Giving Customers the Whole Story: Educate Them - BodyShop Business
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Giving Customers the Whole Story: Educate Them

Consumers who’ve been in an accident often only know what they’ve been told by their insurer – and what they’ve been told often puts your shop in a negative light. What can you do? Educate them on the repair process so they have all the information they need.

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Author Patrick Yurek is the owner and president of Collision Consulting LLC (focusing primarily on DV appraisals – www.CollisionConsulting.com) and also owner of Arizona Collision Center in Tempe, Ariz. He has 35 years of industry experience and has held every position from sweeper to owner. Among his credits are several PPG certifications and GM technical certificates. He’s past president of the GM Service and Parts Managers Organization of Western New York and a court-certified expert witness. He can be reached at [email protected] or (480) 984-0800.

It starts with the insurance appraiser who says, “If your shop has any problems, have them call us.”

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Sounds innocent enough, but this statement implies the insurance appraiser has done everything right, but “if the shop has any problems … .” It hints to the consumer that if there’s a problem, it’s the shop – not the insurance company or appraiser – that made the mistake.

But this is just the beginning. Consumers have this misconception that shops are out to squeeze every penny they can from insurers, working them for everything they’re worth. Everyone knows insurers have deep pockets, and the perception is that shops are beating them up to get a chunk of that change. This misconception is partially perpetuated by unethical shop owners who take whatever they can get, but also by insurers themselves, through statements such as the one above.

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How do you counter an already negative perception of shops given by insurers (often subtly) and prove to customers that you aren’t ripping them and their insurers off? Don’t leave room for any surprises. The more things you explain to customers, the better off you’ll be.

I’m Not Bad. I’m Just Drawn That Way
For many consumers, their first contact about the repair process following an accident is with an insurance appraiser. And the first bit of information they receive about the repair process comes from an industry trying to influence that process. The insurer wants to look good in the eyes of their customer, so it’s to their benefit to assure the policyholder that any future repair problems won’t be their fault.

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For example, the customer comes into the shop with his insurance appraisal in hand. The shop manager or estimator looks at the car, and guess what? There’s additional damage. Since the customer was warned about this possibility at the drive-through, he’s thinking, “Geez, the insurance company wrote all the damage and gave me a check for $2,600. How much more does this greedy shop want?”

Already it looks like the shop is “working the insurer over.” The customer thinks this because his insurance company almost came right out and said so, though it may have been a seemingly harmless statement (“If the shop has any problems …”).

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Why are customers more likely to take the word of their insurer over that of a body shop? Simple. They’ve known them longer. The insurer has been the customer’s “good neighbor” for years, or maybe the customer has been in the insurer’s “good hands” ever since he started driving. Why would the insurer lie or embellish anything? They can’t be wrong; they’re the insurance company.

Sometimes your job is made even harder if the customer was in a previous accident and took his car to a shop that repaired it per the insurance estimate – and without a supplement. Whether or not it was a full and complete estimate is irrelevant. If a customer approaches your facility with an estimate that doesn’t address all items necessary to restore a vehicle to pre-loss condition, you’d write a supplement, right? And in some cases, the supplement can exceed the original estimate. Unfortunately, based on the consumer’s previous repair experience, it makes you look that much more greedy if you write a supplement – even though you’ll likely be performing a better quality repair. A consumer with no knowledge of collision repair often sees a supplement as an attempt to “take the insurance company.”

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This scenario continues to play throughout the repair process.

Speak Up
How do you counter what’s been said to consumers and reassure them of your skills and ethics? Educate them. Since you know more about collision repair than just about anything else, it shouldn’t be difficult.

This education process needs to begin the moment the consumer calls or comes into your shop. But be careful about how you present your information, and be sure to include as much as you can.

Don’t assume customers know that something will or won’t be repaired. Don’t assume they’re familiar with phrases and repair procedures you take for granted (such as LKQ, R&I, etc.). Most people don’t understand them – and why would they?

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Also, don’t use negative terms. A phrase that means one thing to you can mean something entirely different to the customer. For example, one of the most horrible things you can say after someone’s been in a wreck is that you’re going to “tear down” his vehicle. Just think of how that sounds: “My car is already halfway destroyed, and they want to tear it apart even more!!!” Instead, tell consumers that you may need to “disassemble” the vehicle.

By explaining to consumers that automobiles are very complex and that insurer representatives are only human, they begin to understand that there may be errors or omissions on the insurance estimate. While you’re writing the estimate, turn the computer screen toward them so they can see some of the many parts hidden from view by outer coverings such as the bumper cover. This will further help them understand how difficult it is to write an appraisal that includes all parts and labor necessary to restore their vehicle to pre-loss condition without first disassembling some of it.

