Educating Customers about Collision Repair
Doug Martin, the president of the Indiana Auto Body Association, has noticed an unsettling trait among many collision repair customers these days.
All too often, Martin says, a look of confusion is etched on body shop customers’ faces, as they come to the realization that their required repair is going to be far more complicated than just paint and body filler.
“On a regular basis we have vehicle owners stunned at the prices of repairs,” says Martin, the general manager of Martin’s Body Shop in New Salisbury, Ind. “A [recent] scenario was a 2018 Toyota Camry where a tree limb fell through the windshield and the dash, damaging the passenger air bag and radio internally.
“The radio is $5,900. This customer was blown away; we had to explain to him how connected this piece is to the functioning of the electronics and driver-convenience features”
In 2019, vehicles are more complex and confusing than ever due to ever-evolving technology, and, as a result, body shop patrons often don’t know what they don’t know.
Martin feels body shop employees need to step in and educate customers. He feels shop employees should strive to serve as an expert resource for customers, to guide them through the repair process.
“The industry as a whole, we’re so focused on the day to day of making those repairs,” Martin says, “that we haven’t put enough effort into the education piece.”
Because the typical driver visits a body shop just once every seven years or so, they often arrive at facilities like Martin’s Indiana shop largely clueless about required repair processes.
“And a lot of the time, because of the accident, [collision repair customers] aren’t thinking through everything,” notes Martin. “They feel that, ‘Well, my insurance company’s just going to take care of it.’ So, generally, they’re pretty oblivious to it. … So, they don’t think to ask questions.”
Evolving technology has brought about the advent of collision repair elements like photo estimating in recent years. And, in Martin’s experience, such innovations have made the relationship between collision repairers and their customers all the more impersonal—a fact that can make it difficult for shops to enlighten clients.
“Now, with photo estimating, a lot of times [customers] don’t really speak with someone to turn a claim in,” Martin says. “And, the next thing you know, they send in some photos and a check shows up with no communication about what that means.
“And that’s where we, as the shop, have to help bridge that gap so that they can understand it.”
At Martin’s Body Shop—which boasts a CSI score of 98, and an annual revenue of $2 million—employees are encouraged to explain to clients that their shop is simply following manufacturers’ preferred repair procedures.
“We try to use similar words as what OEMs would put in their processes,” Martin explains. “Say, for parts usage we would follow whatever that OEM would specify for that type of repair. And, we basically just put it into lay terms for them, that, ‘Hey, this is how this particular manufacturer wants these parts used—they’ve been tested, they’ve been approved and been validated by that OEM.
“The more information that we can give [customers] to build that trust, the more comfortable they feel,” Martin says.
THE INSURANCE ISSUE
At Ed Griffin’s body shop, he sees shock and awe on a daily basis.
“Customers, you tell them we’ve got to do a diagnostic scan on their car, and they’re shocked,” says Griffin, co-owner of Griffin Paint & Body in Winnsboro, Texas, whose facility has an ARO of $3,000. “They say ‘a computer scan? On a car repair?’
“They’re totally unaware as to the true cost of what these expensive ‘computers on wheels’ are nowadays.”
But, as baffled as the average customer is about the price of diagnostic scanning, just as many are completely in the dark about making an insurance claim.
“We probably spend more time preparing them as to what to expect with their insurance company―what the norm is for them to proceed once the agent has contacted them,” says Griffin, a veteran of 37 years in the auto industry.
“Getting them educated with the process of the insurance company, I feel like that’s where we spend 95 percent of our time.”
Upon arrival at Griffin Paint & Body, patrons are initially asked to fill out a customer information, form which asks if they’ll be filing an insurance claim and, if so, which insurance company they’ll be using.
Griffin feels compelled to let customers know that, if they want a proper repair performed on their vehicle, then they might eventually be required to pay more than their deductible, invoke the appraisal clause portion of their auto policy, or … prepare for a potential legal matter.
“We just can’t sugarcoat it for the customers, even though we’d love to not have to implement any of those options,” Griffin notes. “We have quite a few potential customers that become discouraged when they hear these options, though.”
Insurance companies, Griffin adds, are businesses that need to worry about their bottom line. Thus, insurers tend to try and exhaust all avenues to keep claims costs reined in.
Griffin, whose shop is entering its fourth decade in operation this year, says he rarely sees scanning accounted for on initial estimates from insurers, for example, despite the fact body shops often deem it a necessary element of vehicles’ repair process.
“So,” Griffin says, “we immediately try to educate the customer. … to inform them that their insurance carrier may not take care of them fully and make their car whole again without intervention from them—where the customer gets involved to get that procedure paid for.
“[Insurers] do tend to listen to the customer if they know the customer is a little insistent on a procedure.”
Griffin begins guiding potential customers by frequently updating his shop’s Facebook page with educational material like quick-hitting videos or posts that stress the staff’s experience and technological know-how.
In his experience, the more his staff can enlighten and inform clients, the quicker they’ll grasp the complexity of modern collision repair.
