Drove Decisions That Crossed the Line and Clouded Reasoning.

The space shuttle program was on a stringent timeline, not only for this launch but for subsequent ones. Any delay here would cause a ripple effect in future efforts. The window of opportunity to get this launch off was closing fast and the pressure caused unwise decisions to be made. Sound familiar?

The pressure to meet a sales quota, hold a deal together at all costs or on an individual level or to meet a pay-plan objective may lead to momentary and unwise decisions. Before you know it, those types of decisions become a commonplace strategy to reach goals, and anyone that challenges them is considered a problem or just forced out of the equation.

… At least until the explosion! That’s where the headlines come from! The cost of the Challenger tragedy, including the loss of life and the loss of the integrity of the program itself, may never be fully realized.

After the Great Recession of a decade ago, many in our industry took a deep look in the mirror and were determined to gain their way back into previous levels of profitability and to do so in the most transparent and customer-focused manner. Many have done just that and are simultaneously seeing record levels of profits and customer satisfaction. Hopefully, the good times will not lead to a regression in that focus.

As general agents and dealership partners, we must continue to provide compliance resources, training and insight. We must also be willing to sound the alarm when we see an explosion coming. Encourage them to listen to the experts and make sure that decisions being made in pressurized moments are good ones!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

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The Wait Is Over!

The Wait Is Over!

According to the latest figures from Cox Automotive, customers spend nearly 40 minutes idle at the dealership when buying a car! And the portion of the process that took longer than they expected most often was the financing and paperwork at 64%.

We are talking about buyers here, not shoppers. They have already decided to spend thousands of dollars of their hard-earned money with us, and customer satisfaction, overall profits and the likelihood of return or referral business is at stake. It’s time we stop the F&I waiting game once and for all, structure a more customer focused process and let them know the wait is over! We must become FAST!

F: Focus on the Customer’s Perspective.

We know, from the dealership’s perspective, many things that must be done once a customer decides to buy. However, we must consider the customer’s perspective.

Several years ago, Houston International Airport was facing massive complaints due to long wait times for baggage. It only took one or two minutes to walk from the gate to baggage claim. However, once there, passengers waited an average of eight minutes for their bags to arrive.

How did the airport address this issue? They changed the path necessary to walk to baggage claim so it would take six to eight minutes. Once passengers arrived at baggage claim, their bags were usually waiting. The airport looked at things from the customer’s perspective and structured their process to keep the customer busy and moving forward, not waiting.

What happens to your customer once they have committed to buy a vehicle? If they are left sitting somewhere with nothing to do, the wait could lower engagement levels or even cause them to question their decision to buy. Either of these is a profit killer!

A: Accurate Information Is Required.

Nothing can slow the process more than getting deep into the paperwork and discovering incorrect information. Misspelled names, incorrect numbers and missing information required to complete the transaction brings everything to a crawl.

An F&I manager should go out and meet every customer and verify all their information prior to submission to a lender or entering the data into their system. There must be checks and balances to avoid costly mistakes. Software is available to streamline the process and ensure accuracy. The cost of the software will pay for itself time and again when mistakes are avoided and wait times are minimalized.

S: Stay With the Customer.

Never leave a customer alone after they have committed to buy a vehicle. I have seen customers left in a comfortable lounge, on a designated couch or, worst of all, sitting alone at the salesperson’s desk.

They might be watching a TV or the other customers going into F&I; however, they are also looking at their watches. Every minute left alone waiting for the F&I process to begin is equal to 10 minutes in the F&I office.

Service-drive visits, an explanation of the vehicle’s features, or a review of the owner’s manuals are all activities that keep the customer engaged and moving forward in the process. As long as the process is moving, they feel their time is being respected.

T: Track Transition Times.

How long is the average wait time in your dealership? We utilize an online survey that gathers perceived wait times of the buying process. Typically, multiple managers have a different perception of how long customers are waiting for F&I.

