The Keys to Improved Insurer Relationships

May 1, 2017

A former longtime estimating team manager provides insight on how shop owners can improve their relationship with insurers.

Bill Sefcek worked for State Farm for nearly three decades, ending his career as an estimating team manager in 2011. Often, the job made him feel like a mediator, as he was forced to defuse seemingly volatile situations at repair facilities. 

But the relationship between shop owners and insurers doesn’t have to be combustible, Sefcek insists.

“Remember, insurance companies make money by saving money,” Sefcek says. “Shops make money by charging for what they do. So you’re already at odds, before you even meet each other. 

“You’ve heard of some of the facilities that kick insurance representatives out of their shop? Well, I was always one that was able to go in and heal that wound. I always had good relationships with shops—I listened to them.” 

Don Rife Jr., a shop owner who nominated Sefcek for a FenderBender Award, agrees.

“From a shop perspective, even though Bill was a State Farm employee, he was well respected due to the honesty and fairness he exhibited when dealing with shops,” says Rife Jr., owner of Rife’s Autobody-Westerville (Ohio). 

Sefcek, currently the president of consulting firm Stan Mitchell Enterprises, provides insight for how body shop owners can improve their relationships with insurers.

Consider Both Sides. 

Shop owners need to bare in mind how fiercely competitive the auto insurance industry is, Sefcek says. 

“Seven out of 10 commercials on TV are for auto insurance,” he says. “How do they do that? By controlling costs.” 

Appraisers that visit body shops are simply upholding the limits of their companies’ insurance policies, Sefcek notes. 

“So, what I tell facilities is, ‘Here’s what you need to do,’” he explains. “‘You need to realize that the [insurance representative] that comes out there is doing the best they can to provide the indemnity coverage that was promised by the policy. … The basic policy is not going to change, because 80–90 percent of the consumers buy it for cost—they don’t buy it, like a savvy customer would, for coverage. 

“So, when your appraiser comes in, try to work on a level of that understanding.” 

Debate Tactfully. 

Next time you’re debating the merit of a supplement with an insurer, present your argument strategically, Sefcek says. For starters, don’t begin your conversation by demanding five additional hours for your technician. In fact, don’t provide those kind of specifics until necessary. 

Provide evidence, like a lawyer. 

“Many shops, they say, ‘I need five hours additional time on this,’” Sefcek notes. “All the insurance company’s thinking is, ‘Five hours is an awful lot of time.’ If you say you needed additional time, and then when the appraiser gets there you show them why you need the additional time, he or she may actually give you five hours.” 

Consider Insurers’ Schedules. 

Sefcek used to suggest that his appraisers make appointments with shops when they had assignments. And, he wasn’t offended if shops sometimes said they didn’t have time that day to fit an assignment in its schedule. 

After all, neither shops nor insurers benefit if a repair is done hastily. He says shops shouldn’t hesitate to tell insurers they’re a little too busy to adequately address their needs at certain junctures, and delay the repair process until it can be adequately addressed.

Just because an insurer has an assignment at a particular moment doesn’t mean he or she can’t rearrange the schedule a bit, Sefcek says. 

“Respect the time of each other,” he says. “You need to work on collaborative time. … In the long term, it will improve the relationship.”

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