“It’s a great thing, to educate and to gain knowledge,” he says. “The more we can educate people, the better off we’ll all be [in the collision repair industry], and [customers] will understand and not oppose us.
“Acceptance comes with understanding, and that’s where we’re at with customers; if we can
get them to understand, then the more they’ll accept.
“I wish the industry, as a whole, could reach out and educate customers that most repair
shops are there to get their vehicle restored back to its pre-accident condition—we’re not trying to rip anybody off. … We just want to be paid for what we do, and to be able to perform that repair in the manner it needs to be.”
THE LESSON PLAN
The message was nothing out of the ordinary, yet it caught the ear of an unintended target.
Burl Richards, who owns collision repair facilities in both Texas and Louisiana, was recently explaining the concept of diminished value to an elderly client. That customer’s son had been saddled with a damaged vehicle at his household one year prior, as well, and and he now lamented the fact he hadn’t known about diminished value claims earlier.
But Richards, the president of the Auto Body Association of Texas, had good news for the young man.
“I said, ‘In most states—in Texas, for one, you’ve got up to two years to make a diminished value claim, and, in some states even longer,’” Richards recalls. “'So you could still pursue it.'”
The young man was blown away.
That’s just one example, Richards says, of how surprisingly uninformed many collision repair customers are. That’s why Richards, whose business boasts a 97 CSI score, has made it his mission to teach visitors at his facility.
“The first objective on us,” he says, “is to educate the customer, and to explain to the customer what they can expect.”
“If we can educate them on the front end, we have a lot better closing rate. … At the end of the day, if you’re explaining this to customers up front, and you’re explaining the process as you go through, that really affects your CSI score.”
Richards has found that a 5–10 minute conversation between an estimator and a client can, indeed, make a significant impact at a body shop.
So, in recent months, the shop owner has refined his business’s process for giving customers a crash course on collision repair. The way Richards sees it, the key steps are as follows:
1. Utilize Marketing Measures.
In recent years, many body shop operators have taken measures to express to customers through marketing campaigns exactly why pre- and post-repair inspections and scans are necessary—namely, because of the vehicle safety they help ensure. Richards is also a believer in such tactics.
Shops’ Facebook pages can provide a cost-effective way to spread the word about a facility’s thorough safety measures. Additionally, many shop operators find radio ads to be as effective as ever at spreading the message that their shop is OEM certified and takes customers’ safety seriously.
2. Clarify Who’s at Fault.
Once a customer has arrived at Burl’s Collision Center’s doorstep, estimators are instructed to get clarification from clients as to who was at fault in their accident.
“Our estimators, at the point of contact with the customer,” Richards explains, “once they go greet a customer up front, that’s when they’ll have that conversation—you know, ‘Is it on your insurance company, [or] is someone else at fault?’”
3. Define OEM and Aftermarket Parts.
A surprising amount of collision repair customers are unaware of the differences between OEM parts and aftermarket parts. So, Richards suggests providing clients with clear, detailed definitions of those terms.
“We explain to them that, if we’re writing the estimate,we’re going to write it for all OEM parts,” Richards says, “and we’re going to explain to them if your insurance policy allows you to have aftermarket parts or what they define as an LKQ part, this is what they are.”
4. Explain Diminished Value Claims.
Over the years, Richards has had a few customers receive more than $5,000 of diminished value after their vehicle was repaired, due to diminished value stipulations. And what better way to get in customers’ good graces than by saving them significant sums of money?
“We explain to them that, if they’re insured, in the event that their vehicle may total, that they also have options through the appraisal clause,” Richards notes. For example, if customers “feel like they’re not being treated fairly or getting fair compensation for their vehicle, they have options. We’ve had customers that received as much as $6,000 diminished value.”
5. Make Information Easy to Absorb.
Considering many collision repair customers are rather shaken up in the wake of their accident, or frustrated, Richards seeks to inform them of the overall collision repair process painlessly. That’s why, in early 2018, he had his employees show customers educational information on a large flat-screen TV in his shops’ customer lounge. Via a connected thumb drive, customers are provided with pertinent information such as how insurance policies typically work, which Richards says often sparks positive conversations.
“We explain to them, ‘the insurance company has already written an estimate, and there’s a really good chance that there’s going to be some supplemental damage,’” he says.
6. Preach the Study of Policies.
All too often, Richards hears visitors to his facility lament the fact that they didn’t read their insurance policy completely. Occasionally, clients haven’t read their policy at all. That notion makes Richards cringe.
“We tell the customers, ‘Listen, talk to your agent; the insurance company might offer a writer,’” he notes. “Or, [the insurance company] might offer a policy that provides OEM parts.”
Educating customers isn’t always easy, Richards acknowledges, considering customers often lack patience. Yet, it’s a worthy pursuit that can pay dividends down the line.
“At the end of the day, we just want the customer to know that we’re working for them,” Richards says. “Educating the customer, if you do that on the front end, before the insurance company’s got an opportunity to sell their goods, then you have a lot better success.
“Here’s what it does: it lets the customer know you’re looking out for their best interests.”