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Shop-Sponsored Continuing Education for Insurance Agents

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Mike’s Auto Body in Northern California’s East Bay area created its own insurance-agent continuing education classes for a simple reason that likely resonates with a lot of shop owners out there.

“You’d be amazed at how many agents have never been inside a body shop,” says Marketing Manager Sal Contreras.

“So the main reason we’re doing this is to provide education to agents to help them better understand the repair process.”

After completing a multi-year certification process through the California Department of Insurance, Akzo Nobel Coatings was cleared to offer four Mike’s Auto Body continuing education classes in 2002. The first class was held in October that year at Mike’s Auto Body headquarters in Concord, and the seven-location shop still works closely on the program with Akzo Nobel, the company’s paint vendor.

Mike’s is now one of only a small, but growing number of shops across the country that offer insurance agents continuing education accreditation.

And while the initial sign-up for Mike’s program was less than overwhelming, says Contreras, the idea soon caught on like wildfire.

“That first class, only two agents showed up,” Contreras recalls with a chuckle. “But, to this day, those two people have both become very good friends and business partners, and now we average 16 to 23 agents for every class. The highest enrollment has been 35.”

The decidedly hands-on course lineup also has expanded to nine classes, with four more in the works for 2008. 

All are taught with the real-world nuts and bolts of collision repair in mind, and the sessions are anything but the passive, take-notes-while-the-instructor-lectures kind.

GETTING THEIR HANDS DIRTY

“The agents just love it,” Contreras says.” A great sense of camaraderie and understanding has developed between us about the whole repair process and the autobody business itself.”

Which might seem incredible in an era when friction between shop owners and insurance agents seems at an all-time high. Believe it, though, says agent Julie Ayers, of Danville, California’s Hockins and Kemp Insurance Services.

“I got to paint in their paint booth; I got to actually use their equipment; I’ve gotten to do all sorts of new things. I really love those classes; they’re really the only (continuing education) classes I like to go to,” Ayers says.

One large independent insurance organization was so impressed that it asked Mike’s Auto Body to conduct separate continuing education sessions for its agents at an off-site monthly corporate meeting, but Contreras, who got his instructor’s license through Akzo Nobel, had to turn the company down.

“The whole reason we’re doing this is to provide education to the agents that’ll really help them work with autobody shops better by really understanding what autobody shops do every day and why,” he notes. “But you can’t do that as well outside of the shop. All of our shop tours and hands-on exercises and so forth are really important to what we’re trying to do. So, with that particular insurance company, we had to get them to come here.” The benefits for both Mike’s Auto Body and the agents typically go beyond what is actually taught in class, Contreras adds.

“When the agents are done with a class, I’ll take all of their certificates to their offices, which also has helped us build a lot of relationships with them,” he notes.

“I like hearing them talk about what they’ve learned afterward, too … Before a class, an agent might just say for a certain repair, ‘Well, that might take a long time;’ whereas, after the class, the agent will be able to say, ‘Well, that’s normally a two-week job’ — they now really know what’s involved.”

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