This is a great question, and I really wish I had that magic answer you’re looking for. Unfortunately, I don’t – for two reasons.
One, because there is no magic answer, and two, because what you’re really asking is, “How can I get or persuade another human being, in this case, insurance people, to change their behavior?”
You can’t! So, the only way I can try to help you is to get all philosophical on you. I fancy myself to be a closet psychologist. I love the study of human behavior, so I love nothing more than to go to a busy store or park and just watch people interact with each other. It’s interesting to see the different techniques people use to try to persuade other people to do what they want them to do.
In business, as well as in life, there’s nothing more important than understanding the value of interpersonal relationships. Think about this for a second. Everything you’ll ever want in your life, everything – money, sex, love, property – everything already belongs to someone else. Your happiness, love and prosperity will depend upon your interpersonal relationship skills and ability to persuade other people into wanting to give you what you need or want from them.
I’ve lived long enough to understand and believe two things about human behavior. First, I can’t do a damn thing to change another person’s behavior. Second, I get from other people that which I tolerate. Or to put it another way, people learn how to behave toward me in the way I have allowed them to behave or in the way in which I’ve conditioned them to behave.
You Condition People’s Behavior
Want proof? Next time you go to the supermarket, do some people-watching at the checkout counters. Watch the little boy who’s been behaving perfectly while shopping the food aisles with his mother. But when they reach the checkout counter, watch what happens when he asks his mom if he can have a candy bar.
When she politely explains that it’s too close to dinnertime and that he can’t have the candy bar, the kid flips out. Why? This is a great little boy. He does awesome in school and is a very polite kid. So why has he blown a gasket over a candy bar?
Simple. His mother has taught him or conditioned him that when he behaves that way, he gets what he wants.
And what does she get? Embarrassed or, as I like to say, she gets what she tolerates – and junior gets his candy bar.
Sure it does. And can you blame the little boy? After all, he just played the game by his mother’s rules – the ones she taught him.
Perhaps that’s what’s happening in your business relationships with the insurance industry. You, too, are getting what you tolerate. And perhaps the insurance people are just doing to you what you’ve demonstrated that you’ll put up with.
Of course, human nature being what it is, they keep “experimenting” on you to find out where your real boundaries are – or if you even have any at all.
What I’m talking about here is respect. Actually, self-respect. How can I expect another person to respect me, as a professional businessperson, if I don’t respect myself enough to have defined business boundaries that include setting expectations for how business will be conducted in my own store?
These are the reasonable expectations by which every other business in America operates. These are what our customers expect from us as professionals. These are what they’re already getting at every other successful business and therefore are conditioned to expect from a professional collision repair company as well.
Even the insurance people who behave unprofessionally toward you wouldn’t put up with it for a second in their own private lives. Just ask them.
Would they allow a construction company to start work on their home without a written appraisal of what the work will cost up front and then not receive an itemized invoice when the work was completed and paid for? I doubt it!
Would they accept that the promised delivery date wouldn’t be met because one of the construction company’s subcontractors hasn’t completed the paperwork yet? Of course not. That would be considered ridiculous in any other industry.
These are the same rules and professional business practices we must expect every vendor, supplier, employee and insurer to follow because these are our policies. Our goal, as professionals, is the complete satisfaction of our mutual customer – who, by the way, is the person who really sets the expectations for both the insurer and the repairer.
Some argue that collision repair and insurance coverage have become commodities. If that’s true, then how can any insurer, or you as a repairer, differentiate yourselves from your competitors in any other way than by making a superior customer-service offering? You can’t. Neither can the insurance industry.
What our customer’s are really buying from us is trust. Not only trust in our abilities as expert collision repair people to restore their vehicles back to pre-accident operation, safety and value, but trust that we also have the professional skills to negotiate a fair settlement with their insurer, on their behalf, that we have the professional skills to keep our promised delivery dates and that we have the professional business skills needed to stay in business for the future should they ever need our services again or have a warranty issue.
On a side note, I’d bet that if you’re experiencing this problem with receiving insurance-appraisal paperwork on time, you probably also have an even bigger problem with collecting your receivables. Sorry, same story. You get what you tolerate.
