We have a list of five companies here …”
Sound familiar? Like … oh, let’s say … the word track an insurer uses to influence a vehicle owner to go to a preferred shop? But what if the roles were reversed? What if, instead, it’s the word track a shop owner uses to influence a vehicle owner to go to a better insurer?
“Impossible,” you say. “That’ll happen when pigs fly and hell freezes over.”
Don’t look now, but I believe there’s a pig hovering outside your office window … and he’s holding a sign that reads: Don’t pack sandals. Hell has frozen.
Yes, it’s true. There’s a shop owner out there who steers customers to more agreeable insurers. Three C Auto Body owner Bob Juniper – infamous for his direct marketing to consumers and “take no BS from insurers” stance – has assumed a unique strategy: If he finds an insurance company difficult to deal with, he influences customers to change carriers.
“Like insurers have a word track to steer people, we have a word track to at least get them to shop around,” says Juniper. “The insurers that screw with us lose.”
Juniper’s word track goes something like: “We don’t have many problems with most insurers, but your insurance company is really giving us a hard time, and I don’t know why. They must not value your business very much. You know, we have a list of five companies here. I can fax it to you. I’d recommend you shop around a little bit.” And then he throws in something like, “You know, a lot of people call me back to tell me thanks. They not only got better insurance, but it was $100 cheaper.”
Juniper’s strategy is effective (he’s cost insurers customers), but only because he’s done such an excellent job of educating the public in his markets. “How do I get away with steering?” Juniper asks. “It all comes back to my marketing. People in Central Ohio trust Three C from what I’ve said on the radio. They know what we talk about, which is the poor settlement process and how poorly insurers settle claims. … For example, I talk about HMOs and PPOs and tie them in with collision repair by saying things like, ‘If they’ll short cut the health of a human being, what do you think they’re doing to your vehicle, which is just a chunk of steel to them?’ … If the public didn’t trust me, I couldn’t get way with recommending insurance companies because they’d think I have some deal with the insurer I was recommending. But they know better.”
Juniper’s steering strategy is also proof that shop owners can dish it out, instead of always being the ones to take it. Case in point: In the aftermath of Allstate acquiring Sterling, many independent and dealership PRO shops in Sterling markets have received notification that Allstate is severing its ties with them so it can send its repair work exclusively to Sterling. Basically, Allstate will be steering to Sterling.
“This change,” says a PRO shop manager who’s not currently in a Sterling market, “may not be so bad if shops prepare themselves. Most, if not all, insurers that had DRPs with Sterling have pulled the plug. … Shops need to develop their relationships with other carriers as soon as they can. Other DRPs pay better rates and require less administrative support than Allstate’s program so, in effect, other DRPs are more profitable anyway.”
That’s one way to look at it: Get on other DRPs. But isn’t that like losing your front tooth and replacing it with a piece of bubble gum? Does this “quick fix”really solve the problem? That gum probably won’t hold forever, and in the meantime, you’re going to look ridiculous in family portraits.
Non-DRPers – like Juniper – say the problem isn’t Allstate (or State Farm or whoever); it’s shop owners who rely too heavily on DRPs. “Don’t put all your eggs in that basket,” says Juniper. “Have a backup plan because you can lose the deal tomorrow and it can be out of your control – like this Allstate situation. You’re not in control of your business. Insurers are.”
How do you get control, regardless of whether you’re a DRP or non-DRP shop owner? Advertise. Educate the public. Teach them. Tell them the truth. Get them on your side. Get them to want to come to your shop. And once that happens, says Juniper, you have nothing to fear … except for maybe your spouse and your in-laws.
Editor Georgina Kajganic can be reached at [email protected]