Associations: CCA, WMABA Partner to Host Southeast Collision Conference
“My way or the highway” negotiation techniques have intimidated the repair industry long enough. Learn how to counter them.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Powerful words spoken by our president to inspire our boys during WWII. But our troops already in the trenches probably had a hard time relating. They weren’t concerned with “fear itself.” Rather, and rightly so, they were afraid of the 50-caliber machine gun bullets, bombs and artillery shells headed their way. Despite their fear, they did the job. And did it admirably.
My point? Fear has always been a major human motivator. It’s also always been used as a management tool, especially in the collision repair industry.
Fear and intimidation are huge in our business.
As a young adjuster 30 years ago, I was taught that if I couldn’t reach a quick agreement on repairs with a shop, I was to threaten to pull the car: “If you can’t fix that little dent for six hours, I’ll take the car to someone who can!”
I used the “fear and intimidation” negotiating technique to get my way. And because shops were afraid of losing the work, they did what I wanted.
Granted, there were a few cases where I was quickly escorted off the premises by large, nasty men with little or no sense of humor. (Fear and intimidation can be a double-edged sword!)
Today, however, the stakes are much higher, and the “fear and intimidation” technique shops hear sound something like this:
- “Your paint materials charge exceeds our threshold of 8% of the total average RO.”
- “Your non-OEM parts usage isn’t up to our standard.”
- “Your severity is $75 over the market average. You’re going to have to sharpen your pencil.”
- “Your cycle time is too high. We allow an average of four days per claim. By the way, we do count Saturday and Sunday!”
Followed by, as if you didn’t already know:
Today, we’re not just facing the loss of one job and an alienated adjuster, but hundreds of jobs and lots of money.
Can’t toss ’em out anymore.
Fear and intimidation are alive and well in our industry.
We’re even afraid to put our needed rates on the survey form because if we enter too high a number, we’re afraid that we’ll be taken off the list.
Price fixing, anyone?
Of course, it’s not just “them” (as in “insurers”) using the fear tool. We use fear and intimidation in our relationship with our employees. At least we used to: “You’re not gonna get a new one. The adjuster gave us six hours. I had to fight like hell for that. If you can’t fix it for six hours, pack your stuff and go! That’s why they put wheels on your toolbox!”
Of course, that was back in the good ol’ days when you could run an ad for a technician and some qualified people actually responded.
Today, the tables have turned. Fear and intimidation get used against management since technicians are harder to find. Now managers hear: “No way for six hours! I can roll my toolbox down the street and find a job where they don’t ask me to create miracles from a can of filler and a pile of junk. That’s why they put wheels on my toolbox!”
Heck, we even use fear in our personal relationships. “Give me what I want, or I won’t give you [insert appropriate words here]!”
Ever hear that one? Yeah, me too.
Fear is the reason most salespeople (estimators) aren’t good at selling. They fear rejection. They don’t want to hear the word “NO!”
Business consultant Tom Egelhoff writes: “Fear of rejection is pretty powerful. We will risk losing the sale before we’ll face the disgrace of rejection. Most [estimators] wait for the customer to buy and, if that doesn’t happen, they blame the loss of the sale on price, options, any excuse they can think of except for the real one: They did not ask for the order.”
I sat in on a mystery shopping presentation recently. In a mid-sized American city, only three shops out of 12 surveyed asked for the job. Not one shop asked for the job twice! Why? Fear of rejection.
It’s that strong.
So we live in fear. We’re afraid of losing a DRP, afraid of losing the employee who we can’t do without, afraid of rejection, afraid of losing love and affection, and afraid of losing our business, our livelihood and our position in the community.
It’s amazing we can even sleep at night!
Some of us can’t.
As I travel North America working with shop owners and managers, I see and hear fear: fear of the future, fear of the insurers, fear of employees, fear of customers, fear of rejection and, most of all, fear of change.
I see people who are frozen into inaction by fear. We’re afraid to ask for (demand) what we need because we’re afraid of the consequences of even asking.
