Morris: Bridging The Understanding Gap

June 28, 2021
Roosters, freight trains, and how asking the right questions can go a long way when dealing with insurance companies.

I want to tell you two stories about working with insurers/getting paid. They aren’t epiphanies on the topic, but I think you will find they pull back the curtains a bit to reveal the subtleties and nuances of every interaction that ends up having a successful outcome.  

“If I tell you a rooster can pull a freight train, hook him up.” By a show of hands, how many of you have never heard that expression before? If this question had been posed to me about six months ago, my hand would have been raised like most of you. It turns out to be a kind of regional colloquialism that had not migrated its way to the west coast where I live and work. 

Most of you know that Pride Collision Centers, where I work, was recently acquired by Classic Collision. Classic Collision is a rapidly growing national MSO that is based in Atlanta, Ga. Shortly after the acquisition, the COO of Classic, Charlie Drake, came out to our seven locations. At one point, Charlie commented on the new but retro-looking vehicle license plate color schemes that California introduced late last year. I said, “Oh, you mean the ones with the black background and yellow numbers and letters?” to which Charlie responded “Well, Steve, I don’t think they’re black … I think they are a really dark brown.” I didn’t say anything, but it is possible I may have had a look on my face that said I was not buying into the validity of his keen sense of color. 

So of course, at our next shop visit we found a car with the new license plates and the next thing I know, Charlie is crouched down behind the car with his cell phone flashlight activated and shining the light onto the license plate. Sure enough, with the light shining on the plate, the dark background was clearly a rich dark brown. Charlie straightened up, looked at me and said “Steve, if I tell you a rooster can pull a freight train, hook him up!”

I must admit it took me a minute to decipher what he meant regarding roosters and freight trains. Finally, it clicked that the expression means, “When I tell you something, don’t doubt me, I’m definitely correct, you can count on it, and I told you so!” all wrapped up into a non-threatening, highly visual colloquialism. And it was made all the better because the message was delivered in a Southern drawl, which could never offend anyone. 

Lost in Translation 

In relation to talking with insurance folks and getting paid, there are a few things I learned from this experience. One thing is that not everyone talks like me, which also means they don’t hear the same as me. Knowing this, it’s my job to listen extra carefully during a conversation and to also wisely choose words that are actually understood by the other person. We in the body shop business have our own set of jargon, acronyms, colloquialisms, and double entendre that will sound like a foreign language to people who are not directly from our industry. They have their own rooster and freight train sayings and understandings. For these reasons, remember to educate and not to alienate. And remember to seek first to understand, then to be understood. 

The second thing I thought about happened to me many years ago. I was in one of our shops and overheard an estimator having a bit of a squabble with an insurance appraiser. The appraiser was a guy I’d known for many years and for the sake of the story, let’s call him George. George had immigrated to California from Scotland some 20 years prior, yet he still retained a distinct Scottish brogue when he spoke, which wasn’t always easy to understand. George was very loyal to the insurance company for which he worked. He was frugal with company money and was duty bound to only pay what was right, reasonable, and fair. In his personal life, George and his wife were very frugal, almost miserly as well. I once asked him if he had ever travelled back to Scotland since coming to the U.S. and he said, “Nay, Steve, me wife dunnah wanna spend the money for travel, and speakin’ for meeself, I dunna see the reason goin’ back to a place I’ve been before.” It was at this point that I figured George and his wife were probably the inventors of copper wire as a result of them fighting over a penny.

As it turned out, the little squabble I overheard was about the operation of applying cavity wax to a welded-on rocker panel that we were installing on a vehicle. I decided to intervene in the debate and did so with a little bit of a smarty-pants attitude. I asked George if he even knew what cavity wax was. He replied that he did. I asked, if you know what it is, then why won’t you pay for it? He replied that the vehicle didn’t come with cavity wax from the factory, so we don’t owe for it. I asked George, are you I-CAR certified, because I-CAR says we have to apply cavity wax. George replied, yep I took all eight I-CAR classes but I still can’t pay for cavity wax. By now, I was as frustrated as my estimator and I ended up blurting out, “George, if you won’t pay for cavity wax, what will you pay for?” To which George replied “Aye, Steve, don’t be a numptie about this. All this blether has me puggled. I told ye I couldn't pay for cavity wax, but what I will pay for is corrosion pretekshen.”

We took corrosion protection instead of cavity wax and I took away a big lesson about getting paid. Simply put, if you’re ever at an impasse in a negotiation, remain calm and ask, “What will you pay for?” You may be delighted to learn that a simple change in terminology is all that stands between you and the appraiser reaching an agreement.

Thanks George.