We’re the Problem
As you’ve figured out by now, I don’t see this issue being a problem caused by the insurance industry because, “I have seen the enemy and he is us.”
However, I would agree, for example, that the insurance industry believes repairers alone are responsible for reducing cycle times. But until they’re willing to look at their own practices and how they contribute to making the insurance/repair process more difficult and until they recognize that many of their own employees come to work every day with their own personal agendas, repairers may never be able to make the kind of reductions in cycle time that I believe are possible. This is a discussion that we could spend a week on, so let’s get back to the issue at hand.
The place to start is by first determining what you want. What’s your end game? As Dr. Steven Covey wrote in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.”
So, before you go off the deep end and start World War III with the insurance industry, remember one thing: This is the behavior you have encouraged by allowing yourself to tolerate it. This is the way you have conditioned the insurance industry to behave at your store.
Change YOUR Behavior
You cannot control or dictate another human being’s behavior. Rather, you can only modify your own.
- First, establish what your reasonable business boundaries are.
- Next, offer to explain your new company policies and why they’ve been established to the insurance people you do business with. Explain that all you’re trying to do is create an extraordinary customer-care experience and that part of that experience is, as required by state law, producing an itemized final bill for the consumers when they pick up their vehicle. Explain that in order for that to happen, you must have all of the insurance paperwork in your file and it must be correct before the vehicle can be released back to the customer. (As part of your shop’s repair authorization, you should have a line that states that no vehicle will be released without payment in full or without a signed and insurer-accepted direction-to-pay form that the customer has signed authorizing the insurance company to pay the shop directly.)
- Also explain this policy to the customers when they bring their vehicle in for repairs. Educate customers that your responsibility is to restore their vehicle back to pre-accident operation, safety and value and that their insurer’s responsibility is to reimburse them for cost of those repairs. Explain that the cost of those repairs will be documented in the form of the insurance company’s damage appraisal and any subsequent supplemental appraisals if needed and that you must have that documentation before the vehicle can be delivered.
- Keep customers informed of your progress with the repair process and with every communication and interaction you have with his insurer.
- If the insurance appraiser is unwilling to cooperate with you, discuss your policy with his supervisor. Make sure you do everything you can to help the insurance appraiser to be able to do his job right the first time.
Part of our process is to document every conversation, phone call, memo, fax, etc. that we have with both the customer and the insurance appraiser. If the appraiser is trying to undermine the shop, sooner or later, he’ll hang himself. However, it becomes “he said, he said” if the shop hasn’t documented all interaction.
When you have the need to sit down with a supervisor and you have all this documentation – and the appraiser has none – your credibility goes through the roof with the supervisor and he stops treating you like a bodyman and starts treating you like a businessman.
Of course, insurers resent it at first, but as this process becomes part of your shop and they see that you have your stuff together, things begin to change. (Oh, and by the way, since your customers are in tune with what’s going on, the insurer can’t BS them either.)
- Don’t waste appraisers’ time by calling them out to see the supplemental damage until you’ve dismantled the vehicle and have completed writing your final supplement. Have all the correct part prices available. Make sure that you’ve identified 100 percent of all of the damage and assure the insurance appraiser that you won’t need a second supplement, provided the insurance appraiser doesn’t accidentally leave an item off of his supplemental appraisal, causing the need for the process to start all over again.
- When you establish your new rules, be ready to stick to them. Don’t forget, “A rule is only a rule when it has consequences.” Otherwise, it’s just BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.
Sometimes I believe that the entire collision repair industry suffers from an inferiority complex. Maybe that’s because collision repair work can sometimes be dirty work. But that doesn’t mean we are dirt. Break the spell, be proud, be professional, be honest, and have self-respect and professional boundaries. Otherwise, you get what you tolerate.
Writer Bruce King owns four stores on the South Shore of Massachusetts, employs 80 people – including his oldest son – has been in business for 20 years and is a past member of Coyota Vision Group. He’s married and has three children. Says King: “I love life, my wife, my kids and golf. Collision repair is what I do to make a living. It’s not my life. My goal has always been to own my business, not for the business to own me”.