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Educating Customers

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The days after a wreck can be a trying and difficult time for customers. Aside from dealing with a damaged vehicle, they might not understand the claims process, which can add worry to a situation that’s already emotionally stressful. Shops can relieve some of that customer stress by offering guidance throughout the process.

A lot of shops think their only responsibility is to physically fix cars and let insurers deal with customers, says Bob Falco, director of insurance relations for Car-Part.com. But customers perceive shops to be an extension of insurance companies, and an arm of the claims process.

That means shops are partners with insurance companies during repairs. Customers need to understand how you’re going to work with them and their insurer to get their car repaired. So it’s important for shops to provide information and assistance to customers about the process.

“It’s the level of service you offer that customers remember. Convenience is just as important as quality.”   
—Matt Thornton, owner,
Parks Royal Body Works

Many shops are hesitant to handle insurance-related conversations on behalf of customers. But customers just want to drop their car off at your shop, pick it up after the repair, and not worry about anything in between, says Matt Thornton, owner of Parks Royal Body Works in Boise, Idaho. Educating customers on the insurance process, and negotiating repairs on their behalf, is a level of service your customers will remember.

Educate the Customer

Thornton says about half of his customers are nervous about the claims process, and don’t know how to handle it.

“Customers often walk into our shop timidly because they have never dealt with the process before, or at least not in a very long time,” Thornton says. “And if it’s been a while, insurance processes have likely changed since their prior experience.”

Insurers should be able to explain to their clients what to expect when it comes to the repair, Falco says. But once the car gets to your shop, it’s important for you to reinforce the information. Inform customers about process flow, cycle time and how you work in tandem with the insurance company.

“That helps alleviate some of the customer’s apprehensiveness,” Falco says. “It gives the customer a warm and fuzzy feeling that they’re in good hands.”

Thornton does exactly that with the following tactics:

• Informs customers about the entire process flow, and how the shop works with the insurer.

• Educates customers on their legal rights regarding choosing a repair shop according to state laws.

• Educates customers on pros, cons and issues surrounding aftermarket parts.

• Lets customers know they’re not bound by law to accept repairs as the insurer might request.

• Offers assistance with a rental vehicle for the duration of the repair.

This customer educational session certainly isn’t required—or expected—from Thornton. But he says it’s one benefit he can offer to customers that sets him apart from competitors.

Thornton says no other shops in his area voluntarily offer that information. In fact, he says at least one customer a month has their car towed out of another shop and into his because that shop didn’t offer any guidance.

The extra service appeals to customers and provides them with a memorable experience, Thornton says. And that’s critical to keep your shop top-of-mind so customers keep coming back.

“It’s the level of service you offer that customers remember,” Thornton says. “Convenience is just as important as quality.”

Of course, your staff needs to know what they’re talking about to make this work, Thornton says. They need to be familiar with customer rights and insurance laws in your state to properly educate customers. You can’t start giving people information if you’re not 100 percent sure
it’s accurate.

Negotiate Repairs

Thornton says it’s beneficial to handle insurer conversations and negotiations on the customer’s behalf, too.

“We try to isolate customers from negotiations about the repair,” he says. “We want them to let us deal with it because we’re the professionals and know how to handle those situations.”

Customers don’t know enough to have those conversations, Thornton adds. They generally don’t understand what to negotiate—like repair versus replace issues or parts issues, for example. And they don’t have the expertise to make those decisions—which ultimately affects the cost of their claim.

“Shops are better suited to explain to insurers why certain repairs need to be done,” Falco says. “The customer doesn’t understand those things, and doesn’t need to be involved in those conversations.”

The conversations themselves are more efficient because the shop and insurer each know what one other is talking about, without having customers relay information back and forth, Falco adds.

In addition, Thornton says a lot of customers aren’t good about returning phone calls to the insurer. Things often get held up because insurers have to wait for calls back. That can be eliminated if shops take the lead with insurer communications.

By doing so, Thornton says he’s able to get the repair process started faster. That’s because he’s able to contact the appropriate insurance adjuster once he has the customer’s claim number. For example, instead of calling the insurance company’s national claims office to get an adjuster to the shop, Thornton can call the company’s local adjuster directly.

Thornton also knows which independent appraisers handle each insurance company’s business. He’s able to contact them directly to get communications started immediately and estimates approved faster.

“This decreases the amount of work customers have to do to get their car repaired,” Thornton says. The customer convenience factor is tremendous because they typically don’t have to do anything after dropping their keys off.

Thornton’s customers don’t even have to worry about payment of their repair. He has every customer sign a direction of pay authorization so insurers send payments directly to the shop without using the customer as a middleman.

If you plan to negotiate repairs on the customer’s behalf, Thornton cautions to first understand your state laws so you’re not found in violation of practicing law without a license. Depending on your state, you may need to have customers sign a power of attorney form in order to act on their behalf.

Solid Service

Thornton admits that lending a hand to customers throughout the claims process can be stressful at times. It creates more administrative work and hand-holding on the shop’s end. But the improvement in customer service makes the added effort worthwhile.

“You can see the relief in people’s faces when we mention we’ll help with the claims process,” Thornton says. He advertises the service on his website and some customers choose his shop specifically for that reason. 

Thornton has noticed the customer appreciation on customer service indexing (CSI) surveys, which routinely hover around 97 percent.

“Several customers every month leave comments specifically about their happiness with our insurance assistance,” Thornton says. “They say it’s really nice to have someone else handle the process.”

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