I once argued with an English teacher about whether popular use could change the definition of a word. “If the majority of any society misuses a word,” she insisted, “that word takes on the new meaning.”
Over the years, I’ve realized that the teacher wasn’t teaching me about English that day as much as she was teaching me about human nature. Popular use tends to define our standards. If the majority of any group of individuals chooses to perform a particular act or procedure incorrectly, the incorrectly performed procedure doesn’t necessarily become correct, but it does become acceptable.
Likewise, shortcuts taken by collision repairmen have been accepted for so many years that they’re now the standard operating procedures of the industry. Slacking off is acceptable behavior according to the superficially trained collision experts employed by insurance companies. “Hacksterism” is blindly encouraged by the lemmings of the collision industry who, for years, have used technicians’ skills and customers’ trust to pander to insurance companies. The drones who shortcut the process are rewarded for the high rate at which they produce.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that collision repair shops are among the most distrusted businesses in the country. The collision industry’s work force has shown a lack of pride in workmanship for years, and a large part of the industry has been apathetic about finding possible solutions to the problem. One out of every four collision repair customers is completely satisfied upon delivery of his vehicle. The rest have to make an additional trip(s) to the shop for corrections. One of the most common customer complaints is improperly aligned sheet metal, which is often a result of improperly repaired/installed structural parts.
As long as the collision industry pays for quantity, quantity will be prioritized. Technicians are motivated to produce high quantity while little or no incentive is offered for quality. While production incentives are instrumental in keeping work moving through the shop, they inherently encourage technicians to find shortcuts in the repair process. The collision industry as a whole – as a shop owner or manager, that includes you – must offer quality incentives to employees if we wish to shed our unfavorable image.
Quantity vs. Quality
Every collision repairer encounters daily opportunities to use shortcuts to complete a repair faster and easier, but the shortcut may reduce the structural integrity of the vehicle. Whether to use the shortcut is an issue each technician must settle with his own conscience as each situation arises. Although many technicians possess the knowledge and the skills to consistently produce repairs of impeccable quality, the motivation to perform such repairs eludes them. For most, the quest to be the best has been crushed between the rock of the man’s financial situation and the hard place of the industry’s unwillingness to provide compensation increases, which coincides with an increase in the cost of living. Collision techs aren’t starving artists. Few are willing to reduce their standards of living for the sake of maintaining a high level of quality in their workmanship. The popularity of impeccable quality repairs cannot rise without an increase in the profitability of such repairs.
A co-worker once explained: “Nobody cares if you do it right. Everybody just wants it to be done fast. Insurance companies want fast repairs so they can save money. Shop owners want fast repairs so they can make money. Customers want their cars back as soon as possible. The guy who accommodates everybody makes the most money.”
This is what your repair technicians are faced with every day.
Another co-worker rationalized his methods with the statement: “In order to make a paycheck, we have to cut corners to save time and then the saved time is deducted from another operation somewhere else, forcing us to find another shortcut.”
But is it really rationalization or is it just a realistic look at the state of our industry?
Strive for Change
Until the insurance industry and the collision industry recognize the need for better quality incentives and compensation for technicians, there will always be a lack of desire to produce the best quality repairs possible.
That’s what you’re faced with every day.
As an industry, we must address this lack of desire by continually striving to increase the popularity and feasibility of top-quality repairs. In order to bring quality to an industry laden with hacksters and shortcutters, you must offer incentives that give technicians the desire to produce only first-class repairs.
The bottom line is that the finest quality repairs should be the most profitable, and the technician producing such repairs should be the coolest dude in the shop. Without these conditions, the definition of “quality collision repair” won’t change – and you’re partly to blame.
Writer Paul Bailey has been a collision repairman for 16 years and is an avid photographer and writer who maintains a consumer-awareness Web page in his spare time. He resides in Florida with his wife, Cathy.