When State Farm announced its switch to Select Service in 2006, Gus Mallios had a business decision to make. The new Select Service agreement asked that shops match rates and discounts equal to the lowest rates and/or highest discounts they were giving to other customers. Mallios, owner of the multi-location Summit Collision Centers in Columbia, South Carolina, realized that when those rates and discounts were applied to an additional 40 percent of his business, he could not afford to do that. Therefore, he decided to remove his shops from Allstate’s PRO Program.
According to Mallios, Allstate didn’t want Summit to leave its program, citing that Summit handled a substantial number of cars for it, cycled them quickly and did quality work. A lower parts discount and increased labor rates in certain areas were agreed upon, and Summit remained on the program. However, Summit’s regular PRO Shop representative, who described his relationship with Mallios and Summit as “fine” and “cooperative,” retired and things started to change.
“Shortly thereafter, we began to receive negative surveys and we were also told our numbers were really slipping,” says Mallios. “I instructed my general manager to pay particular attention to the results and see what was going on. He reported that our cycle time had actually improved and comebacks were practically nonexistent. Plus, he personally called numerous customers who had given us poor ratings on Allstate’s surveys, only to find out that practically all of them said that they hadn’t understood the question or the response on the survey was not what they had said.”
It was Mallios’ opinion that, by criticizing the biggest and best collision repair shop in Columbia, the new PRO Shop rep was out to make a name for himself. Shortly after the negative surveys came back, Mallios says two of his shops were temporarily suspended from the program because they were supposedly in the bottom 10 percent of the shops in their areas.
According to Mallios, a meeting with PRO Shop reps to discuss the situation led to nothing, and he decided that he would remove all his shops from the PRO Program.
And that’s when he says the steering began.
“Allstate immediately began trying to steer customers away from us, even to the point of calling people who vehicles were already at our shops and trying to encourage them to move their cars to another shop,” he says. “Customers whose vehicles were towed to our shops at their request were also quickly encouraged to move their vehicles and told a variety of negative comments about our facilities.”
Mallios says one customer was told that if she took her vehicle to a shop other than Summit, there would be a guarantee, implying that Summit offered no guarantee. After insisting she wanted Summit to do the repairs, Mallios says Allstate told her his shop was backed up and wasn’t taking on any more work. Also, he says she was told the repair would take longer.
Mallios says another customer was told Summit was taken off the PRO Program due to bad work and named another shop that could do a better job for her.
Mallios continues to document cases where Allstate has given misleading and/or false information to consumers with the intention of steering business away from his shops. He has also contacted the South Carolina Insurance Regulatory Agency and also the South Carolina Consumer Protection Agency, which advised him to write letters to Allstate’s upper management to let them know what’s going on.
“Since we’re no longer a PRO Shop, I wouldn’t expect Allstate to encourage its customers to use my shops for their repairs,” Mallios says. “However, I do expect that when someone tells Allstate that she wants her vehicle repaired by us, it accepts that and doesn’t try to steer her to another facility.”
“Attacking my business and my personal reputation is a very serious issue and one I don’t take lightly,” Mallios says. “I have built my business on doing very good quality work in a timely manner, and I will put our true statistics and reputation up against any other shops in all of South Carolina.”
Mallios says he intends on retaining a lawyer and building a case again Allstate.
“If I get them in a courtroom in front of a jury of my peers, they won’t like what happens,” he says. “If they want to fight, I’ll fight them, and I don’t care how much money or time it takes.”
Allstate Southeast Region spokesperson Shane Robinson had this to say about Mallios’ allegations:
“It is Allstate’s policy that the customer has final choice on the shop they wish to utilize for repairs to their vehicle. Allstate will always honor a customer’s choice of shops. While the company does provide information on member shops within our Priority Repair Option (PRO) network, it is against company policy to engage in steering customers away from their shop selections. Because it is against company policy, Allstate take these types of accusations seriously, and would be happy to investigate the matter if Mr. Mallios would provide us with the names of the customers he feels were pressured to leave his shop; however, without more specific information, we’re unable to investigate his claims.
“Mr. Mallios has suggested that Allstate asked customers leading questions in order to manufacture declining customer satisfaction and cycle time statistics to push him from the program. Allstate employs an independent third-party to question our PRO customers about their experience. It uses the same questions for every PRO program customer, every time. Furthermore, the people who ask the questions are located across the country and wouldn’t know Mr. Mallios’ shop from any other shop in program.
“Allstate’s Priority Repair Option (PRO) program helps the company ensure that the highest standards of customer service, repair quality, cycle time and estimate metrics are followed by our PRO partners. This helps us to ensure a consistently positive customer experience for Allstate’s customers while simultaneously ensuring the highest quality repair at a cost-effective rate.”