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“After all, we’re all only human” is one of my favorite disarming statements for this type of situation. Explain that some insurers don’t permit their appraisers to write damage they can’t see – even if, through experience, they know it’s there. Tell your customer that some insurer guidelines are such that “if it doesn’t show in a picture, don’t write it.”

This little bit of education can go a long way in overcoming the perception that you’re greedy. It sends the message that you’re understanding of insurance appraisers’ inaccuracies, you’re not out to get them and you’re even sympathetic to their situation.

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Another way to address hidden damage is to have a properly worded disclaimer on your estimates – and point it out. “This is an estimate based on our visual inspection only. Frequently, additional hidden damage is found once repairs have been started. This estimate does not include such damage.” Words to that effect should be on every estimate. But don’t assume customers will see it. Typically, the only thing they look at is the final dollar amount. Flipping to the disclaimer and pointing to it as you say “hidden damage not included” reinforces your statement about maybe needing to disassemble the vehicle.

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If customers are still skeptical, don’t pressure them. Acknowledge that they could certainly go elsewhere to have the damage fixed for less money. Remind them of the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”

You also need to make sure they understand that while they might not be able to see the difference in repair quality, there may be significant concerns regarding safety and function. Explain the difference between a proper frame repair and an improper one as it relates to tire wear (alignment). Also, explain the advantages of doing the repairs as you’ve written – for example, why it’s better to replace a particular panel than to repair it.

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Remember to tell a customer that his insurer is obligated by the contract (policy) to restore the vehicle to “pre-loss” condition. Explaining depreciation as a result of improper repairs may seem like nonsense when you’re writing the estimate, but it can further strengthen your position. And be sure to mention that when the time comes to trade or sell the vehicle and a prospective buyer notes the damage, improper repairs will definitely affect the price – one more reason why you’re not willing to take shortcuts. This area isn’t usually discussed ahead of time, if at all, so consumers don’t consider it when deciding where to have their vehicles repaired.

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The Truth Is Out There
Understanding that customers expect their cars to look terrific after repairs and educating them that looks are only skin deep are the first steps toward customer satisfaction and repeat business. The final step is to prove it to them by delivering the dynamite repair you promised. Once they know the facts, they’ll appreciate that you took the time to educate them, and they’ll be more than happy that they chose you to fix their car. They’ll trust you to do it right, and they’ll know you won’t cut corners.

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Writer Patrick Yurek has 22 years of industry experience and has held every conceivable position in a repair facility from sweeper to management.. Among his credits are several PPG certifications and General Motors technical certificates. He was the president of the General Motors Service and Parts Managers Organization of Western New York until relocating to the Charlotte, N.C. area. He’s now the manager of the Griffin Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Toyota, Pontiac, Buick, GMC collision center in Rockingham, N.C.

The List

Another phrase commonly used by insurers is “That shop isn’t on our list.” While a simple statement of fact, it steers the consumer to a shop the insurer has an agreement with. Rarely, if ever, does the consumer inquire as to why the shop isn’t on the insurer’s list, and even rarer is the consumer who asks what the requirements are to be on such a list. Certainly the insurer doesn’t go to any length to explain why the shop hasn’t been included on the list. It’s even been documented that some insurers have gone as far as stating that “XYZ” insurance won’t be able to service your claim as efficiently if you choose “ABC” shop instead of one on our list.

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What does this mean to the vehicle owner? It could certainly imply the shop they initially chose isn’t as capable of repairing their car. It could also be interpreted to mean that shops on the insurer’s list are somehow better equipped, trained or better able to repair their vehicle. Whatever the interpretation, the end result is often that the consumer chooses a shop that’s on the list.

But is it true? Are shops on the insurers’ lists better equipped? Do they have better trained technicians? Are they more experienced? Not necessarily. More often than not, the criteria for making the list is simple. Normally, the equipment requirements are a unibody/frame machine with measuring capabilities, a paint spraybooth, an A/C evacuating and charging system and, in some cases, wheel alignment capabilities. Usually, the requirements also include a guarantee of the work performed. From a training standpoint, the typical “list” requirement is that at least one technician be either I-CAR trained or ASE certified. Some insurers also require a customer satisfaction program.

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You have all that, and you’re still not on the list? Many (but not all) insurers with a list or DRP also require a discount on labor, frame and refinish rates. Other insurers require a discount on parts to be considered for inclusion on the list. Another area of focus for many (again, not all) insurers is the shop’s willingness to use aftermarket crash repair parts.

Is the consumer ever educated about these requirements? Of course not, at least not by the insurer. But the implication is clear, and the end result is even clearer: If you don’t take the time to educate potential customers, they’ll likely go to a shop on “The List.”

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