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From the Desk of Mike Anderson

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: 3 Phrases I’ve Heard with Potential Power in the Collision Repair Industry

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: 3 Phrases I’ve Heard with Potential Power in the Collision Repair Industry

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published Jun. 06, 2022

     

    I’ve recently heard three people I respect in the collision repair industry each quote a different phrase that really resonated with me.

    I found myself continuing to think about how what they said is very applicable to our industry. So I thought I would pass those things along here.

    First, I was recently at a conference where Dan Risley of CCC Intelligent Solutions used the term “post-collision emotional support.” That brought to mind a couple of experiences I’d heard just recently from owners of General Motors vehicles.

    In the first, a Texas collision repairer told me his daughter had been in an accident in his vehicle. Not only did OnStar notify him of the accident, but they stayed in contact with him the whole time he was getting to the hospital where his daughter was taken.

    In another instance l heard from a GM owner, OnStarnot only contacted him at the time of the accident to make sure he was OK, but followed up with him the next day just to confirm.

    I think that’s pretty amazing. It reminded me that about a year ago, after I’d had a medical procedure, both my doctor and the anesthesiologist called me the next day just to follow up, to make sure I was OK and wasn’t having any side effects. It meant a lot to me that they took the time to do that.

    I think the automakers are recognizing the opportunity that telematics offer them to provide that “post-collision emotional support” Dan was talking about. I think the GM stories are examples of that, and it’s going to help the OEMs leverage their brand and create raving fans out of customers who are in an accident in a GM vehicle.

    So is there a way for us as shops to similarly provide post-collision emotional support? I think there is. How about a follow-up call to the customer the day after they pick up their vehicle, just to ask if everything is good with their vehicle? I know shops struggle with all the demands they have on their time, but couldn’t this be a great way to cement customer loyalty?

    A second quote that really jumped out at me recently was shared by a Collision Advice teammate, Sheryl Driggers, who I have so much respect for. We were having a team meeting, and she said something like, “Where there is no communication, negativity fills the void.”

    It made so much sense in the context of our discussion that I asked her about it. She said she was paraphrasing Jon Gordon, author of “The Energy Bus,” “The Power of Positive Leadership” and other best-selling books.

    The actual quote from Jon: “Where there is a void in communication, negativity will fill it. Fill the voids so negativity can’t breed and grow.”

    To me, this really brought to mind all the supply chain issues we’re struggling with. If there are delays with the repair of a vehicle because of back-ordered parts or insurer-caused delays, are you keeping those customers actively informed about what’s happening? If there’s a void in your communication, they may be filling that void with negativity: “Man, that shop has really dropped the ball and isn’t getting my car fixed.”

    The fact Sheryl brought this concept to my attention hit home again just a few days later when I heard Ray Chew of CCCtalk about what he termed a “no-update update.” Ray was talking about reaching out to customers just to let them know there’s nothing new you can tell them---there’s still no timeline from the supplier for the arrival of the part we need, for example---but you wanted to at least give them that update.

    The “no-update update” will help fill those communication voices to prevent negativity from creeping in.

    I’d love to hear how you’re offering “post-collision emotional support” or “no-update updates” to help avoid “voids in communication” at your business. Or if there’s a phrase or quote you’ve recently heard that’s resonated with you, drop me a line at mike@collisionadvice.com.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: 4 Questions To Consider Ahead of Negotiating for Any ‘Not-Included’ Estimate Line Item

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: 4 Questions To Consider Ahead of Negotiating for Any ‘Not-Included’ Estimate Line Item

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published October 5, 2018

    Among the most common types of questions I get from shops is something like this:

    “Mike, I see this particular procedure you ask about in one of your ‘Who Pays for What’ surveys, but we just can’t seem to ever get paid for that. How are shops negotiating for that?”

    I take a two-track response to this type of question. First, I challenge them to ensure that they’ve actually really tried to get paid for whatever the procedure is. After three years of conducting “Who Pays” surveys, I never cease to be amazed at the percentage of shops that acknowledge they’ve never negotiated to be paid for some of the procedures.

    Take “airbag residue clean-up” as an example of one such not-included procedure. Our survey last spring found that even though more than one-third of shops (36 percent) said they are paid for this procedure “always” or “most of the time” by the eight largest national insurers when it is a necessary step they perform, more than 60 percent of shops have never sought to be paid for it.

    But once a shop shows me they have asked to be paid for a procedure but just aren’t being successful, I suggest they use a four-question process to prepare for future negotiations.

    Question #1: Is it required to return the vehicle back to pre-accident condition?

