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Estimate…Or True Opportunity For Repair?

If you feel the request for an estimate is a waste of time, you may need to modify your thinking and estimating practices.

Barrett has authored numerous industry trade journal/magazine articles, including several cover stories for BodyShop Business. Having grown up in a family-owned collision repair business and owner/operator of two successful collision repair facilities; his ongoing efforts as industry speaker and repairer coach-consultant are geared toward educating professionals and consumers to achieve equally successful resolutions to automotive-related property damage issues. Such issues include proper and thorough repair, reasonable repair profitability for repairers as well as equitable claim settlements for both claimants and the responsible/paying parties. ADE offers numerous professional services nationwide.

Your time is valuable, and often underappreciated. Many repairers often see the request for an estimate as a waste of time and resources. If you feel this way, perhaps you need to reconsider and modify your thinking and estimating practices.

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Estimates and “Guesstimates”

In my facilities, we tried hard not to write “estimates” or “guesstimates.” After all, people with damaged vehicles don’t need an estimated cost to repair, they need a repair. And we wanted to be their chosen repairer!

Before a proper and thorough damage assessment and repair plan can be written, the vehicle first requires scanning, measuring and careful disassembly to verify the full range and extent of damages. This is necessary to determine the full cost of a proper and thorough repair and also avoid unnecessary delays due to hidden damages. Scanning, measuring and dismantling are integral parts of the repair process, thus a signed repair authorization/contract will be needed and the vehicle will need to be brought in to perform the various functions.

Don’t give away your time and resources giving “free estimates/guesstimates”…spend your valuable time and resources selling needed repairs!

There will be those who will indeed be seeking estimates, and this should be seen as a great opportunity to earn a new customer or service existing ones – and may provide unique hidden opportunities they hadn’t considered.

Some people at my shop were adamant about getting an estimate and wanted no part of the service we offered for a fee, and we could see that they were not a good fit for our company. So, we would provide them a courtesy “verbal guesstimate” and politely send them on their way – and provide them with a follow-up letter thanking them for the opportunity. Our intent was to provide them with the best information and hopefully set the bar for others to try to reach. Often, the prospect would return and seek our services. Others would come back after a subsequent accident due to the manner in which they were served by us – even though we hadn’t performed their previous repair!

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Cashing Out

In today’s economic climate, a consumer who comes to you for an estimate may not have a desire to actually have their vehicle repaired but instead use the money for something else (rent, tires, etc.). Or, they may be shopping for a repairer who will do the job for less than the insurer has offered (which may seem like a lot of money to them) in the hopes of saving some cash to use elsewhere. This situation can often lead to great opportunities for the quality-oriented repairer to educate the prospective customer, as well as sell them the professional and expert service of an accurate and thorough estimate of repair to allow them to recover the full amount of their loss – not just lowball an underpayment offer by an insurer or competing shop that is merely trying the “seize the keys,” only to submit a supplement later.

Insurers understand that many claimants today (first-party and third-party) may not get their damages repaired or may opt to go to a high-volume, low-value, cheaper repair shop (which I often refer to as a “Shake ‘N Bake” shop). This enables an insurer to provide a lowball settlement that many unsuspecting consumers often accept and cash out, never to be heard from again.

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When I had my shop, we were aware of this and thus tried to find out the customer’s true desires and provide them a solution that would fit their specific needs. The end result was often not what the customer initially thought they wanted or needed. This process started with the completion of our custom-designed “client information form” and “free consultation”, which was designed to help determine the prospect’s true needs and intentions.

Figuring Out the Truth

I wish I had a dollar for every customer who came in saying they needed an estimate for an insurer or for the at-fault party when they already had a settlement from an insurer. Even if I only took 50 cents for those who said they were told to “get three estimates,” I would earn a great sum of money. Sometimes it took some careful digging to casually get them to admit they already had an insurer’s estimate. Other times, it was as easy as merely seeing the insurer’s estimate sitting on their front seat and asking them about it. Knowing this allowed us to have an open communication with the prospect on the real reason for their visit.

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Once we were able to determine the customer’s true intent, it allowed us to educate them on the nature of their damages, potential safety issues (if any) and the loss in retail value as a result of the damages and the effect of less-than-adequate repairs. We even informed them of other important “need-to-know issues such as:

  • Their safety
  • Insurer underpayments
  • Steering to insurer-friendly DRP shops
  • Diminished value (restoration of value)
  • Various types and sources of replacement parts

We explained the importance of obtaining full and proper
repairs to correctly restore the damaged vehicle, to the best of human ability, with proper parts and procedures. We asked questions to make them consider issues they might not be aware of such as airbag and seatbelt inspections. These were likely processes that other repairers and/or insurers had not addressed. This made us look better than others who didn’t seem to care about their family’s safety and economic well-being. We could then determine the likelihood of them seeking recovery for this substantial and collectible remaining economic loss.

Once we looked over the insurer’s or competitor’s estimate and pointed out numerous omissions and underpayments and the reasons for them, the prospective customer would often change their thinking and want to get full value for their loss. We referred to this as “getting their bucket full.”

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We welcomed the opportunity to help them cash out, but for the correct amount we believed they were entitled. This began by informing them of the various types of parts and the various levels of repair quality the industry offers and how some repairers may attempt to write a low estimate to merely to seize the keys, which would only escalate once they had initiated repairs.

We explained that this is why they had no need for several estimates…just one good one from a reputable company who would not work for the insurer but work for them!

Earning Trust

Educating a consumer to enable them to protect their economic and personal well-being was our first step in earning their trust and confidence. The next step was getting them to engage our services in preparing a thorough and exhaustive assessment of the damages and an accurate, detailed repair blueprint – which we charged them for, with the understanding that if they decided later to have us perform the repair, we would credit back to them the entire cost of the estimate.

Our written professional and expert opinion (repair plan) cost $75 plus 3% of the total estimated amount. We earned thousands of dollars from hundreds of appreciative customers for providing them an accurate and thorough assessment of their damages and the true cost to repair. In some instances, they were able to recover our fees from the insurer.

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Furthermore, in many instances, when customers discovered the true nature and cost of the damages, safety issues, reduction in value and the insurer’s attempt to lowball them, they opted to have us perform their repair rather than cash out. We not only earned their trust, we earned their business and their referrals… for life!

This is a service you may wish to add to your service menu as well. After all, many repairers spend their days merely writing estimates. Why not make this a profit center that gives you the opportunity to educate the members of your community and show them how you’re different than your competitors?

Due to the way most body shops conduct the estimating process, the opportunities to impress your prospects with top-level service are endless. When engaging in a proper sales technique, you will find that your closing ratio (sales) will go up, while the time you invest in writing estimates will go down, your production will improve, and you, your customers and insurers will avoid costly delays and aggravation.

The industry is changing, and we need to change with it!

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