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Kathleen Monaghan’s shop no longer conducts customer satisfaction indexing (CSI).

“We were doing it when we were involved with one particular insurance company’s direct repair program, but not any longer,” said Monaghan, owner of Monaghan’s Collision Service in Willow Grove, Penn.
Monaghan said her shop is just as committed to customer service as it has always been, and she certainly sees some value in hearing what customers have to say following repairs. But without more insurers requiring CSI, it didn’t seem worthwhile to her to invest in a service that could potentially interrupt a customer during dinner for a follow-up phone survey.

“We take pride in what we do, and we tell customers if there are any problems at all, just come back,” Monaghan said. “I’m not sure we needed outside surveys to know our customers are satisfied.”
Indeed, the country’s largest auto insurer, State Farm, is among those that don’t require shops in its “Select Service” program to subscribe to a CSI service.

“It’s similar to the parts of our agreement where we say we want you to have some sort of quality control program, but we’re not going to tell you what kind to have,” said State Farm’s George Avery, one of the key architects of the Select Service program. “We’d like you to have training, but we’re not going to tell you exactly what kind to have. We don’t have a specific requirement for CSI, but we recognize that top performers have programs in place to ensure customers have a positive repair experience.”

But many other shop owners still believe there is ample return on their investment in CSI, and they are keeping it as a key component of their businesses.

“It’s kind of hard to put a dollar value on it, but in the end, it’s huge what it does for us,” said Dave Brown, general manager of Kniesel’s Auto Body, which has two locations in the Sacramento, Calif., area and has been tracking CSI through a third-party, AutocheX, for more than three years.

Brown said 70 percent of the company’s work is DRP-driven, and several of its half dozen key DRPs require the shop to use an outside CSI provider.

“The insurers definitely put a heavy emphasis on CSI, so we’re always working on that,” he said. “We take it seriously.”

INSURERS STILL INTERESTED

Brown is correct when he says that many of the larger insurance companies — including Nationwide, Allstate and USAA — require CSI tracking as part of their DRPs.

“One of our requirements is that you meet or exceed the Collision Industry Conference definition of a ‘Class A’ shop, and that definition includes having a documented, ongoing system for tracking and reporting customer satisfaction,” said Roger Wright, manager of material damage and direct repair programs for AIG.

Unlike some insurers that require shops to use a particular CSI provider, AIG is among those that allow shops to choose from a list of “approved CSI providers,” Wright said.

Wright is the first to admit that the level of emphasis the auto insurance industry as a whole places on CSI in relation to other performance indicators has waxed and waned over the past decade or more.

“But CSI is important, actually critical, for most insurers now because the market is soft,” Wright said. “It’s really hard to get market share. And so we need to make sure we satisfy that customer during the claims experience, which in today’s automated world where everything is done electronically, is often the only time they have human interaction with the insurer.”

Ray Kihara, director of sales and marketing for AutocheX, said he sees CSI growing in importance to auto insurers, in part because those insurers spent $3.5 billion on advertising last year. That’s up 16 percent from the previous year and more than twice the ad budget just five years ago.

“They’re each spending millions of dollars to get customers signed up for their insurance and are setting some expectations for the customer,” Kihara said. “It’s kind of like what we used to preach to the body shops: Don’t put up a billboard up saying, ‘Come to my shop,’ if you can’t deliver on your promise. The insurance companies know they now have to deliver what the customer expects.”

BEYOND INSURER REQUIREMENTS

Several shop owners who agreed that CSI is an important element of some DRPs say it’s easy enough to calculate the return. One said he spends an average of $250 a month for his CSI service. At a 5 percent net profit on an average job of $2,400, two jobs a month through that DRP essentially covers the cost of the required CSI service.

But DRP requirements aside, many shop owners said they see other valuable return on their CSI investment.

Sharon Brennan, office manager at Hassell Auto Body in West Babylon, N.Y., said her shop has no DRPs but likes that the CSI reports, which they receive through Collision Repair Industry INSIGHT’s customer reply card service, offer another way to compare her company’s performance to that of other shops.

Denise Pina, operations manager for Brea Auto Body in Brea, Calif., said her company conducts its own CSI surveys and sees it as a way to “close the loop” with customers.

“From a pure customer service level, I think it’s important to demonstrate we care enough to give them an extra call,” Pina said. “It allows you to take care of any issues they may have, and gives us some insights into things we may not have known unless we ask.”

At Kniesel’s Auto Body, shop manager Brown said CSI helps communicate to the company’s service writers the value of providing good customer service because part of their quarterly bonus is tied to the shop’s CSI numbers.

Similarly, Gary McCann, general manager of Terry’s Collision Center in Frankfort, Ill., said technicians, too, think more about their role in customer satisfaction when they know the shop can break its CSI down based on which employees were involved with each job.

Tony Thomas said that the monthly CSI reports his shop receives from CSi Complete offer an effective marketing tool, even for insurers that don’t require CSI.

“We can go down to ABC Insurance Company and say, ‘Look, out of the 52 jobs we did for you in the last quarter, we have a 99 percent CSI, and this many people would refer others to your insurance company because of their experience with us, the repair facility you recommended,’” said Thomas, general manager of Pennsylvania Body & Frame in St. Mary’s, Penn. “CSi Complete really lays out the graphs and information well in a nice presentation, and it seems to have a very positive response.”

“You can walk around all day saying you’re doing great, but until your customers say so, you simply can’t know or prove it to someone,” agreed Katie Gallegos, co-owner of the Watsonville, Calif.-based Russo’s Collision Repair, which tracks its CSI as part of the services available through the DuPont Performance Alliance. “Even outside of insurance company relationships, I think it’s important to really know what your customers are thinking. You can’t tweak an area where there’s a problem unless someone has told you there’s a problem.”

Even Monaghan, who stopped tracking CSI when her shop was no longer involved in a DRP that required it, concedes that following up with customers can have value beyond the work that it brings to the door. She doesn’t foresee going back to using an outside CSI firm but hasn’t ruled out CSI altogether.

“We’re thinking about giving out a postcard reply card with our final paperwork to customers,” she said.


John Yoswick is a veteran collision repair writer based in Portland, Ore.

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