This part of the process is too important to leave to chance. Start tracking actual wait times and use the information to start developing a more effective use of customer’s time. Time and resources should be used to reduce wait times and keep the customer engaged.

Every other major industry has started addressing the wait times of their customers. A customer’s time is their most valuable commodity. We demonstrate that we value their business, when we value their time.

I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also, feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

With the new year upon us, everyone would like to increase their level of success and their income! In reality, we each write our own check. The amount of that check is based on the decisions we make and the actions we take on a daily basis to achieve our goals.

The one thing that is virtually guaranteed is that many people will see their goals die a slow death as the year plays out. The daily grind of the job, unforeseen events and unending challenges will cause many to settle for the “same as last year.” Every decision you make at the beginning of the year, that produces the desired results at the end of the year, will have worked its way through three phases.

Phase One: Decide What to Focus On!

You have to be clear on what you want to achieve and the purpose behind it. Generic decisions such as “make more money” seldom work into completion. Write it out on paper. Then share it with others who can hold you accountable. Even if you are clear on what you want, as the days go by, you might forget the reasons why you want it. The “why” is what will motivate you to follow through on your decision.

Get as specific as possible about what you want, why you want it, and how you’ll know when you’re achieving it. Deciding what to ignore will prove just as important and limit the things that can hinder your progress. The enemy of focus is distraction! Eliminate those daily distractions that take you away from the task of improving, and you are on your way to executing a record performance.

Phase Two: Decide What You Are Willing to Do to Make Things Happen!

Just committing to your goal is not enough. Success demands much more. You must be determined to be extraordinary in your efforts, to be courageous, disciplined and accountable for your decisions and actions. You must have an unwavering commitment to excellence so that, despite the inevitable setbacks, it will come your way.

Everybody loves to play in the big game, whether in sports or in business. However, only the determined and committed few who have a clear focus on what they want — and then take consistent action every day to make it happen — will see the success that everyone seeks.

In business, as in sports, the game is won or lost on the practice field and the training room. You must be committed to consistently practicing your skills and make yourself vulnerable for constructive criticism. The input from a third party can be the most powerful catalyst for improvement.

As leadership expert John C. Maxwell once put it, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”

Phase Three: Decide That You Are Willing to Change to Become More Successful!

To become more successful in the year ahead, you must be willing to make the changes that create a better you. The most troublesome obstacle to success is an unwillingness to change. Each year, our goal should be to create a better version of ourselves.

A higher level of customer engagement online, before they come into the dealership, is driving a major transformation in how cars are sold, how F&I products are viewed and how we sell them. Several manufacturers have launched programs to allow a customer to buy a car online and set up financing as well to create more of an ever-changing market. An open mind, a willingness to change and adapt to this new reality will open the door to more profit opportunities.

As general agents, one of the most valuable efforts we can provide to all those we influence is to continuously challenge them to improve their performance. We have to encourage a laserlike focus on their goals, ensure they are willing to do what is necessary to achieve them, and hold them accountable for their actions. We also have to motivate them to adapt and change with a changing market.

The year ahead is full of promise. Those who make bold decisions, and are willing pay the price required to see them through to completion, will see great success. It’s going to be a great year! I look forward to seeing you on my next post. Visit to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas that get results is my passion!

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The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 1

The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 1

Is providing great customer service and a great customer experience the same thing? The two couldn’t be more different! In many F&I offices, the effort is focused on getting better at what we do instead of how we do it.

As an agent, the ultimate goal of your dealership’s F&I teams should be to provide great customer experiences. When that happens, customers buy more products than we could ever sell them. And they are glad they did.

Remember: Customer service is what you do; customer experience is how you do it. With that in mind, here is the first installment of 10 commandments to provide memorable customer experiences:

I. Listen to Learn.

Research suggests that we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That can be catastrophic in a needs-discovery process. Take the time to identify your customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. That includes listening to their words, tone of voice, body language and the level of their emotional attachment to a need or product.

