Start with the Right Question

Oct. 19, 2018
The solutions to shop struggles—estimate approvals being a large one—are right in front of us

To get the answers you need, you have to ask the correct questions, right? Keep that in mind as we start off with a quick anecdote: Several years ago, I wrote one of my “wishlist columns” (like I did back in January), and at the time, I was still running my shops. Also at the time, I was tired of dealing with the same problems many of you regularly deal with: waiting too long for a re-inspection and approval of an estimate—especially when you are not on any DRPs, which my business wasn’t. I don’t need to tell you this, my friends, but those approvals can take a very long time; often, in my shops, I would have to wait upward of 10 days, maybe even longer.

I was tired of it. And I said so in my column, the premise of which was centered on a question: Why is this system broken? We needed to create a solution that would streamline the process; we needed estimating systems, insurance carriers and repairers to all be linked in one cohesive line that sped up this process. I offered my take on the solution, a cohesive, all-encompassing software system that did this.

And within days of publishing, CCC Information Services reached out to me to take a look at a system they were working on to do just that: Open Shop. I thought it was great, both having the opportunity to offer my input and also the product itself. It was the simple solution I had in mind. Mitchell’s RC Connect is the same way, and another great system. (If there are others out there, I apologize, as I’m unaware of them.) Fast-forward to today, and when I deliver seminars, I often ask people if they use either product and what they think of them. Very few hands go up, and of those that do, many people say they still struggle to gain approvals in a timely manner—if at all. Often, they want to know how to better use the program. They’re asking the wrong question here, though. Instead, the question should be: How can we get quicker approval times on our estimates? Well, for that question, there’s a simple, two-part answer:

1. Approach the estimate—and its line notes—with an accountant-like mentality of detail and organization.

I learned a lesson from a close friend of mine at Axalta Coating Systems named Irvin Clark. Irvin taught me this: “No doesn’t mean no. No simply means that I don’t have enough information to say, ‘Yes.’” This applies directly to how you approach estimates. It’s our jobs to give that information. And we need to give it in a meticulous, organized way.

So, line notes become one of the most critical aspects in all of this. They are there, on the estimate, for whoever is reading it to fully understand what and why you did what you did in repairing the vehicle. They need to be as detailed as possible. For example, if you’re working on a core support for a front-end hit, and a poorly written line note might include “R&I Cal Cover.” Now, the adjuster might wonder why a cal cover was removed and installed when there wasn’t any damage to it. Well, if you’d written the line notes well, it would say, “R&I Cal Cover in order to replace hood hinges that were damaged.” Now, it makes sense, right? You can’t argue with that.

The bottom line is that you have to look at it like an accountant sending in an IRS tax audit. Every detail needs to be accounted for, and everything needs to be as organized as possible in order for it to go well.

2. Take better photos. It’s that simple. I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time at insurance company offices, and I’ve seen a lot of the estimates submitted to them. To be quite candid, we often really suck at taking good photos. Many of them are horrible.

Take better photos. Make sure they’re clear. If you have a hard time identifying the damage in them, that should be a clear sign that they aren’t going to help an adjuster speed up your approval. (If you want some specific tips on how to do it, here’s a great video:

Then, when you upload the photos, make sure they’re clearly labeled to the corresponding line number. Make sure they’re uploaded in the correct spots. Include photos of repair information when necessary, and include photos of various measurements and printouts.

Bottom line: Organized information is the key to gaining quick approvals, regardless of the software systems in place. Now, if you throw in Open Shop or RC Connect, it’ll be that much more effective. I’ve seen some shops wait as long as three weeks for an approval on a reinspection, and that’s not because the software in place; it’s the lack of good line notes, photos and organization. Shops that do it well? I see them regularly get approval within 36 hours. So, the problem isn’t a failing program. Rather, it’s a struggling process. We asked the wrong question.

Look back at that first line of this column. I want all of you to keep that in mind. In all my years, one thing I’ve learned unequivocally is that nothing is solved by griping and complaining. It’s easy to point to a problem; it’s much harder to get to a solution. But we can get there by asking the right questions, by starting a dialogue that brings others into the fold. We get there together. Let’s ask more questions, and let’s find more answers.

About the Author

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson, the former owner of Wagonwork Collision Centers in Alexandria, Va., operates, a training and consulting firm that assists shop operators nationwide. He is also a facilitator for Axalta Coating Systems’ 20 Groups in the U.S. and Canada, and is an Accredited Automotive Manager. Reach Anderson at [email protected].

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