An Expert in Relationships

Nov. 1, 2017

When working with people, it’s important to empathize with their situation and find ways to help them out. Doing this will improve your working relationships and impress customers.

SHOP STATS: Brown's Collision   Location: Bentonville, Ark.  Operator: Keith and Elizabeth Brown  Average Monthly Car Count: 148  Staff Size: 21  Shop Size: 21,000 square feet (combined all four buildings)  Annual Revenue: $4 million  

Attention to detail and empathy are two dream qualities for an estimator. Add honesty, integrity and respect to that list and you have Kyle Schoeppler, office manager and estimator at Brown’s Collision Center in Bentonville, Ariz. Owner Keith Brown says Schoeppler exhibits all of these qualities and that his customers consistently comment on his care, concern and professionalism. His 97 percent CSI score reflects that.

Not only is Schoeppler good with people, he also gets the job done. Schoeppler is in the 98th percentile when it comes to accuracy for his estimates, and he’s able to capture over 75 percent of his repairs. Brown also credits Schoeppler with being a huge reason the shop won the Farmers Insurance U.S. Eastern Division Shop of the Year award, Farmers Insurance Shop of the Year State of Arkansas, Safeco Shop of the Year State of Arkansas, and Safeco Southern Region Shop of the Year—all in 2015.  

Before coming to work at Brown’s in 2011, Schoeppler worked in the insurance industry dealing with workmen’s compensation. He attributes that experience with his ability to deal with insurance companies.

“I learned how to talk to people on a regular basis and how to deal with all different types of people,” Schoeppler says.

I’m usually at work between 6:45–7:15 a.m. That’s when I get everything set up for the day. I’ll turn my computer on and set up an agenda. I do a walkthrough of the shop to check and see where the vehicles are at. The people in the office have a meeting at the beginning of each day with the production manager to discuss the status of each vehicle.

I try and set everything up and prioritize the things on my desk before we open so when a customer walks in, I’m able to give him or her my full attention. There may be things on your desk that you’re not able to touch all day. The customer always comes first, so if a customer is waiting for me, I’ll work with them first. If I’m working with a customer and get a phone call, I have someone take a message. I would rather call a customer back than have them wait on hold and waste their valuable time.

When a customer comes in, he or she is greeted by our secretary and then we have them fill out a customer information sheet so we can determine important facts right away. I make sure to greet the customer by name and then I take a look at the information sheet. I check and see if they will be using insurance or if they’re paying out of pocket. There are different protocols for different insurance companies based on their regulations. By doing this, I am able to prepare myself before talking to the customer about what their specific needs will be. I then walk them outside to their vehicle.

I assess the damage and explain in detail the repair process and how the vehicle will be completed. I make sure that they understand what’s going on and I also explain that sometimes there is hidden damage that we can’t put on the estimate until the car is taken apart for repair. We also discuss the need for supplements. It’s important to discuss this because you do not want to surprise or upset a customer if this needs to happen.

After everything is explained, the customer is offered a beverage and a cookie while I make phone calls for parts and write the estimate in our management system. I discuss the estimate line by line with the customer and make sure all of their questions and concerns are answered before they leave. If they are ready, I schedule them for the repair and notify the insurance company.  I then begin ordering parts, schedule a rental car if needed and prepare their file for drop off.  

I follow up with my customers every other day. I give my personal cell phone number out so they can reach me if they have any questions. It’s also a convenient way to share photos so they have a better idea of what’s going on. I try and get all of my communication done during work hours, but sometimes people have different work hours or are only available on weekends. It’s important to accomodate those customers. Because of this, I’ve built a great rapport with customers because they know I’m willing to go the extra mile to make sure the repair process is transparent and efficient.

My biggest thing is gaining a customer's trust. A vehicle is either the first or second-biggest financial investment they’ll make. Break the ice and have some small talk before getting right down to business. It’s important to be confident when you’re explaining the repair process to them and explain exactly how the repairs will work. If they don’t understand something, send them a photo. We have many repeat customers that trust what we do.

I’ve always been really hands on, so that helps with my estimates. When you’re more hands on, it helps the technician because you’ll end up having fewer supplements. I’m extremely thorough. I’ve been here for a while, so you start to know what to look for. With experience, you can get a feel for cause and effect. Experience also lends itself to me estimating the repair times. You begin to know how long different repairs will take. I strive to write all of my estimates carefully and concisely each time.

A lot of my job is based around communication. I have to stay mobile and see for myself how repairs are going. This requires me to have a good relationship with all of the staff. I discuss repairs with technicians and takes notes and pictures throughout the process of the repair.

I’m the primary contact for all of our DRPs, which, including fleet accounts, is 19. I’m the one that they call if there’s ever a situation. I try to connect with each of the insurance representatives on a personal level. There’s one coordinator that everyone told me never smiled—I got him to smile.

It’s also about connecting on a personal level. It’s important to let everyone that you’re working with know that it’s not all business. Some of the people on the insurance side that I deal with, I’ve never actually met. There’s one that I’ve been talking to for five years and I’ve never seen him in person. We talk about football when we speak on the phone. When they come in or they call, don’t start with business right away. It makes the vibe a lot better.

I think a lot of people in the industry mistreat insurers and vice versa. It’s important to remember that you’re there to help each other out. If you have a negative vibe or make it clear you’re not willing to help out and be on equal ground, it will not help the situation. It’s also important to build a good relationship with your suppliers. If you do this, they can assist you when you need something as soon as possible.

I’m a people person and I try to get along with everyone. Remember not to judge people. Adapt yourself to be what the person needs you to be. It will pay off.

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