Have you noticed there are very few articles about how to maintain insurance relationships, but it is unquestionably one of the most important considerations for managing a collision repair business? Let’s briefly tiptoe through some of the landmines of this potentially volatile topic. I will share some of my perspectives, which are based on my experiences and values.
I understand that there is a wide range of positions on how a shop should perceive and interact with insurers. There are those who build their business almost strictly upon DRP relationships and would do nearly anything to please the insurer. There are those who are adversarial, preferring to be uncompromising, seeing the insurer as an obstruction to their business model, including pricing. And of course, most shops fit somewhere between those extreme positions. To complicate the matter, there are those insurers who strive to be flexible and understanding of repairers, and there are those that are dictatorial, unreasonable, and abrasive. And of course a lot of insurers lie between those extremes, too.
I personally accept the fact that most collision repair jobs come with two customers—the owner and the insurer. One can debate who the customer truly is. Typically it’s argued that the vehicle owner is truly the customer as they have ultimate control over repair decisions and compensation. Yet, one cannot argue the influence that the insurer maintains in the equation and therefore I believe the insurer is also a customer, even though to a different degree.
After being in the business for many years, I frankly find that this three-way relationship makes our industry more unique and interesting than others. It’s like spice on your food, adding or detracting from what the meal was without it. Of course it’s more challenging, but finding one’s way to build successful insurance relationship can be rewarding. If it wasn’t for insurers, most likely many consumers would be less inclined to repair their vehicles, or at least not to high standards.
Over the years, I’ve developed many friendships with insurers. Allow me to offer a few of my own suggestions regarding how we as repairers can successfully interact with insurers.
It’s my job
I consider it my responsibility to successfully interact with insurers. In the shops that I’ve worked in, a portion, if not most, jobs have insurer involvement. I see no value in being adversarial. I will admit that a few insurance people can be exceedingly difficult. I have a friend who retired from what most of us would consider a very user-friendly insurance company. They were typically very fair and considerate toward shops. After becoming an independent consultant to repairers, he was shocked and embarrassed at the behavior of a few insurers. Yes, they exist. Yet I consider it my job to find ways to successfully interact with even those few most difficult.
Negotiate with facts
We should always keep our negotiations based on facts. When negotiating terms on an estimate, stick to p-page logic, factory repair information, and recognized repair methodology such as from I-CAR. Stay away from personal and emotional topics. I recently had an insurer tell a staff person that they “should go back to school” because he disagreed with some repair methodology. Obviously such a comment serves no useful purpose in the negotiation and was designed to be insulting or hurtful. As a repairer I believe it best to rise above such comments and get back to talking about the facts.
I believe in the adage, “If you let your emotions get the best of you, you lost!” If you allow yourself to get into a heated argument, often utilizing personal insults, you’ve just lost control and therefore probably will lose the negotiation. Discussion spirals out of control putting you in a vulnerable position of weakness. Telling the other person “what you think” may serve an emotional need in you by venting your feelings, perhaps even believing that you “put them in their place” or that you “showed them.” It usually doesn’t get you the most successful negotiation terms, though, and may cause irreparable damage to the relationship for the future.
I believe a goal for each negotiation should be that both parties come away with terms that they can live with. Of course we all want to get everything we want, and it’s worth striving for. But at the end of the day that is not always possible. The wise negotiator uses compelling logic and great social skills to help cause the other party to believe that they are getting most of what they want. Many repairers believe they win when they continue to cash the insurance checks.
It’s all small stuff
As the saying goes, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Being positive makes all the difference. While I understand it is easy to get frustrated or angry in our business relationships, I often remind myself of two important rules: 1. Don’t sweat the small stuff; 2. It’s all small stuff. In other words, there are big important issues in life that should be prioritized. Meanwhile, much of what we deal with is not as relatively significant. Put things in proper perspective and do your best to not be discouraged; instead, be positive. It provides a calm and confidence that makes you a better negotiator even in challenging circumstances