5 Keys to Contemporary CE Classes

April 15, 2019
An Axalta expert and a shop owner share keys to educating insurers on the modern vehicle and how it needs to be repaired.

Robert Rick has heard it often: “Thank you.”

Rick, a strategic account manager for Axalta Coatings Systems, is no stranger to having insurance agents come back to him a couple years after a class he led and tell him all about how they were able to take the information they learned and save someone’s life. A driver was kept safe because he or she stowed heavy equipment low to the floor of the car. Another agent was able to save someone else’s life by passing along information to their children on how to sit properly, and buckle up properly while traveling in a car.

Time and time again, Rick sees how continuing education classes reach further than just an insurance company and a body shop.

Continuing education classes (or “CE” classes) largely came to the foreground for himself around 1996, Rick notes. He got into them when an insurance company recommended it as a way to work with agents and claims people.

Among numerous other auto body shops offering such courses, Classic Auto Collision, located in the upper peninsula of Michigan, also offers CE classes, says Scott Peterson, the facility’s operations manager. Peterson has been at Classic Auto Collision for 13 years and, roughly three years ago, started offering CE classes for insurance agents.

Peterson took one full day and visited every insurance agent personally to show that the shop would be offering the service. He handed them a flier about the first course, regarding teen driving, and then explained how it was free for them to come to the shop for the class.

Now, three years later, Peterson teaches six classes per year.

In 2019, it’s more important than ever for insurance agents to attend CE classes, Rick says. With all the modern vehicle technology, including ADAS, self-driving vehicles and more, the agent needs to stay in the know on how to repair vehicles correctly. For Rick, the classes are a great source of information and one of the classes provide families, insurance agents and first responders with details of what physically happens to people and their bodies in a crash. Classes can cover anything from hand positioning, or body position in a car that will minimize injury patterns. With so many technical advances in vehicle safety systems, people like first responders need to know how to correctly extricate someone from a vehicle.

When insurance agents participate in continuing education courses, it makes a difference for their relationship with the consumer. With more education on the repair, the agent is able to confidently refer his or her customers to a body shop.

Rick and Peterson share their tips to providing relevant information in continuing education classes.

The Location

Rick says Axalta does not offer classes online, in part because studies have shown that classes taken online are inferior to a class that is located in a body shop or training facility and can offer hands-on training.

And, from a safety standpoint, the attendees do not actually do hands-on repairs but are able to attend in-person, live demonstrations. Whereas there are online CE classes, Rick has found that agents enjoy the live interaction and education that can be passed onto their customers.

Peterson conducts his classes in-house at one of his shop locations, most often at the Escanaba, Mich., location. He says he’ll offer a spread of food for the agents and typically set up a projector.

The Class Size

Rick recommends a CE class size be smaller than 50 people. While he has facilitated classes typically between one person to 50 people, he says that a more intimate class setting makes it easier for instructors to answer questions.    

“Most of the classes are between 15 and 25 people,” Rick says.

So, he suggests keeping the classes smaller if possible and offering more of them for the insurance agents and customers.

Peterson says he won’t allow more than 24 course attendees at a time. He says that he’s attended some Axalta CE classes and found that the larger class sizes make it harder for agents to ask questions and intermingle with the shop and instructors.

“I require all of my estimators to come to the classes so it’s an opportunity for them to make the connections with the insurance agents in our area,” Peterson explains.

The Marketing

It’s a solid opportunity for the body shop that’s hosting a CE class to also market the course to the community, Rick says. For example, marketing to Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and local fire departments is a good way to spread the shop’s name around without going to great lengths for a marketing event.

“Make it a community event so that, when someone does have need of a repair, they remember your shop’s name,” he says.

Local law enforcement can also provide statistics on the number of car accidents and collision repair fraud in the area. The owner of the body shop can tie those statistics into the fact that he or she is trying to educate the community on how lives can be saved and traumatic accidents can be prevented.

For a typical class with 20 people, Peterson says he invests roughly $400. In return, he gets the shop’s name in front of insurers in the local towns and makes relationships. His class budget comes out of the shop’s marketing budget because in the end of the process, the CE classes help foster relationships between the insurer and the shop.

Just three years ago, Peterson didn’t know any insurer in his area. Today, when he goes to visit a shop, he’s often instantly recognized the moment he walks in the door.

“I probably have 12 main agencies I visit and they all wanted to hear about the classes because it brings them something they need to meet their credit requirement,” Peterson says. “At the same time, it gets my feet in the door to build that relationship.”

The Vehicle Technology

Rick says it’s essential that any technical class depict how the vehicle has to be brought back to pre-accident condition after each demonstrated step in the course to ensure the vehicle will work the same way it had in factory condition.

 In the courses, Rick says they build in “Ask the Expert” interactive training. For example, they will stage a piece of the vehicle in the body shop, such as a piece of the frame, and show how not only the damage will need to be repaired but how the measuring systems used by the technicians also bring the equipment back to pre-accident condition, as well.

“Show a printout of what the measuring equipment shows before and after the repair,” Rick suggests.

Peterson says he demonstrates how the vehicle needs to be calibrated by setting up asTech equipment and going through every test the repairer would conduct. The test includes turning on headlights, rolling the windows down, and more. That way, the agents can see how the vehicle acts when it’s coded correctly.

Three years ago, Peterson would ask if people were familiar with scanning and only get one agent to raise his or her hand. Now, there might be seven to raise their hands in the class. He says that most agents love the classes taught on advanced vehicle technology and the classes on hybrid vehicles. The shop has to be careful about what is shown to the agent but, for instance, if Peterson is talking about the crumple zones on the front of cars, he’ll bring in a front panel and also brings in a car to show where the high-strength steel cage is located.

The Customer

Insurance agents need to learn not only about the vehicle repair and measurements, but also how the customer can be properly informed throughout a repair, Rick says.

Customer defection is at its highest point when getting a claim on the vehicle and by the time the customer leaves the insurance company, he or she will blame the damage on the insurance company itself or the body shop, he adds.

“During a repair, an agent still wants to keep track of the customer because it’s his or her specific customer,” Rick says.

For safety, Peterson offers courses that cover how a seatbelt should be worn properly, and how a driver can hold a steering wheel.

One class that many agents have been interested in, Peterson says, is a course on aftermarket and OEM parts. Peterson shows the agents examples of both an OEM part and a somewhat similar aftermarket one. Then, he says the important step is asking the class whether they would feel safe with one or the other in their vehicles.

He says it’s important to make the class critically think about whether they would feel safe in such a situation. Especially when talking about how the different types of metal need to be repaired on a vehicle, Peterson says.

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