Question: When we submit supplements on behalf of our customers, the insurance companies try to make us look like we’re asking for things that aren’t needed and try to turn our long-time customers against us. We’ve considered legal action to stop this. What should we do?
I, along with many others, can relate to your situation. No one likes when others say negative things about us or our business, especially things that are not true. In the collision repair industry, people of high morals are generally the ones who have the greatest number of such incidents…and for good reason. These are the people who place their customers’ needs above all others and who are willing to “go against the grain” when necessary.
While this conduct by any insurer is unethical, unprofessional and unacceptable, it is not necessarily illegal. I learned this from a repairer coaching client and close friend of mine, Ray Gunder of Gunder’s Auto Center, who sued an insurer for defamation/slander. While it may not apply to your particular state, a Florida court ruled that because insurers have a vested interest in the amounts paid out in a claim, and unless they made statements that the individual was a “rapist, pedophile or murderer” (words of the judge) and such, they could more or less state whatever they wanted to mitigate their claim costs. This was the only case Gunder ever lost among his dozens of lawsuits combatting insurers’ improper behavior.
So if you can’t fight insurers legally, how do you combat such harmful and predatory practices?
I offer the following:
- Know your place.
- Know your stuff.
- There shouldn’t be a problem.
- Serve your customer.
Know Your Place
As a repairer, you need to understand that your role as a repair professional is no different than any other professional involved in an industry that’s relied upon to safeguard those who seek assistance. Your role is no less important than that of a healthcare professional, accountant, financial advisor, home-builder, airplane mechanic, parachute packer or scuba tank service technician. Your customers are relying upon you and your company’s collective knowledge, skills, honesty and representation relative to the proper and thorough repair of their damaged vehicles. They’re relying on you and your company to provide for them and their families’ needs. This is a huge responsibility rife with potential liabilities for the repairer, and therefore should not be taken lightly.
This does not mean that your customers have engaged you to fight their fight for them. You are not an attorney or public claims adjuster, and in most states, it’s considered illegal for those who are not attorneys or licensed claims adjusters/agents to “negotiate” a consumer’s claim. Consider that when a repairer “negotiates,” they generally do not end up getting more for their customer than they initially estimated. In fact, most agree that the repairer will end up with less. This simply means that the repairer gave away funds that they initially believed their customer was entitled to. The repairer essentially negotiated away monies that, in their initial professional and expert opinion, their customer was rightfully entitled to!
You, as the repair professional, have the responsibility to offer and provide a proper and thorough repair that restores the customer’s damaged vehicle to its pre-loss condition in safety, function, performance, appearance and value to the best of reasonable human ability. The customer’s responsibility is to approve or deny your recommendations and, upon completion of the repair, provide your company full payment for the services you’ve provided based upon their request.
What you are not obligated to do is handle the consumer’s claim for them. You may offer to do so, but it is not within your professional responsibilities, any more than it would be for you to interact with the party who caused the damages and had no insurance. Generally, your customer would handle the matter themselves with your support and knowledge…just as they should with an insurer.
You may, on the customer’s behalf, provide them with your experience and knowledge relative to insurance claim matters to give them the insight they need to understand, protect and assert their rights for a proper and thorough repair, but that’s where your activities in this regard should end. After all, there shouldn’t be a problem!
Know Your Stuff
Because of the immense amount of associated liabilities, it’s imperative that you and your staff are up to speed on the latest technology and the proper recommended methodologies and equipment as needed to perform proper and thorough repairs. You should present this information to your customer to help them understand and verify what procedures are required and why they’re recommended. Only then can the customer be prepared to assert their rights for a proper and thorough repair when confronted with an insurer who fails or refuses to provide for such parts, materials and services. Insurers will often state they want consumers to receive proper and thorough repairs, so…there shouldn’t be a problem!
There Shouldn’t Be a Problem
You, as the repair professional, submit your professional and expert opinion (estimate/repair assessment or blueprint/repair plan) on behalf of your customer. Then, if the insurer doesn’t wish to provide compensation for something, they should be compelled to explain it to the vehicle owner. But we know they generally don’t; they cower behind their phone and deny things to the repairer, at which point the body shop starts to argue and try to justify the need. Insurers prefer this, as most repairers provide them the opportunity to deny. They generally won’t do this with the vehicle owner, and if and when they do, they act as if the repairer is doing something unethical, overcharging and attempting to steal from the insurer and/or their customer. This of course places the burden onto the repairer to try to prove otherwise, thus placing the repairer on the defensive – not a good place to be with a customer who doesn’t know who to trust but is compelled to rely on the insurer who’s paying them for their repair.
This happens because the insurer is the first to have the opportunity to begin to edify the customer. Oftentimes, this begins shortly after the loss when the customer calls the 800 number on their insurance card to report the claim. Generally, it’s the repairer who’s late to the conversation and then has to overcome the insurer’s efforts and defend themselves from the insurer’s innuendos and statements, such as: “They’re the only ones who would charge for that,” “They’re over-charging,” or “They’re charging for things that aren’t needed.”
Serve Your Customer
To avoid the above-mentioned scenario, it’s essential for the repairer to start the process of edifying and earning the customer’s trust and confidence via marketing and at the very beginning of the repairer-customer relationship. This can only be accomplished by the repairer setting the bar high regarding professionalism, knowledge, compassion and integrity.
Let’s face it, you cannot convince someone that you’re honest or intelligent by merely telling them that you are. Attempting to do so may achieve the opposite effect; the other party will likely begin to question your motives and in turn suspect you and your intentions. Managing your customers’ expectations and earning their trust is
Your goal, as a repair professional, should not be to merely restore your customers’ damaged vehicles. It should also be to restore their peace of mind and confidence in their repaired vehicles and in your commitment to protect their families’ best interests relative to their personal safety and economic welfare.
People who have been involved in a recent car accident are generally insecure and simply don’t know what to do, where to turn or who to trust. After all, this is not something many do on a regular basis. Insurers invest billions of dollars in advertising that they’re the “Good Hands People” or “Good Neighbors” and that they’ll take care of them in their time of need. After all, “it’s so easy, a caveman could do it.” Of course we know that this is not often the case. However, it’s not up to us to forewarn our customers of potential problems. If they have insurance coverage, or if the at-fault party has insurance coverage to cover their repair, there simply shouldn’t be a problem!
Humble Service Provider
Taking the role of the “Humble Service Provider” and repair professional is something many repairers simply fail to do. I encourage my repairer coaching/consulting clients to hang their cape in the closet, take the big red “S” off their chest and refrain from getting into the muss and fuss with insurer claims people. It’s not the repairer’s responsibility to fight or argue, and quite frankly, insurers want this fighting because the repairer’s efforts to shield their customers from the process prevents the customer from seeing the insurer’s behavior and activities. And all the while, the customer is believing there is no problem!
In the end, in most transactions, the only “problem” the customer sees is that their repairer’s initial estimate was X dollars, but the final bill paid by the insurer was considerably less. So, who was the likely problem?
There really isn’t enough room here to explain all the facets of playing the role of humble service provider and properly managing a customer’s expectations and how it can best serve you, your company and your customers.
Stay tuned for future “Ask The Expert” articles to help convey the overall concept and process more fully.