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I've written about ways to use the customer information form to build business many times, but I still come across estimators who either expect front desk people to handle it and then ignore it, or just capture the minimum info about the vehicle and insurance company. Somehow many estimators simply don't understand the value of this form as a sales and profit tool. Perhaps an estimator's boss, the shop owner or manager, foolishly pays estimators a flat rate with no meaningful incentive to increase business volume and profits, but even estimators I know who are paid incentives still fail to use the form intelligently. I have to conclude they simply don't grasp the real meaning or value of this form.
This form may be one of the most valuable of all forms in a shop! Used properly it can open the door to business and family referrals, provide many ways to make a customer a customer for life, and a wealth of ways to close the sale. In addition to the obvious questions like family and children's birthdays, anniversaries, and other key events, a good info sheet asks for business or employer info and any company vehicle info. A lazy estimator will expect front desk people to capture as much info as they can, but a smart estimator seizes the opportunity to talk with the customer and fill in the form for him or her. A smart owner sends out birthday, anniversary and holiday greetings, but a smarter estimator gets to ask about other family members and associates and their vehicles. This is a perfect time to offer a family or company discount or free car wash or detail to bring in other family members or business associates.
While all of this should be standard customer sales mining, there is an even more important sales use for this form. With the sluggish economy, vehicles are being kept longer. One estimate is now eleven years on average. This means that people keeping their vehicles longer may not be adding collision coverage to their auto insurance. This has increased the volume of self-pay jobs to what may be 20 percent or more for many shops. Unfortunately if the estimator hasn't used the info form to see if it's an insurance pay or self-pay job, he or she might write an estimate that assumes an insurance level of payment to restore the vehicle to pre-accident condition. If the estimator knows it will be a self-pay job, he or she will usually ask the customer just how much restoration is desired and how much the person's budget will bear. Knowing there is a limited budget, an estimator may suggest used or aftermarket parts and other cost-saving measures.
I spoke to one estimator recently who told me most self-pay jobs were very low-priced minor repairs that probably cost more to process than they were worth. I asked if this was always true, and he had to admit that occasionally they would get a self-pay job worth many thousands of dollars. He had to admit that a couple of these jobs would compensate for a great many low or no-profit jobs and that it was probably still worth while to take the time to do the self-pays when they came along. Once again, the customer information form could be a key to profitable self-pay. When faced with a thousand-dollar deductible, even some insurance-covered damage might be profitably converted to self-pay. Most people know that if they have the insurance company pay for repairs, there is a fair chance their premium will rise. A repair job in the $2000 range with a $1000 deductible could easily be a wash if the probability of a premium rate increase is factored in. And if the job became self-pay, once again the estimator could show the customer ways they could reduce the cost of the repair (without reducing the shop's profit).
The low-budget self-pay indication on the form is just one heads-up advantage for the estimator. A more profitable opportunity might be suggested for more affluent types. Some customers might choose to replace an external part with a more cosmetically appealing part and be willing to pay for an upgrade. Pinstriping, graphics, clear-bra or other paint-related add-ons might be suggested. Mothers transporting children or pets might be in the market for additional safety items or restraints. Truck owners might be interested in any number of add-ons. Handicapped people could be looking for a specific upgrade like a power running board. A careful reading of the form can reveal many possibilities before even looking at the vehicle. Handled properly, the customer information form can be a window into the customer's mind. That little bit of information mining could turn into some gold mining for the shop.