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If you’ve never experienced one, listening to a Webcast is like attending class at a big-university lecture hall: You’re indistinguishable in a sea of faces as the professor opens with an outline of the upcoming discussion; you hope it will be interesting but wonder how long it will last. And like the college lecture, you can sit in the front row or in the back—participate or contemplate —and get as much out of the discussion as you care to put in the effort.

Except you don’t have to be in a crowded lecture hall—everything’s right there for you on your computer and is also available on your telephone.

Every two months, the Collision Repair Executive Web cast (CREW) holds class online for collision repair, property and casualty insurance, and automotive aftermarket industry professionals.

Sponsored by Fix Auto, the CREW Webcasts include an online visual presentation with a simultaneous audio conference call. They also are open to any organization: Several shops and insurance groups will arrange lunch during this time and bring a large group into a room to watch and listen to the broadcasts, said a Fix Auto representative.

Other sponsors are DuPont, Symphony Advisors, Enterprise, Akzo Nobel, PPG, CEI, Keystone, Tent Automotive and the Romans Group.

SPEAKERS BUREAU

Speakers and topics already covered this year include Brian Sullivan, a recognized insurance expert and editor of Auto Insurance Report, a weekly insurance industry publication. Sullivan spoke on factors that will shape the personal auto insurance market and how they will affect the collision repair industry.

In March, a distinguished panel of experts joined CREW producers and hosts Vincent Romans and Matthew Ohrnstein to talk about the benefits of lean processes and cycle-time reduction. The experts represented such companies as DCR Systems Accident Repair Centers, PPG Automotive Refinishing, DuPont and Craftsman Auto Body.

In May, Mitchell International President Alex Sun got into the mix, along with CEO Jim Linder; together they guide the company’s strategy and day-to-day operations.

Most recently, Terry Fortner, of Nationwide Insurance, was “professor pro tem” as he outlined the company’s Blue Ribbon Program (i.e. DRP) in July and shared insights learned from a Blue Ribbon advisory council meeting with 22 top-notch collision repairers.

BLUE RIBBON BASICS

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. is a Fortune 200 company with three main auto insurance companies: Nationwide Insurance, which is sold through direct channels and agencies; Allied Insurance, which is sold through independent agents; and THI Holdings, the company’s main marketplace for non-standard auto insurance.

The company handles the claims process for auto and physical damage in a traditional fashion that’s comparable to its key competitors, Fortner said. Nationwide offers drive-up claims facilities; it has about 26 total loss centers (also called Vehicle Evaluation Centers) and employs about 1,800 claims associates. Nationwide’s Blue Ribbon Program affects about 2,400 shops across the country, excluding Alaska, Louisiana and New Jersey.

Each of these shops has agreed to a detailed and extensive contract with Nationwide, Fortner explained, and each is logistically selected to serve approximately 5,000 of the company’s insured drivers. When a shop wants to join the Blue Ribbon network, regional business needs take precedence over a shop’s popularity or reputation, and new ones are added only when they are needed.

Nationwide communicates electronically with Blue Ribbon Program shops using AutoVerse, which is an assignment engine that doles out jobs to shops and returns repair information back to the company. The company also supports an “open architecture” and accepts appraisals from CCC, Audatex and Mitchell, rather than dictate which programs DRP shops should use.

“We are market-sensitive, but we do not require most-favored pricing,” Fortner said. “Obviously we want to do the right thing for our customers, but we do not require most-favored pricing.”

The Mitchell company, AutoChex, evaluates all shops used by Nationwide for customer satisfaction. If shops receive eight or more Nationwide assignments, each and every customer is surveyed, Fortner said. At those repairing fewer vehicles, randomly selected customers are asked about their level of satisfaction.

“How do we determine DRP criteria and when we need a Blue Ribbon shop? Obviously there has to be a business need,” Fortner said. “And, it’s very basic to say this, but I think it’s very important: the ability to service our customers’ needs.

At times, a regionally popular collision repairer wants to join the DRP but may be a member of several others, causing Nationwide to consider whether the shop can service its customers, too.

“We know that it’s very difficult for an estimator to separate four or five different programs, so we ask to have a writer dedicated to the Blue Ribbon Program,” Fortner said.

A shop’s reputation within the industry, within its community and within the Nationwide claims network also is important for Blue Ribbon inclusion. The company wants to do business with shops that operate with honesty and integrity; it also supports shops that have ongoing I-CAR and ASE training and Gold Class participation.

“It is not a mandate, but it is definitely a positive that appropriate training is taking place within the collision repair facility,” Fortner explained.

WHERE’S IT GOING?

“It is a program of choice,” said Fortner, elaborating on the direction of the Blue Ribbon Program. “It is Nationwide’s preferred way of doing business, but we are very cognizant of customer choice.” Approximately 30 percent of customers’ vehicles are repaired through the Nationwide DRP.

“It focuses on the customer’s needs,” he added. “We take customer satisfaction very seriously, and we measure it very closely and hold shops accountable for the customer-centric approach and delivery.”

The program is leading edge in that it was perhaps the first to embrace the AutoWatch program and implement it for DRP shops, Fortner said. “AutoWatch has been very positive for us. When facilities use it correctly and with the right customer, we see an uplift in CSI.” He also emphasized the success of Nationwide’s crash parts program and said that the Blue Ribbon Program has become the focal point for new advertising.

In the near future, he said, there will continue to be a lot of focus on expense management in the insurance world. In turn, they will continue to ask collision repairers to be responsible for managing their businesses so that expenses won’t be passed on to insurers or customers.

“The auto market currently is profitable; that’s the reason why you see so much advertising,” Fortner said, adding that this year, Geico is expected to spend more on ads than Budweiser. This soft market means that it’s quite competitive, requiring insurance companies to temper their rates in order to draw new policyholders, “which means you have to be better at managing your expenses in order to maintain profit.”

In the future, he continued, Generations X and Y will continue to use and depend on the Internet and technologies like AutoWatch.

Recently, Nationwide conducted an advisory council group with 22 nominated, regional collision repairers and asked for feedback and coaching on the company’s DRP program and its image. A result of the summit was overwhelming agreement on at least one thing, Fortner said: “We have similar goals and we absolutely have the same customers.”

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