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The Future Is Here

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

Search engine optimization. Social networking. Repair status tracking. System integration. Hearing these terms thrown around, I half wondered if I had wandered into the wrong conference – perhaps an annual gathering of Silicon Valley tycoons talking Internet technology. But no, a glance at a lighted projection on the wall confirmed that I was indeed at the PPG MVP North American Business Solutions Fall Conference. And Bill Gates was nowhere in sight, only collision repairers as far as the eye could see.

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“People are going to take pictures of the damage on their vehicles, post them online and ask, ‘How much is this going to cost me?’” Frank Terlep boldly declared. Terlep is CEO of Summit Software and Mobile Solutions and was part of a panel discussion on the future of the collision repair industry and what role technology and information systems will play. Terlep added later that only 1 percent of shops are taking advantage of the technology available to them.

On the subject of taking digital photos and posting them to a website so that customers can track repairs, two shop owners had mixed thoughts.

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“It’s a cost and a waste, but in the end, if it helps the customer experience, your CSI score goes up,” said Jim Guthrie, CEO of Carcrafters, the largest collision repair facility in New Mexico.

Will Johnson, CEO of AutoBody America, has this repair status tracking technology in six shops. He said, “If it’s not fully integrated, it becomes a disservice. You’re telling your customer something, and if you don’t come through on that promise, you’re worse off than you were before.”

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Insurers are utilizing technology to track more closely how shops are performing, which many repairers feel will determine how many cars they may get tomorrow. Those shops that can most easily and accurately track their performance metrics on every vehicle they touch will be in the best position to succeed in the future.

“If you’re already up to these standards, we can transition to a shop that much faster,” admitted Tracy Tramm, market claims manager for Allstate. She added later that Allstate doesn’t want to “flood” a market if there isn’t enough work there but rather search for shops that are “doing good work” and “servicing the customer.”

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In regard to performance metrics, AutoBody America’s Johnson said, “You’ve got to be improving and measuring it. Make a tweak to a car and put it back on track and see if it works. Change and measure, change and measure. And then use technology to see if your methods are working.”

Scott Klososky, a former CEO of three successful startup companies who has a knack for looking over the horizon to see how technology will change the world, was the keynote speaker for the conference. He implored repairers to embrace social media and know what people are saying about their shops online. He said people are increasingly searching for shops online instead of through a paper directory – and they’re also announcing their bad experiences (if they have one) to the entire world.

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Nary a whisper was heard about insurer interference or the good ol’ days and how we need to bring them back. The sole focus was on the reality of how things are today and what shops can control in order to keep their businesses thriving. And that was refreshing.

Perhaps Carcrafters’ Guthrie summed it up best: “The entire industry is evolving so fast, it’s hard to keep up. But you have to. It’s all about cost, quality, speed and customer satisfaction. The guy who gets the closest to that wins.”

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