The best listeners are the best producers. The ability to listen to learn separates the best from the rest. It divides managers from leaders and professionals from amateurs.

II. Diagnose Before You Prescribe.

Customers buy solutions to problems, not products. You must uncover the problems this particular customer might face during their ownership experience. In the F&I office, understanding a customer’s wants, needs and concerns must always precede any attempt to sell them something. Never attempt to sell a product because a lot of your customers buy the product. It must be specific to each customer to be consistently successful.

III. Make Customers Feel Important.

Customers understand that you value them when you demonstrate that you genuinely care about them and their needs. Every customer enters your office with a sign around their neck that says “Make me feel important.”

When your efforts clearly focus on helping customers make good decisions instead of trying to sell them something, they know the focus is on them. That’s exactly where it should be! The most important person in your world is the customer in front of you and your words, actions and focus must elevate their importance, not yours!

IV. Study the Art of Body Language.

Start with what your body language says to a customer. From the first interaction, smile, show genuine excitement about the car-buying experience, and assure that every word and action conveys a consistent message: “I’m glad you’re here!” Customers will reflect your level of excitement, comfort and energy. Give them a great example to emulate!

Next, learn what a customer’s body language is saying to you. If their arms are crossed and they keep looking away from you, frustration and resistance is building. Stop what you are doing and focus on collapsing the confrontation. If you ignore their body language and proceed to attempt to sell them something, then you are headed to a confrontation that you will always lose.

V. Go the Extra Mile.

Anyone can do what is expected of them. However, it takes commitment to go the extra mile. Enterprise became the nation’s No. 1 car rental company by telling its employees, “You can rise through the ranks and make remarkable money, but only after you demonstrate an ability to knock the socks off every customer that comes through the door.”

Knock the socks off your customers and your value will increase. Remember, great companies and great F&I managers provide great customer experiences by doing what others don’t!

We are halfway through the 10 commandments. Improving our efforts in these areas alone would provide an increase in our ability to help customers make good decisions. These are the traits you need to instill in your F&I managers to provide great customer experiences and great profits!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 2

The 10 Commandments of a Great Customer Experience: Part 2

Agents know creating a great customer experience makes their time with their F&I professional memorable. Here are the next five commandments that will make it happen for you and your trainees:

VI. Practice Purposefully.

If you ever played Little League baseball, you’ll remember the phrase, “You play like you practice.” Skills that are not practiced will never find their way into your customer interactions. That’s why it’s important to attend every training class you can, whether in person or online.

And once the lesson is done, be sure to practice what you learned so you can reach a comfort level that will allow you to put your newfound techniques to use with real customers. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but professionals who practice purposefully produce more profits.

VII. Never Stop Learning.

A recent survey revealed that 42% of former college students never pick up a book after they graduate. I guess it’s because they learned it all in college. Well, that can’t be the case in the F&I office. Being motivated to learn all you can about your products and why people buy isn’t a problem when you’re new. It’s when you’ve been around the block a few times that learning tends to lose its luster.

Assign your F&I professionals to read a book about sales each quarter. Make sure they have subscribed to F&I and Showroom magazine. Instruct them to visit their dealership’s service department and learn about at least two parts on a vehicle each month. Make sure they know what they do, what happens when they fail, and what the cost is to replace them.

Continuing education will help your trainees provide an experience that is filled with facts and motivation and one that distinguishes them from F&I managers they have encountered in the past.

VIII. Seek the Input of Others.

Truett Cathy once gave a presentation to high-level executives. After he was done, someone from the audience came up to thank him for his presentation. Cathy then said, “Please tell me one thing I could have done better.” Mr. Cathy has been asking that question since the day he launched his restaurant chain, and it has been one of the keys to his success. It takes a humble individual to open himself to the input of others. But to be good at what you do, you need to strive to be that person.