The people who make up this industry, one by one, need to learn how to deal with fear and put fear in its proper place.
Winston Churchill once said: “When you’re going through hell, keep going!”
Dealing with Fear
First, we must understand that there’s nothing wrong with fear. Fear is our body and life experience telling us there’s a good chance that we may feel pain if we do something stupid.
Because I have a very healthy fear of great white sharks, I prefer not to go surfing off the Oregon Coast.
But what if I’m a professional surfer who has a huge meet in Oregon? I could skip it. Or, I could go but stand on the shore paralyzed by fear.
But surfers don’t do that, so I’d probably surf it.
Naturally, I’m going to check the papers to see if there have been any hungry great white sharks seen recently near the scene of the competition. Next, I’ll study the color of wetsuit (come on, it’s Oregon so I’m wearing a wetsuit!) worn by the most recent shark victims (bait).
OK, so I’ll surf but I’m wearing a pink wetsuit with blue stripes because there has never been a documented case of a pink-wetsuit-with-blue-stripe-wearing surfer being eaten by a shark in Oregon.
Oh, and if anyone sees the first hint of a fin, I’m gone — “Oops, hurt my ankle and can’t surf anymore!” Time for umbrella drinks (on the big check I get from BSB for writing this).
My point: It’s OK to feel fear. It’s a natural warning of possible trouble and discomfort, like a yellow light at an intersection.
Depending on the circumstances, you might choose to proceed through the intersection, or you might decide to stop and wait for the next green light. You get to make a choice based on your previous experience. Body shop people root for “go!” That’s OK, too.
First and foremost, we’ve got to learn to deal with fear and put it in its place, like the shark tale or the yellow-light decision. Don’t be frozen by fear. Instead, use it as a motivator.
Don’t Use Fear to Intimidate
Second, you need to understand that while fear is a natural emotion, to inflict fear and use that emotion to intimidate another person is simply wrong. Dr. Scott Brandt, a leading Northern California psychologist, says: “The use of fear and intimidation in interpersonal relationships is a form of serious emotional abuse. Threatening someone with the loss of love and affection is deeply harmful and shuts down any meaningful communication.”
So don’t do it.
The use of fear and intimidation in our relationships with our employees and those we love is simply wrong. It’s also the sign of an untrained manager.
There are many ways to motivate and help employees, and there are books and books on the subject. None of them recommend the use of fear and intimidation!
If you find yourself managing, or being managed, through fear and intimidation, read some of those books or go to a human resources seminar. Leadership by the Book by Ken Blanchard would be a great place to start.
We also need to recognize when fear and intimidation are being used against us. In negotiations, the use of fear and intimidation is a sign of an unskilled negotiator. “My way or the highway” negotiation techniques (six hours or I’m pulling it!) simply shut down communication and allow no further options. When faced with that sort of ultimatum from an insurer, employee, vendor, child or even a spouse, “hit the pause button” and take a break from the negotiation to allow all sides to cool off. Come back later to examine real issues. Good negotiators keep talking.
For example: So the adjuster just threatened to pull the job. Take a break. Have a cup of coffee, and discuss things you agree on. Any short break will usually do. Then come back to the point of disagreement after things have settled down and emotions have cooled.
We, as an industry, need to learn to negotiate. Think about it. We negotiate every day with nearly everyone from the insurance adjuster to employees to our family. Yet few of us have ever been to any formal negotiation training.
Hitting the “pause button” is an excellent negotiation technique. (Read Negotiating for Dummies.)
Watch an old episode of “Columbo.” He’s the master at hitting the pause button and letting the bad guy take a break from negotiation – then coming right back at the murderer when his guard is down. Remember “Just one more thing …”?
I was once threatened with a huge insurance company lawsuit over something I wrote to I-CAR about an issue of how something was being taught. The threat was, “Take it all back, or we’ll sue your body shop buns off!”
