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Menefee: Stop Writing Estimates

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April 27, 2022—One of the biggest time wasters in a shop is writing estimates for customers. Now here me out. If it’s a self-pay repair it’s a different story. I’m talking about the insurance pay repairs. The Insurance pay customer comes in for an estimate, scheduled or walk in depending on how you operate, and at minimum your estimator is going to spend 15 minutes with them.More than likely, however, it will be 30 to 40 minutes with that potential customer. 

How much is that estimate really costing you? Depending on where you are in the country the estimate is likely $10 to $15 for your estimator's salary, plus cost of paper, ink, and supplies. On top of that, what could your estimator have been achieving instead of writing the estimate? Could they have been making follow up calls, updating customers, calling insurance companies? In reality that estimate is costing the shop more like $30 to $40 an estimate.

I can already hear the pushback from shop owners saying $30 to $40 for an estimate that a good estimator will convert into a job is really a small price to pay. Especially with the average cost of ROs going up and the standard RO cost being much higher than in years past. 

The estimator spends 30 to 40 minutes writing an estimate, a good portion of that is going to be spent on estimate writing and not talking or focusing on the customer. When talking about non DRP shops, what happens with the estimate then? Does the insurance company care what you write up? Are they going to use that estimate? Do they even care what we have to say in the beginning of a repair? Let’s not fool ourselves; the answer is no. So why do we continue to write up estimates that we know won’t be used? 

We end up having to explain to the customer that more than likely the insurance company will write their own estimate, after the insurance company tries to steer them to one of their “In Network” shops. The estimator will try to combat a customer’s frustration when the insurance company writes up a lesser estimate than they wrote; it doesn’t return their calls in a timely manner; or when they have to set up rental reservations, etc. And we struggle to resist bad mouthing the insurance company because it will just make us look bad in the process. 

Let’s say after all those hoops your customer jumps though we do convert that opportunity into a repair order once they have their “approved” insurance estimate. What happens then? Most shops will use the customer's estimate of record from the insurance company as their starting point in their management system, and then build the supplement request off it after the vehicle has gone through tear down and your estimator/blueprinter gets a hold of the vehicle. The initial estimate just fades away, never to be seen again or referenced again.

So what’s the alternative? We aren't estimators, we’re advisors. Estimators deal with insurance claims on a daily basis; your customers don’t. Have your estimator step into the role of advisor, and be the advocate for your customer in all parts of the claims process. Have your estimator capture the customer and vehicle information and advise on insurance claims practices for whatever insurance company the customer is working with.  

We know which company is going to do a virtual estimate, photo estimate, send a field adjuster or a third party appraisal company. We know which ones will have us send up pictures and an estimate and butcher our estimate and write their own. We know where initial payments will most likely be sent or what happens if there is a finance company involved. Advise the customer on how the claim will be handled with the company they are dealing with. 

Be an asset for your customer. Instead of writing the estimate, explain to the customer how the insurance company doesn’t care what we say initially. If the insurance needs to do a photo estimate, do the photo estimate for them. If it’s a virtual estimate, do the virtual estimate for them. If a field adjuster will inspect the car, set up a time for the adjuster to inspect at your shop. If all the pictures need to be emailed in, email them in. If you need to write an estimate and send in pictures, then you write an estimate. Follow up with the insurance company for the customer and keep the customer in the loop.

Explain to the customer how the supplement process works and how the shop will be an advocate for them. How your shop will “review” the estimate from the insurance and then submit a request to make sure repairs are done correctly. How you have their best interest and safety in mind and not just the bottom line of the Insurance company.

I don’t believe most customers really care about the estimate. What they do care about is being seen and heard. One of the favorite sayings in my shop is, “We listen to understand.” I challenge you to stop writing estimates and focus on your customers and understanding their needs. 


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