    Have you documented that the procedure is necessary? Check out the OEM repair procedures, ideally through the automaker websites directly. Get the appropriate bulletins from your paint manufacturer. Other manufacturers of materials or equipment offer bulletins detailing the need for some of these procedures. Scanning the vehicle may provide documentation of the need for some operations.

    Question #2: Is it included in any other labor operation?

    No estimator should be without a copy of the estimating guides (often referred to as “p-pages”) for all the estimating systems. You can download them from the “Estimate Toolbox” section on the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG) website (www.DEGweb.org). You can also search the DEG database of inquiries submitted to the estimating system providers; there may already be a response confirming that the procedure you are working to negotiate for is “not-included.” (Our “Who Pays” survey reports now include those DEG inquiries related to each procedure.) If there isn’t already an inquiry related to the procedure, you can submit one yourself.

    The associations offer some great free tools to help as well. The Automotive Service Association (ASA) regularly updates what it calls “not-included operations” charts and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) offers a 24-page “Guide to Complete Repair Planning.” Check those out at the association’s websites.

    Question #3: Are there pre-determined times?

    In a few cases, the estimating systems have established a formula for some not-included procedures. CCC, Mitchell and Audatex all have pre-determined times for prepping raw plastic parts, for example. Audatex is 20 percent of the basecoat time (with a minimum of two-tenths), CCC is 25 percent of the basecoat time (with a maximum of an hour) and Mitchell is 20 percent of the basecoat time (with no minimum or maximum).

    Again, the estimating system estimating guides or the DEG are your best sources to determine whether a pre-determined time has been established for a not-included procedure.

    Question #4: What is it worth?

    If it’s required, it’s not-included, and there’s no formula or pre-determined time for a procedure, you will have to determine an appropriate amount. I can’t tell you what to charge. You have to figure out what your labor is going to be and any materials you’re going to use.

    But keep in mind that the time you charge should reflect how long it takes the average technician to gather up their tools, equipment and supplies and perform the task in a safe and proper manner, and then return their tools and equipment.

    If it’s a procedure done frequently in your shop, you may want to set up some time studies to determine an appropriate charge. I highly recommend using an invoicing system for materials or supplies. You can check to see if there’s an OEM warranty labor time.

    The four negotiating questions can apply to just about any line item on your estimate. Arm your estimators with the tools and resources needed to answer those four questions and you can be among the shops successfully being paid for many not-included procedures when they are necessary and your shop does them.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: 7 Steps to Implementing Improvements Within Your Auto Body Repair Business

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: 7 Steps to Implementing Improvements Within Your Auto Body Repair Business

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published May. 10, 2022

     

    “I have all these great ideas, but I can’t get my people at the shop to help implement them.”

    I don’t know if that’s something you’ve found yourself thinking or saying, but I know as a trainer, consultant and 20 Group facilitator, it’s a comment I hear from auto body shop owners frequently.

    The problem, often, is shop owners may be great entrepreneurs, but not always great leaders. But it’s a skill that can be learned, through practice. Following the same steps over and over again will help you become a leader who can put great ideas into practice.

    Here’s my seven-step system for implementing something new at your shop.

    1. Choose a goal.

    Odds are, you have multiple ideas you want to try. Don’t get bogged down trying to do it all: Choose one or two to start; you can come back to the others later.

    2. Assign specific tasks.

    Let’s say you want to “5S” (clean and organize) your paint mixing room to make it more efficient. Choose the person or people who can best help you achieve that, and assign them three to five specific tasks: clean the scale, wash and paint the walls, discard unneeded items, standardize where specific items are to be kept. Don’t overwhelm them by giving them too many items on the action list. You can give them more tasks when they finish the first ones.

    But remember that your definition of clean and organized may differ from theirs, so either work with them the first time, or give clear, detailed instructions about your expectations.

    3. Determine and gather the needed tools, equipment and materials.

    Are you asking them to stay late or meet you on a Saturday to work on a special project? Then absolutely don’t kill morale by waiting until then before you run to the hardware store for needed supplies. Be prepared.

    4. Determine a timeline and set a deadline.

    Ask your team if they think the timeline you’ve set seems appropriate. An action plan in writing with the steps or tasks involved and deadlines ensures their buy-in.

    5. Check in at the midway point.

    Those who abdicate rather than delegate forget about an assigned task until weeks later when they notice it’s not done. At that point it’s as much your fault as theirs that it didn’t get done.

    One shop I work with agreed they would close out a stack of old repair orders within two weeks. The great thing about electronic calendars are the reminders we can schedule in them. I didn’t wait until two weeks went by to check in with that shop. I called one week later and said, “We’re halfway to the deadline. Are you still on task for finishing up in another week?”