IX. Focus Like a Laser Beam.

One of the major tasks each day is deciding what to give attention to and what to ignore. Don’t waste time trying to fix things you can’t control. Yes, there always will be issues of concern, but don’t let them distract you from your main purpose, which is to help customers make good decisions. That is something you can control! Your trainees should focus on coming up with more effective ways to sell your products.

X. Choose Your Associates Wisely.

Every dealership has its fair share of whiners and complainers. Instruct your F&I teams to avoid that crowd. They should seek out colleagues with a more positive outlook, those who are always looking to improve their skills. Few things affect our ability to create memorable moments with our customers — be they dealers or car buyers — more than our attitude. Your trainees should guard theirs like the treasure it is and feed it regularly with positive input.

Great experiences are what successful F&I managers create every day. All their effort and focus are on this one function. It lives itself out in the manner they practice their skills, their positive interaction with customers and the excitement they bring to their efforts each day and to all those around them. Sell on!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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What Sank the Titanic Will Sink Your Dealers!

What Sank the Titanic Will Sink Your Dealers!

“Iceberg, right ahead!” is the shout Fred Fleet, the lookout for the ill-fated Titanic, is said to have given when he saw the ship’s doom ahead. How could the Titanic, such a large and well-designed ship, ever sink? History tells us numerous factors may have led to its sinking. The F&I office has become a much larger “ship” in the overall profit of every dealership. Using factors that sunk the Titanic comparatively can sound alarms for the F&I offices we work in. Responding to the alarms might help avoid a catastrophic failure! Let’s look at a few.

1. An Opportunity Was Missed.

Before Titanic left the English port at Southampton, a smoldering fire broke out in the ship’s coal bunker boiler rooms and weakened the ship’s structure, making the iceberg crash more devastating than it could have been otherwise. A consistent inspection of the ship could have avoided catastrophe.

Tracking every indicator of F&I performance consistently, including production numbers, CSI scores, training activity, and product income vs. reserve income can alert us early to potential problems that can be corrected before they become a threat to sink the ship!

2. Warnings Were Ignored.

Captain Edward Smith felt the warning concerning icebergs was not urgent because it lacked a certain prefix that identified it as such.

Low CSI scores can be an indicator of too much pressure in the F&I process. Low commitment levels to training activity can indicate someone has stopped learning and that will eventually sink a ship in the ever-changing waters of F&I!

3. Confusion Cost Precious Seconds.

The ocean liner was operating with two communication systems that were in direct conflict with each other. The command for a sharp turn of the ship eventually came across as the opposite direction they needed to go in order to avoid the iceberg.

The F&I office, sales manager and general manager must all be operating under clear instructions of how to handle the buying process. As we say in the south, we all need to be singing from the same hymnal.

4. The Structure Was Weak.

Material scientists have claimed the pieces holding together the steel plates of the joints of the ship were made of low-quality iron rivets that could have broken more easily upon collision.

What builds a great F&I team? Like any sports team, it boils down to a great game plan, training to prepare for the big game, and holding them accountable for results. Does every manager you work with have a plan for how they are going to reach their goals? Is training consistent and tracked? If the results are lower than expected, make sure proper materials are used to avoid a crash.

5. There Was a Shortage of Binoculars and Lifeboats.

The person with the key to the locker where binoculars were stored was bumped from the crew at the last minute. Binoculars may have enabled them to see the danger earlier. The 20 lifeboats onboard were only half as many needed for the 1,718 passengers, and only 700 passengers survived. The lack of proper tools led to disaster.

The most important tool in the F&I office is a customer focused, needs based approach to building value in our products. Utilizing an interactive and visual effort with today’s customer is critical for success.

As independent agents, we can help assure our partners have everything they need to succeed. We can track effort and production, facilitate good communication between departments, help develop a game plan, and provide the tools that will lead to success. … and hopefully avoid the icebergs!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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