In collision repair, you’re bound to encounter problems from time to time – disputes about estimates and procedures and disagreements about results. While problems are an inevitable part of doing business, you can reduce them and often eliminate them with a proactive, positive approach to business relationships.
By using a few basic tools – clear, confident communication, honesty and integrity, and a commitment to your goals – you’ll be able to avoid many problems and diffuse others through careful negotiations.
“Open communication builds trust,” says Ed Gapsch, owner of Gapsch’s CARSTAR in St. Louis. “Strong relationships are built on trust and respect, and the best way to build that strength and gain that trust is to be honest at every step of the estimating and repair process.”
It’s also important to be confident in your repair decisions, to protect and encourage your company’s profitability and to provide a safe repair. Despite what you may think, these goals aren’t innately in conflict with the insurance company’s goals. Shop/insurer relationships may simply require a more enlightened approach to managing them from the local level to the national level.
Whether you’re dealing with a local adjuster or the vice-president of claims, it’s critical to:
- Be objective. A loss of objectivity is possibly the No. 1 cause of a small problem escalating into a crisis.
- Stay focused on your established goals.
- Use your objectivity and focus as the basis of negotiations.
Let’s look more closely at each of these.
How Objective Are You?
The ability to remain objective empowers our decision-making skills. Objectivity also demands that we examine issues from all perspectives. It allows us to better understand how and why customers or insurers place expectations or demands on us. We may not like it, but at least we understand it.
Responding objectively is the opposite of a “knee-jerk” reaction, which almost always requires an explanation and an apology later. Objectivity reminds us that an adjuster’s questions probably aren’t an attack on our integrity. Most likely, they’re questions he’s expected to ask or are inquiries mandated by his carrier’s guidelines. Just as you’ve set policies and procedures for your staff, the insurance carrier has done the same. Don’t take it personally.
Define Your Goal
Keeping goals in front of us is a critical motivator. It supports our staying objective and reminds us of the short-term win and the long-term loss. Did we win the battle but lose the war?
For example, if your goal is to increase insurance referrals from ABC Insurance Company, would it make good business sense to denounce their new adjuster as “green and incompetent”? Probably not. Would it be unwise to call the regional office and demand a replacement? Most likely.
It’s Necessary to Negotiate
The goal of negotiation is to open the door that allows you to achieve a win-win solution. Negotiation considers everyone’s differences and then builds a solution. It has no place for ultimatums. In fact, it reminds us that issuing an ultimatum only guarantees one of us will lose.
“Stores that continually argue about point after point run the risk of being tagged as difficult to work with,” says Gapsch. “No one can work well in that environment, and it will only cause the carrier’s antenna to go up.”
Rule No. 1 in working through issues with a carrier: Don’t attack the person; attack the problem. While that may sometimes seem impossible, remember the adjuster you work with today will probably still be your adjuster tomorrow. If he really is “green and incompetent,” turn it into an opportunity to make him your ally. Offer to assist while he learns the ropes, and introduce him to others in the territory. This mentorship attitude can prove beneficial in the long run because today’s “adjuster in training” may be the person you need down the road to resolve your problems.
Communicating a Bad Situation
Certainly occasions will arise when an adjuster really is doing a poor job. If it reflects badly on your facility, customers are getting caught in the middle or any type of fraud can be identified, it’s time to take it up a notch. Contact the regional office and ask for assistance. Document the date and name of the person you spoke with. Let them know you’re asking for their input in resolving a problem. Identify the situation and provide specific information on costs, number of days delayed, specific line items on estimates, repair decisions or whatever else may be at issue. Be sure you’ve positioned yourself as wanting to resolve the problem rather than destroy the employee’s career.
Anticipate results over the next few weeks. Make sure you’ve kept an open door to communication. If no results are realized, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to put your concerns in writing. Note that you spoke with Mary Jones on Sept. 14, and identify the specific issues addressed. Indicate the problems have persisted and cite the most recent examples. Again, be specific and professional.
If you reach a stalemate, remind them that you’re looking for an equitable solution that keeps the customer’s needs in mind. Explain that you’re willing to work outside the box to find a solution, with fairness and honesty as the only boundaries. At that point, expect their response.
A Failure to Communicate
When all is said and done, you’re operating a business just like thousands of others in the United States. They have customers and you have customers. They sell a product and you sell a product. But in your case, you have the added complexity of sharing that customer and your product with a third party – the insurance industry. Because of this, there are bound to be bumps along the way, misunderstandings on both sides and valid disputes. It may seem cliche, but communication really is the answer.
But don’t wait until there’s a dispute to introduce yourself. Get to know those who manage activity at the local level. Understand their repair guidelines and expectations. Clarify questions up front. Let them know if you can’t work within their guidelines before you begin a repair. Invite them to your shop so they have a clear idea of your professionalism.
Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more.
“We must communicate our honesty,” says Lloyd Taylor, owner of Procraft CARSTAR in Great Falls, Mont. “We must also do what we say we’re going to do. With honesty and follow-through, you earn a solid reputation for reliability, and that can help resolve problems when they do arise.”
Writer Julie Lougee is the national insurance coordinator for CARSTAR Franchise Systems, Inc.