I hit the pause button, bought some time, sorta took it back in a private letter, and the gentlemen who threatened legal action and I get along fine to this very day. And I’ve still got my body shop buns!
Hit the “pause button” whenever emotions get even a little heated.
You Have Options
Third, there are always options.
A friend of mine used to own a mid-sized family supermarket in a rapidly growing small town. He loved his store but lived in constant fear that a major grocery chain would open in his area and put him out of business. He was miserable. He worked 12-hour days, six days per week and cut his prices to the point that the store was only marginally profitable.
Over beer and football, I listened to him. He was frozen by fear. Fear that he would lose his business to a consolidator who had a huge buying advantage because of their size. Fear that they might open up across the street and, just because of their name and national reputation, draw his business away and make him disappear.
Fear kept him stuck in the same old rut, working long hours for little or no money. He was really, really unhappy.
I asked him what he would do when it happens. In my mind, it was inevitable. He was really depressed. I feared for him and his mental health. So we performed a “skills assessment” audit for him on the back of a bar napkin. The man knew everyone within 20 miles of his store. He could manage people and time. He had learned negotiation skills. He was marginally computer literate. He was truly a “local” who everyone trusted.
A week later, he visited the home office of his most feared big box grocery store and recommended that they buy his location. They had already made a deal on the property across the street, but they bought an option on his property and agreed to hire his employees. He made his first real estate deal that day.
He’s now a full-time commercial realtor and is out playing golf most sunny afternoons. That “skills assessment” napkin is framed and hanging on his office wall. His old grocery store is now a high-priced feed store, paying him rent. He still has the option money.
Another real-life example illustrating the fact that you do have options: Several years ago, a shop owner made a presentation at NACE. He returned home to find a district claims manager waiting in his office. This was a matter of great concern for the shop owner since the district claims manager managed the shop’s largest DRP, representing 30% of the shop’s total volume.
The claims manager was unhappy with a joke the shop owner had told at NACE and advised the shop owner to “straighten up or you’ll be off our program!”
The shop owner was initially paralyzed by fear – fear of losing his business over something he said, a silly joke.
He “hit the pause button” and said what had to be said to save the account, for the time being anyway. Then, deciding that he didn’t wish to continue living in fear of losing his business by losing one account, he began planning and marketing. Within six months, he had grown other sources of business and was no longer as dependent on the “can’t take a joke” carrier.
Eventually, he dropped the carrier altogether!
That story is true. It was a good joke. I don’t tell it anymore.
Recommended Reading: Negotiating for Dummies
Get Over It
It’s hard for me to hear, “I can’t ask for that because they’ll cut me off,” or “The DRP shops have all the business, so I might as well close the doors and go home.” I’ve encountered more than a couple shop owners who showed symptoms of severe depression over the state of their business.
I bite my tongue to bleeding when I hear a shop owner complain about the lack of work when he just finished writing three estimates and didn’t even ask for one of the jobs.
Why didn’t he ask? Fear.
Fear and intimidation: They’re very alive in the collision repair industry, and they’re not going away.
So we’ve got to learn to deal with them.
Step 1: Recognize fear and intimidation tactics for the evil and abusive techniques they truly are.
Step 2: Don’t be guilty of using them yourself, and don’t be a victim! Hit the “pause” button. The use of fear and intimidation is the sign of a poorly trained negotiator. Learn negotiation and human resources skills.
Step 3: There are always options. Own your customer base. Get really good at marketing.
If all else fails, sell real estate and play golf. That guy – the former depressed grocery store owner – now drives a new Mercedes and kicks my body shop buns all over the golf course.
Writer Hank Nunn has been involved in the collision repair industry for 30 years as an adjuster, shop owner, technician and consultant. Nunn is president of H W Nunn & Associates, a collision industry consulting firm. He’s also the lead facilitator as well as sales and marketing manager for DuPont Performance Coatings SMART Management Seminar Series. Nunn can be contacted at [email protected].