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Discussing the Shop-Insurer Relationship with Clients

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​Bill Sefcek has worked in and around the collision repair industry for nearly 50 years now. He spent 14 years in body shops, spent a short stint working for State Farm, and now provides consulting for body shops. 

Looking back on his five decades in the industry, Sefcek, the president of Stan Mitchell Enterprises, knows there were times in which the relationship between body shops and insurers was stronger than it is now. That’s not to say that fences can’t be mended, though, at least to an extent—and they need to be, otherwise consumers will suffer. 

Body shops and insurers are destined for occasional conflict, Sefcek says, because insurance adjusters are largely employed to control costs. But, he adds “it’s still a relationship business.” And, obviously, shop staff can come off as unprofessional if they badmouth insurers to clients. 

“It’s about delivering the promise made to the customer,” Sefcek adds. “It’s all about customer service.” 

So, how can fences be mended between body shops and insurers? For starters, shop staff need to attempt to empathize with the likes of insurance adjusters, says Gary Bagwell, a man who, like Sefcek, has worked for both body shops and insurers over the course of a lengthy career. 

“Most insurers have never walked in the shoes of body men or the shop owner,” notes Bagwell, who currently serves as the manager of operations for Fix Auto USA, but worked in both the independent body shop and insurance realms earlier in his 34-year career. 

“Likewise,” he says, “most shop owners have never walked in the shoes of the insurer. And, if you’re in that conversation every single day, it can get tough … that conversation goes on so long that it starts to get frayed.” 

“You have to consider all aspects: [Insurers] have a business to run. The consumer wants their car back. You, as a body shop operator, are trying to run a business. How do you all play in that sandbox together is what’s important.” 

Ultimately, he notes, shops need to be professional when discussing the shop-insurer relationship with customers. Below are Bagwell and Sefcek’s suggestions for doing just that.

Set expectations. 

First and foremost, shop employees need to assure customers that repair work will eventually be thoroughly performed, at a level both the facility and insurers deem appropriate. 

“Educate the customer of the reasoning supporting the tasks, procedures, and materials,” Sefcek says. 

He also stresses the importance of setting expectations for customers, and making sure that they’re fully aware of their insurance policy. It’s also important, of course, to let clients know that you’ll keep them informed of any pertinent updates during the repair process. 

“Ask the customer to contact their insurance representative to explain their ‘full coverage’ to them,” Sefcek suggests. “The customer needs to be clear where their policy ends and their responsibility starts before entering into the repair process.” 

The industry consultant also feels it’s important to avoid using much collision repair industry jargon when speaking with customers. 

“Look to identify what the customer does [for a living] and how you can correlate that to the repair process,” he says. “Even if the customer works at home, they know the difference between products that work and those that don’t, items that hold up and don’t, cost and value. Leverage this insight. By reading the customer, you can offer them an analogy of how this fits in their world.” 

Communicate consistently. 

Bagwell is a firm believer that shops, when speaking to customers about insurance coverage, need to make sure each employee is on the same page. That way, the facility can deliver a consistent message. 

“When having discussions,” he says, “bring everybody into the loop—technicians, estimators, CSRs.

“Everybody’s going to have their biases to some extent, but we generally understand that we have these working partnerships with insurers, and we have to manage all of these relationships. [Ask insurance adjusters], ‘Hey, how are you doing? It’s good to see you. What’s up? What can we help you with?’” 

Sefcek feels it’s important to let a customer service representative—an employee who’s typically approachable, easy-going, and separated from the shop floor—handle discussions of the shop-insurer relationship with customers. 

Steer clear of negativity. 

A shop employee’s comments about insurers should never get personal, Bagwell warns. Such negativity won’t present a shop in a positive, professional light. 

“If you want to try and foster any kind of better relationship for tomorrow, the day after, or the month after that, just refrain from any negativity,” he says. Insurance adjusters “are going to be there tomorrow. They’re still going to be selling policies. You’re still going to get cars into your shop, and any of that negativity will blow back on you eventually.” 

Sefcek feels it’s important for shops to explain to customers what they can typically expect from specific insurers. 

“Let them know, based on experience, what may come into question when working with the company responsible for paying the bill,” the industry consultant says. “Given the specific insurance company at hand, explain what’s to be expected, before and after the repair process.” 

Take the High Road. 

It’s important to remember, Bagwell notes, that it’ll reflect poorly on your business if you badmouth insurers. It’s best to step back and attempt to sound eager to work with all parties involved. 

As a shop operator, Bagwell says, “Everyday I need to walk into this relationship anew, with a fresh perspective and hope that we can find some middle ground. 

“At the end of the day, you don’t want to be the issue, you want to be the resolution. So just be professional in all aspects.”  

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