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Several automakers and their certifying partner companies joined the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) on Nov. 5 at the SEMA Show to discuss “OEM Certification Development: The Programs Behind OEM Partnership” during the 2014 SCRS OEM Collision Repair Technology Summit. The discussion was designed to help industry professionals understand what exactly goes into the selection process of certified shops, the benefits of OEM/shop partnership and the importance of doing one’s homework before approaching such a business decision.
The panel – moderated by Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA) Executive Director Jordan Hendler – included Mark Allen (Audi of America), Gary Scott (Axalta Coating Systems), Paul Massie (Ford Customer Service Division), Scott Biggs (Assured Performance), Benito Cid (Mercedes-Benz USA), Vic Mueller and Bob McDonald (Summit Consulting Int’l Inc.), and Rick Leos (Toyota Motor Sales USA).
When asked what sorts of shops were joining certification programs, it was noted that, in many cases, participating businesses were just as varied as the vehicles they work on.
“We try to target the areas where the cars ‘live’ – but we are looking for a passion and a commitment to make the investments needed and for a desire for customer care,” said Allen. “Do they need to have a ‘look’? Yes. But the size and shape of the shop and their eligibility for our program depends on the area they serve. There are some very small shops out there that turn out great repairs.”
While discussing whether participation in a certification program breeds quality repairs, and whether that was the intention all along in their creation, the audience was reminded that the programs themselves are more about facilitating proper repairs and encouraging a shop culture of embracing OEM procedures.
“These are not quality control programs,” Biggs said. “These are about making sure you predictably have the right resources. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to fix it right. But if you don’t have the right tools, equipment and training facilities, you will definitely not fix it right. And [certification] isn’t an instant fix; it’s going to take a while to turn this back around and reestablish that consciousness of quality in following OEM repair procedures. Remember that in 2011, just a few years ago, was the first time that we as an industry embraced that the OEM repair procedures were our industry standards. SCRS was a major part of that, and we had to fight to get that done. Just understand that it’s an evolutionary process.”
While varied in their unique processes, panelists’ opinions on the question of monitoring compliance of program shops served to emphasize the greater mindset that the automakers and participating shops are partners throughout every step of the process.
“Mercedes-Benz currently has an on-site audit to inspect what you expect,” Mueller said. “We’re available, and we do monitor things like CSI and those elements as well. But our focus is on getting this network trained and verifying that our technicians who received training are actually the ones performing the repairs correctly.”
Added McDonald, “It’s not us against the shops, or anything like that. We’re all in this together. It’s about how to make the shops more successful, and working with them to help them be the best they can be.”
With more and more specialized shops entering the market every day, industry members are seeking advice on how they too can enter a program. As panelists explained, the process can begin with something as easy as a conversation.
“The first step for anybody that’s interested is a conversation with your local dealer,” said Cid. “See if there’s a need or a reason to actually go forward. And obviously, the conversation would go from there.”
“One amazing thing that I saw emerging out of every discussion at today’s OEM Collision Repair Technology Summit was the underlying theme of the customer,” said SCRS Vice Chairman Andy Dingman in his closing remarks at the conclusion of the event. “The conversation kept coming back to the protection of the consumer and their vehicle, and everyone up here is doing the right things for the right reasons. That’s very important to SCRS; we’re going to continue to champion that cause. This is a discussion that’s going to continue on for years to come.”