    6. Document accomplishments.

    Keeping lists of successes and “victories”---almost a “yearbook”---will give everyone involved a sense of accomplishment. Any time you’re feeling discouraged, you can look back and see that you’ve worked through challenges and made improvements.

    Documentation might include checklists and photos as well; once the paint mixing room looks how you want it kept, post some photos that will remind employees of your expectations for how it is to be maintained.

    7. To sustain a change, choose someone to audit compliance.

    Studies have shown a person has to do something 30 days in a row in order for it to become habit. A frequent audit at first is crucial until something becomes habit, allowing for less frequent auditing later.

    Part of the challenge of getting employees to help implement change is that we all tend to view change in terms of “What is it going to cost me?” or “What am I going to have to give up?”

    Your job as a leader is to promote your vision, to help your team see what they gain from the change, to help them view it as improvement rather than just change. That’s making a change with your team rather than to your team.

    More From the Desk of Mike Anderson:

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: A Reasonable Price for a Vehicle Scan Depends on What You’re Including

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: A Reasonable Price for a Vehicle Scan Depends on What You’re Including

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published November 29, 2018

    I get asked quite regularly by both shops and insurers, "What is a reasonable charge for a vehicle scan?"

    Our “Who Pays for What?” surveys have found there’s not much consistency for what collision repairers charge. In 2018, of about 1,000 shops responding to the survey, about 1 in 4 of those who perform scans in-house charge a flat fee. Just over 40 percent charge up to one labor hour at a mechanical labor rate. But the remaining 35 percent of shops conducting scanning in-house were all over the map. There was similar variety in whether and how shops bill for their labor---such as hooking up the vehicle---when they use a remote scanning service.

    So whenever I get asked, “What’s a fair and reasonable charge for scanning?” I just say it depends on what steps you’re including as part of that charge. I’ve been asking people in my classes to write down all the steps involved in scanning. Only a handful of people are able to list all the steps. Think about it:

    • You have to gain access to the vehicle battery. Depending on where the battery is located in the vehicle---under the hood, under a seat, in the trunk---you may have to remove trim or other items. Is that additional labor time included or do you line-item it separately?
    • You need to access the battery because you have to hook up battery support in order to ensure you have the proper voltage to perform the scan.
    • You may have to allow the vehicle to get to operating temperature. This might not often be an issue in Southern California or other warm climates. But if you’ve pulled the vehicle in from outside during the dead of winter, in many parts of the country it may take some time to get that vehicle up to operating temperature.
    • Only then can you locate the port and hook up your scan tool to perform the output or functionality test. How long that test takes, to send a signal out to all the different modules and determine if any diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) have been set, can vary by make and model, how many modules the vehicle has, etc.
    • Next, you have to record the “freeze-frame” or “snapshot” data. Some vehicles indicate the exact date, time and vehicle mileage when any DTCs have been set. Others may only indicate how many key cycles have occurred since the DTCs were set. Either way, this data helps determine if the DTCs were related either to the accident or (for post-repair scans) the repair process.
    • Then you have to record any DTCs. There may be only a few. I recently saw a vehicle scan that showed 57 DTCs. There could be more than 100.
    • Next, you have to research what caused each of those DTCs. Some OEM scan tools integrate with the OEM repair procedures, which makes that process a little easier, but most do not. For each DTC, you can generally find a flow chart to help you determine which one of potentially several causes led to the DTC. You have to diagnose which is most likely and then narrow that down.
    • Once all that work is done, you generally need to test drive the vehicle. More and more automakers have very specific test drive requirements.
    • After that, you may need to conduct another scan to ensure the DTCs have been cleared and have not reoccurred.

    So a vehicle scan is a lot more than just hooking up a scan tool. Knowing what is a reasonable charge requires knowing which of the above steps you’ll be including.

    I can’t tell you what to charge. But given that some of the steps can vary widely from vehicle to vehicle, I think the fair thing is to include the basics in your base charge for scanning---pulling the vehicle in, letting it get up to operating temperature, hooking up the scan tool and recording the DTCs.

    I think it’s also fair to then line-item the related procedures that vary more widely vehicle to vehicle. Certainly the diagnostic time required to trouble-shoot all the DTCs varies based on the number and complexity of those codes. I don’t see how that can be included in a basic scan charge rather than being itemized out based on how much time is required for each particular vehicle.

    I think the industry should move away from a simple set charge for every scan. Instead, I’d suggest defining what’s included in the base charge and then adding line items for the diagnostic work and other variables.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Adding for the Necessary Repair of Adjacent Panels

    Mike-Anderson-adjacent-panel-repair-billing

    A recent “Who Pays for What?” survey found more than 1 in 10 shops have never sought to be paid for repairing “mating" panels after the removal of a damaged panel.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Alignments Too Critical for Collision Repair Shops to Not Do Them In-House

    Mike-Anderson-Collision-Advice-alignments

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Alignments Too Critical for Collision Repair Shops to Not Do Them In-House

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published
    Jan. 4, 2023

    During a recent meeting I had with my SPARTAN 300 20 Group, we reviewed some vehicle crash test videos posted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, like this one showing a side crash test of a 2022 ToyotaCorolla.

