For other installments in this 12-part series, click on the corresponding number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12.
We’ve had our share of red flag vehicles, the type you have to handle with kid gloves so they don’t bite you in the butt come delivery. A recent red flag vehicle for us was a 2006 Suzuki, T-boned in the center pillar, rocker and doors. With only three Suzuki dealerships in the area and a minimum one-week wait for parts, this job was bound to blow up in our faces – not because we weren’t familiar with the parts constraints, couldn’t plan accordingly and couldn’t hustle to get ’er done, but because we had to try to keep the customer happy with only a $400 rental allowance.
In these situations with our customers, we invariably face blank expressions as if they’ve never heard of insurance, let alone how the rental policy works. Despite reviewing the repair process step by step with them when signing in their vehicles, they refuse to understand that the time for repair begins after the parts are received. They refuse to comprehend that the number of days they have left on their rental policy does not necessarily correspond to the amount of days required for the repair. I don’t know if they truly believe the body shop is responsible for their rental costs or if they just play the part hoping to convince us, but I find it hard to believe that a 45-year-old man with a house and kids has trouble understanding his rental policy.
We end up patiently explaining that the rental on the policy was chosen by them when they purchased it. Of course, at the time they didn’t expect to have their car doors smashed into the passenger seat. All they cared about was not paying the extra $10 a month for adequate coverage. Then they go about making their problem our problem and, since we’ve built our business by offering a personal touch, we end up sitting through the sob stories about how the “extra” money for a rental was needed for Little Billy’s birthday party. Ultimately, we end up making concessions, hoping they’ll remember a couple years later when Little Billy gets his permit and smashes the car.
Murphy’s Law is always in full effect in the collision industry, so it’s understandable that some situations are out of our hands. Keeping customers happy is often based on their perception. When we started just four years ago, all the training revolved around “expected” delivery dates. We learned quickly that even if a car is delivered 48 hours before the estimate specifies, that shiny factory finish will not be enough to turn the customer’s frown upside down if you told him he could pick his car up on the 15th and then didn’t have it ready till the 16th. Updating a customer on the status of his car is fine, but giving a guaranteed date – no way. After all, an estimate is just that – an estimate.
Then in walks the insurance company, and all the rules change. With stricter DRP requirements, guaranteed delivery dates will soon be the norm. The insurance companies want to know how much they’re saving up-front. Once again, perception is key with any customer, even when it’s the insurance company. We can either be prepared to guarantee the date and eat the costs associated with going past it or continue to hear sob stories. Being able to make the dates can mean the difference between a profitable relationship and a very expensive one.
If you’re a DRP participant or opposed to the concept (or, like us, up in the air about the whole thing), the reality is that the faster a car goes out, the more money you’re going to make per job. Shops can work every day to stay ahead of the curve and make guaranteed delivery dates part of their vocabulary. Though every repair is different, organization goes a long way toward systemizing the process. By measuring cycle time with the computer system, processes and procedures can be reviewed to eliminate redundancies, improve efficiencies and improve the speed at which the vehicles flow through the shop – all so that quickie jobs don’t get held up behind larger jobs and backbreakers aren’t placed on the backburner.
Also, disassembling every car for analysis and blueprinting to make sure there are no surprises can help target accurate delivery dates. So can performing regular quality inspections at key points in the repair process and making sure techs follow the procedure to immediately alert management of any problems, even if those problems don’t directly affect their “job.” In our shop, this sometimes means that my husband has to lead by example and get out on the shop floor to keep up the pace.
By playing the odds, we’re right 85 percent of the time. As risky as it may seem, we’re willing to give a guaranteed delivery date. I can’t see the difference between backing up your word to the insurance company or backing it up to a customer. What it comes down to is if we have the manpower to consistently keep these processes in place with larger volume. When an employee is out on medical leave or has a death in the family, are there enough backup employees to keep production up to the levels where a DRP remains profitable? If not, Little Billy will certainly crash his car and be short a few dollars to cover the rental. We are, as always, at his service.
Writer Monica Dorsey is a partner at
Classic CollisionWorks in Philadelphia, Pa. You can reach her at [email protected].