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Every shop using an estimating database knows that the process of creating thorough and accurate labor times can be tough sometimes. Of the countless types of repair jobs you perform, different labor values are issued by the industry’s Information Providers (IPs), including CCC, Mitchell and Audatex. Problem is, some of those labor values aren’t exact. Each IP follows different methodologies for determining them, and they don’t always reflect real world time and requirements. Yet accurate labor rates are critical for shops to create accurate estimates and to reflect what’s really needed to perform a specific repair process. To help address this problem, the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG) debuted last December.

The DEG Web site (degweb.org) was established through a partnership including the Automotive Service Association (ASA), the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP) and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). “They came together to establish this initiative which enables those who use collision repair estimating databases to provide feedback to the Information Providers in a standardized format,” says Aaron Schulenburg, an independent contactor who administers the DEG. “If someone is using an estimating database and finds inaccuracies, errors or areas that need to be clarified, it’s a place where they can submit their inquiry and receive clarification or an answer.”

The DEG, then, is an invaluable tool for shops since it allows them to communicate with IPs in an effort to establish more accurate labor times. Additionally, shops can also submit an inquiry to let an IP know a particular part or part number is missing or inaccurate, further helping to improve the quality and accuracy of the information provided within the estimating database.

REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE

Steve Peek, owner of Collision Works in Roswell and Atlanta, Ga., has been using the DEG for the past several months. The first inquiry he submitted was about a Dodge Caliber. “The labor times were off for the rear door trim panel removal,” he remembers. An IP responded to his inquiry with an adjusted labor rate that reflected the proper time needed to complete the repair. “We’ve submitted others since then, and it’s been done well. It’s great for the industry, and it’s a whole lot easier,” he says.

In the past, Peek says, he would contact an IP and often feel like they didn’t want to hear from him. “You’d submit something, and I felt like I was getting attitude back—like we were taking up their time. Now, you take that out of it, because of a third party.” Since the administrators of the DEG act as the facilitator between shops and IPs, inquiries are clarified and ensured for legitimacy up front—improving both the communication and relationship between shops and IPs.

The DEG is also saving Peek time. Prior to the creation of the Web site, he would have to find the proper forms to submit to an IP and figure out how to submit it and who to submit it to. “Now, it’s a lot faster,” he says. “In a matter of minutes, I’ve submitted it, and it’s done. They can even pre-store some of your information.”

The only downfall Peek experiences with the DEG is a slow response time every now and then. “Obviously, you’d love an instant response, [but] you have to respect the fact they need to do a little research on it. The time frame has been really good. The ones from CCC [usually] have a two- or three-day turnaround,” he says. If he needs to wait, he says the process helps him with future repairs. “Even if it’s two or three weeks, I’m getting something. You can always use the information for the next job.”

Peek says the biggest benefit he’s experienced since using the DEG has been to clarify a dispute with an insurance company regarding a particular repair method. While working on a GM truck, he realized he couldn’t repair the vehicle the way the insurance company wanted or he would end up damaging part of the truck. He posted his concern on the DEG. “I said I needed to replace this particular part, and through documentation by CCC and GM, it helped clarify my position that we couldn’t repair it the way they wanted to because it would have overheated part of the frame on the truck and then we’d have to replace it. By getting clarification from GM and submitting it to CCC, we found out it should be done a different way.” Peek’s hunch about the truck’s frame proved correct. Once he made CCC aware of the situation, they supported his position that the repair method was indeed inaccurate.

HOW IT WORKS

Schulenburg says the idea for the DEG was prompted by feedback received from the industry. People felt that effective communication with IPs was difficult and not constructive, similar to Peek’s situation. “The intent was to create a non-biased entity that could help process and facilitate this communication without obstacles in a format that we felt was as easy as possible,” Schulenburg says.

One of the ways the DEG tries to make things as easy and simple as possible for shops is that it is free of charge. “The most important thing to us is that communication occurs and feedback exists,” Schulenburg says.

Before submitting your first question to the DEG Web site, Schulenburg suggests becoming familiar with it. “Just review it for 10 minutes, peruse through the tabs and get a quick overview,” he says. “Every inquiry and answer that is submitted to us is publicly posted on the DEG database. A great way to post is to see how others have posted.”

Once you’re ready to submit to a question to an IP, simply go to the ‘submit an inquiry’ tab. A template will open, and this is where you’ll write your question. The more details, the better. “IPs often develop their data from information they receive—and you have the vehicle in front of you, which is a plus,” Schulenburg explains. Including photos of the vehicle you’re working on is also a good idea, as “it helps for those reviewing the inquiry to see what you’re seeing.”

After receiving your question, Schulenburg and his staff review the inquiry for validity and accuracy and then send it directly to an IP. After the IP responds, an answer will be posted back on the DEG Web site. The turnaround time is typically not very long—and in some cases, just a matter of days. “Inquiries we have received have taken anywhere from 1 to 40 days to be resolved, depending on the level of review or the research necessary, [but] the average time is six and a half days,” Schulenburg says. “In many cases, that means the vehicle is still in the shop, so if a change is reflected, they can utilize that in the final bill.”

So far, the DEG has received 720 inquiries, and Schulenburg expects that number to jump to 1,000 by the end of the year. He says getting the word out about the DEG will contribute to an increase in submissions. “It’s not being fully utilized by the market yet. A lot of people are still just learning about it.”

Schulenburg also points out that the DEG is not just for shop owners or managers—estimators and technicians can also benefit from the Web site as well. “[Let’s say a] tech comes in and says, ‘I can’t fix this part for that labor.’ We often currently respond, ‘Well, we need to get the car out, so we have to do it,’” he says. “That’s a blow to our techs.” Instead, Schulenburg says, by taking five minutes to assist a tech in submitting a labor rate concern on the DEG, a shop owner or manager shows the technician that his professional expertise is valued and appreciated.

AN ACCURATE FUTURE

At the end of the day, the DEG’s goal is to help shops write more complete estimates. “For all of us, our business is determined by how we generate estimates in the shop, and we get paid for labor time on that estimate,” Schulenburg says. “If the time isn’t accurate, if the information isn’t accurate, that affects productivity and profitability. If we know what we’re facing before we get into [the repair], that helps a shop settle a claim more accurately and helps to reflect the process they need to go through.”

Peek agrees. “I think we’re getting more accurate data out there, and we’ve got a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction,” Peek says. “It’s bringing things to [the IPs’] attention, and that will help us.”

His advice to fellow shop owners unhappy with inaccurate labor rates? “Quit fussing about the labor times—do something,” Peek says. “Document it, submit it to the DEG, and it’s done. It’s five minutes. Why not? Change can be made.”

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