I recently attended a national industry function during which a shop owner posed a very good question to the audience, "Why can my administrative office staff re-key an estimate faster than my experienced estimators can create a new one?"
He had been tracking the amount of time it took his administrative staff versus his estimators in an effort to project the number of people required to handle the shop's workload. That concept led to an interesting question: when does damage analysis end and estimate documentation start?
The shop owner suggested that additional estimating software training offered the sole answer to his problem. Now, I believe training usually works wonders, but in this case, the answers didn't lie in estimating software alone.
Today's complicated cars – along with key performance indicator (KPI) compliance documentation requirements – entail vast amounts of core training provided by multiple sources within our industry. Documenting OEM procedures and providing details for cost-effective and quality repairs requires knowledge at a much higher level than re-keying an estimate line by line.
The consensus was that the shop owner's administrative staff could copy an estimate consistently faster because no decisions as to proper repair procedure, parts sourcing or KPI compliance were being made. His experienced damage estimators were making decisions about how to repair the vehicle while entering the damage into the estimating system.
The bottom line is that properly documenting the repair plan at the time of damage assessment with an understanding of all of the repair requirements will always require more time. And using the tools available in the estimating software helps estimators make good decisions, understand the implications of substrates and document cost-effective parts procurement and all required procedures.
In the discussion that flowed around my table at the event, a common theme evolved: training staff to meet today's complex KPIs, vehicle safety and customer satisfaction needs is becoming even more difficult than in the recent past. Estimating has evolved from documentation of damaged parts to be repaired or replaced to considerations for safety and long-term vehicle value. If you remember 14 or 15 years ago to the first use of energy management zones in full-frame vehicles, many in our industry were caught off guard with the OEM requirement not to repair the first 18 inches of the front rail. That vehicle, when redesigned, had an available section for the front frame rail.
Another factor impacting the issue is that, just a few years ago, OEM procedures and training were much harder to come by than today. Good knowledge and industry training from all available sources allows better documentation of the necessary steps for repair and improved identification of the required parts. It also leads to better insight into repair versus replace decisions, which start with fundamentally good damage analysis.
The industry is changing so rapidly. Vehicle design advances are requiring radical new approaches to repairing the most common vehicles. Estimating starts before you sit down at your computer. It begins with good vehicle-specific damage analysis and a working understanding of required repair procedures.
Properly trained estimators should be able to document the required steps in restoring vehicles safely to pre-accident condition far more efficiently if they have a more well-rounded foundation to work from. Industry training on vehicle-specific requirements is more important than ever when creating a repair plan.
The good news is that the training available today has evolved from simple generic concepts to model- specific requirements. I believe in taking advantage of all available training, from I-CAR, to OEM training, and industry alliance and internal subject matter experts. The answer to being more efficient with your estimating software and the time in front of the computer starts with a better understanding of the processes required to repair today's complex cars. How long should it take to write a complete original estimate? The obvious answer is it depends on the complexity of the damage, the skill and training level of the estimator and the amount of hidden damage or disassembly required. One factor is true no matter what the other variables are: training is the answer to the question.