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Instilling Confidence

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When his manager brought his car into the body shop for a repair, Stephen Kraus could see how upset he was.

“I felt bad for him, and I told him I was sorry it happened,” says Kraus, estimator at Sewell Lexus Certified Collision Center in Dallas. “And he said, ‘I really appreciate that. I’m seeing everything from our customers’ viewpoint right now.’ I do genuinely feel for people when they have something they really like and something like this happens.”

It’s that level of empathy that Kraus is careful to display when customers first walk into his shop.

“He has singlehandedly restored the confidence of many customers in our industry,” body shop director Jim Sowle wrote in nominating Kraus for a FenderBender Award in 2014. “Horror stories about collision repair are plentiful, but Stephen’s empathy and performance have the customers feeling good about getting their car repaired. His level of integrity and professionalism, even in tough circumstances, never waivers.”

From the time they walk in with a wrecked car to when they leave with a rental, Kraus has a routine that keeps the customers well informed and confident in Sewell Lexus.

There are some people that are really good at what they do. The final step of learning a skill is to make it a natural part of us so we don’t have to think about it anymore. I don’t think I’m completely unconscious about what I do, but some things just come naturally to me because I’ve been doing this job for 20 years.

Each estimator here has a script they work off. The script is something we each develop on our own that covers the main points of customer interactions. Reading over it prepares us for the interaction and reminds us of basic info we need to mention. On my script, it’s just simple steps, like asking about their insurance company.

With my tone of voice, I will try to convey that I feel for customers. I try to choose the right words, nothing too aggressive or off-putting. Even body language is important. Slumping your shoulders will make people think you don’t really care about their car. I stand up to greet them, make good eye contact and I have a solid handshake that’s not overpowering—all of which puts them at ease.

If it’s an insurance claim, I’ll ask them, “Has State Farm already looked at your car?” And then I’ll know if the insurance company will be sending an appraiser out to write a first estimate. That’s important to know, because it affects the entire estimating and repair process I’m going to explain to them.

I’ll walk them out to the car, and I’ll make small talk on the way. And then we get to the car, I will usually walk through what kinds of repairs I can see that we’ll need to do. Then I’ll walk them through the insurance process: State Farm will write the first estimate, and once we’ve got that estimate, we’ll get the car disassembled and check for any changes to their estimate. We will submit it to State Farm and we will go over the damage with an appraiser and come to an agreement on the price at that time.

Next I’ll say, “I know the next question you’re going to ask is how long we’ll need it. It’s challenging to tell you exactly how long because there are a lot of different factors that go into the repair. But I’ll keep in touch with you every step of the way and I’ll let you know if things change or if we find more damage that affects the timing.”

As we’re looking at the car, I may ask them if there is damage I’m not clear about or if I need more clarification on what happened in the accident. During this whole process, I’m writing things down, which gives them confidence in me. Next, I’ll ask about rental cars. If they need one, I’ll walk them to our on-site Enterprise office. I remind them to get their insurance card, which they often accidentally leave in the glove box.

When I walk them to the rental car company, I tell them about how I’m going to communicate with them through Repair Tracker, which updates customers on their vehicle repair status. I’ll ask them if they like email or text updates. If it’s an older customer, I’ll ask it in a way, “Do you like to use email? Or text? Or are phone updates best for you?”

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