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Rethinking Insurer Relationships

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One conversation with an insurance adjuster has troubled me for months. It was the kind of conversation that sticks with you, haunts you and will not leave you alone.

He was making it very clear, and he was not the first, that the “program” would no longer be guided by relationships. In other words, he explained that it does not matter if a shop owner has a sick wife, or the general manager dies suddenly, or some other catastrophe strikes. If the performance of the shop, based entirely on their top-secret algorithm, started to lag, they would be kicked off the program. No questions asked. It is about the numbers.

On one level I understand this. Performance is important. Large insurance companies cannot be beholden to the whims and personal experiences of thousands of shops that they work with. There are also the dangers of certain shops getting too cozy with adjusters where there could be special favors given on the light side or outright bribery on the other. But really? No relationship at all? Everything will be depersonalized into photo reviews from people who have never met and adjusters who are not allowed to consider personal circumstances?

What kind of world would we have if everyone lived that way? In fact, what kind of fantasy world do we currently live in, that allows certain insurance companies to measure with a number and at the same time require great customer service from the shops in their network? How can they not be held to the same standard they impose? Certainly removing relationships is not showing the way of good service? A depersonalized experience? Not even close. They are requiring one thing and then functioning in a completely different way. 

And I know there is a danger here in coming out against the “powers that be.” And I want to assure you I am not against insurance companies. I truly do not have an axe to grind. Our shop has handled thousands of claims over the years and on the vast majority of them, insurance companies are willing to do what is needed, the car ends up looking and functioning great and we get paid in full. I see that as a win-win-win scenario. But honestly there are some insurers I would rather deal with much more than others. I am sure they feel the same way about shops.

Now for a brief tangent: In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise plays a sports agent, who in the middle of the night, after an emotional meltdown, writes a memo or what he likes to call a “mission statement” that gets distributed to all his coworkers and boss the next day. The memo is a plea for more relationships between agent and athlete even at the expense of making less money. It is a plea for everyone to get back in touch with why they became an agent in the first place and rekindle a love for the sports and athletes they represent.

At first there is euphoria in the office as everyone congratulates him for having the guts to say what needed to be said. Then he loses everything. His job. His relationships with coworkers. His friends. Even his fiancé. He is left with one client, a desperate executive assistant and a gold fish he steals as he is leaving his agency. It is truly one of the most awkward scenes of any movie as he exits the agency he helped to build.

My point: People who call for better relationships in an industry that is bent on having fewer can get trampled. I am keenly aware of this. Yet I believe I need to take a stand—and I know others have, too—that we are not in favor of making things all about the numbers. There are situations and people and stories behind those numbers that are much more important than the numbers themselves. Numbers are extremely helpful but they can never tell the full story. If insurance companies want to measure shops by numbers alone, that is up to them. They should, however, model what they want shops to do and provide customer service with personal care.

When I say insurance, what is the next word that comes to mind? I have used it several times throughout this column already. For most, it is the word “company.” It is interesting to me that the Latin roots of this word translate to “to share bread with.” We have retained this meaning when we talk about having company over for a visit.

I wonder what it would be like for insurance companies and shops to break bread together. What might it look like for directors of DRP programs to personally show up in a helpful, caring posture for the shops they oversee and model how they would like us to treat their customers, face to face, caring about more than numbers, open to listen and help?

Is this just a dream? Probably. But at least I am on record for how much I value relationships and caring. I know there are others out there as well. I am honored to be counted among the shops, owners and managers that care.

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