CE Classes in the Modern Era

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Earlier in his career, Brent Beaulieu had a hard time seeing eye to eye with insurance agents.

Over a decade ago, while he worked in upper management at a body shop in Duluth, Ga., Beaulieu often saw his shop miss the mark when it attempted to reach out to new insurers, too.

“In the past, people handed out candy and donuts or whatever, but, honestly, when [insurance agents] leave, that just gets eaten and thrown away,” Beaulieu explains.

Then, roughly six years ago, Beaulieu became part of the solution. As continuing education (or “CE”) classes grew in popularity, he began spending his workdays with his new coworkers at Axalta Coating Systems, training body shop managers to give certification classes to insurance agents.

Suddenly, the distance between body shops and insurers didn’t seem so vast. Solid professional relationships formed far more quickly than before. And, shop operators were able to better set customers’ expectations once they started to see eye-to-eye with insurers and get a grasp for the agents’ line of thinking.

By teaching CE classes, Beaulieu discovered, body shops could “get exposure, and get the agents to the shop, where they might never have stepped foot in there before.

“Finding a way to build a relationship with an agent, this is how you would do it.”

Being Held Back.  

Back when he worked at that body shop in Georgia, Beaulieu often watched as insurance agents treated his coworkers impersonally. The business relationship between body shop and insurers was often rather icy.

Instead of working in unison, caring for customers impacted by nerve-wracking car accidents, the two parties had fairly indifferent business interactions.

“At the end of the day, they had a job to do, and we did also,” Beaulieu recalls of working with insurers at that high-volume, DRP-heavy facility in Duluth. “I just don’t think, back then, they were even that focused on continuing education.”

Making the Grade.

By 2012, Beaulieu notes, the collision repair industry had caught on to an innovative way to form partnerships with insurers. By hosting continuing education classes, body shops coaxed agents into serving as a captive audience.

And then they largely won the insurers over, building stronger business relationships while also casting a wider net to new, prospective insurance partners.

While many agents opt to take CE classes online, the ones that do attend classes at body shops seem to find the experience rewarding, Beaulieu notes.

“Once we got them in, they were surprisingly shocked with how much they didn’t know,” explains Beaulieu, who trained body shop managers to lead the educational sessions.

“I think the agents appreciated the fact that we were able to provide them some information about the vehicles up front, prior to the time that they might have been out there writing an estimate on it; they were able to get some insight ahead of time.”

In recent years, Beaulieu observed insurance agents become more engrossed in learning the technology-heavy elements of modern collision repair.

“By getting insurance agents to the shop, that gives us an opportunity to have them see the technology,” he says. “Because a lot of these CE classes are geared toward restraint systems or the future safety of vehicles.

“We can show them how an airbag works, how autonomous driving works. And then the insurance agents say, in turn, ‘You know what? I’ve been to that shop before; maybe I’m going to send them some work.’”

While helping set up CE courses, and even teaching the occasional class to insurers himself, Beaulieu learned a few strategies that make the entire process go smoothly. 

Have marketers spread the word. Beaulieu’s current employer, Axalta, utilizes a third-party company to send out invitations for CE classes that its partner body shops are set to host. Such marketing companies typically have access to lists of area insurance agents, and are willing to handle the entire signup process for the certification courses. Often, they’ll even create a website to aid the signup process.

Use real-life examples. Rather than recite nothing but course text, the Axalta trainer has found that CE instructors tend to lead the most spirited classes when they illustrate real-life scenarios to hammer home lessons. Because providing real-life scenarios can help a body shop operator and insurance agent reach common ground and see eye-to-eye. “Build in life stories,” Beaulieu suggests. “About maybe a life situation where [the instructor] was in an accident, and what happened and how it was handled.”

Break up the monotony. At the CE classes he has helped lead, Beaulieu has noted that attendees tend to pay closer attention when they’re kept on their toes. That’s why he suggests offering agents plenty of hands-on opportunities in the shop, and bringing in speakers like local law enforcement officials during ethics courses, for example.

And, Beaulieu notes, “as technology changes, the [course] content needs to stay relevant to the times, to provide up-to-date knowledge to the agent; this not only keeps the agent engaged but educated.”

Lessons Learned.  

His time working with Axalta has proven to Beaulieu, once and for all, that body shops and insurers can coexist quite peacefully. And productively.

While helping lead CE classes, Beaulieu noticed right from the start that they had an impact on both body shop managers and the agents in attendance. Everyone seemed to benefit.

By hosting and leading CE classes, for example, shop operators often became an important resource for insurance agents.

“What improves is, [body shops] have built the relationship with all these agents, and the agents will then start calling and asking them when the next classes are,” Beaulieu says.

“Any time you can get the agents into the shop voluntarily—where it’s their choice if they come to your shop and take the continuing education class—it gives you an opportunity to really start building a relationship with them.”

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