    If you watch the tires on the vehicle as it gets pushed sideways by the sled, you can see they leave black marks on the floor just as they would if they scraped against the pavement in a real collision.

    Watching this, the question came up: Could that create flat spots on the tires?

    One of our group’s members checked the run-out on tires on collision-damaged vehicles in their shop using the HunterRoad Force Elite, and found more than 27% of the tires they checked did have flat spots.

    That led us to a discussion about alignments. We know more and more vehicle system calibrations require an alignment prior to the calibrations. And more and more alignments require a calibration of some system after the alignment. It won’t take you long looking through automaker repair procedures to know more and more automakers are saying an alignment is necessary any time a vehicle has been in an accident. Electronic stability systems are just one of the systems that rely on the vehicle being properly aligned.

    Given all this, I believe in today’s collision world, you really need to be able to do alignments in-house.

    I know some of you will say: But the bill-payer only wants to pay me $89 for an in-house alignment. But let’s remember there are at least four different types of alignments.

    A preventative maintenance alignment---what people were talking about years ago when they said, "Set the toe and let it go"---are the typical $89 alignments to make sure the vehicle handles properly and the tires don’t wear unevenly.

    But there are also “symptom alignments,” where the customer comes in to say their car is pulling or they’re experiencing a shudder or shimmy. There are also “performance alignments” for someone who wants their alignment to a certain spec ahead of going to the racetrack.

    But what we’re doing in our industry are “collision alignments,” which are very different than these other types of alignments. The work involved in these alignments starts during intake of the vehicle. At that point, we need more information about the accident. We need to ask what the weather conditions were; the tires on a vehicle hit on dry pavement are going to grip the road more, more likely resulting in a flat spot.

    We need to understand if the vehicle left the road, vertically or horizontally. Did it hit a curb? How many occupants were in the vehicle? How fast was the vehicle moving? Were the brakes applied at the time of impact? Is the steering wheel off-center? All of these things can impact the repair and alignment of the vehicle.

    It’s also important to understand all we have to do as part of a collision alignment that is not included in those $89 alignments. We may need to do a steering angle sensor reset. We may have to empty unnecessary customer cargo. We may have to ensure the gas tank is full, and all the other fluid levels are full.

    By the way, for those of you trying to avoid that by putting some weight in the vehicle instead: Stop it! Follow the OEM procedures. I have seen only two automakers that give you procedures for how to do that instead of filling.


    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Alignments Too Critical for Collision Repair Shops to Not Do Them In-House (article continued)

    We may also have to do some advanced diagnosis. The subframe could be misaligned, for example. If you let the subframe bolts loose and it jumps, that tells you it’s got some pressure on it. You may also have to adjust a cross-member for torque steer.

    There’s just a lot more that we have to do.

    Being able to do alignments in-house is also important because I believe that in order to write an accurate damage analysis, a pre-alignment check is necessary. I’ve been heartened to see in our “Who Pays for What?” surveys over the years that more shops are reporting regularly being paid for this procedure. Back in 2015, only 37% of shops said they were paid “always” or “most of the time” for a pre-diagnostic alignment by the eight largest national insurers. That was up to 45% in last year’s survey.

    Still, about two in five shops acknowledge never having sought to be paid for this important process. I’d like to think those shops are doing the pre-alignment check and just not billing for the labor involved, but I’m also concerned some of them are not taking vehicle alignment into account early in the process as they should be.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Are You Giving Your Estimators the Time and Training Needed to Succeed?

    Mike-Anderson-estimators-training-collision-repair-auto-body-shops

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Are You Giving Your Estimators the Time and Training Needed to Succeed?

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published
    April 5, 2023

    We at Collision Advice recently reviewed some data on the average collision repair severity in each state, and not surprisingly, it has continued to rise. On a national basis, it’s now over $4,700, but in many states, the average is over $5,000, and there’s one state where the average is over $6,000.

    But we wanted to drill down further to look not only at how average severity has changed over the past five years, but also how average number of labor hours per job have changed over that time.

    Again, looking at the data on a state-by-state basis, average severity has risen by about $1,000 since 2019 in some states, and by as much as $2,000 in others. But more interestingly, the actual number of labor hours per job hasn’t risen that much.

    In some states, the average total number of labor hours is up by only about 1.2 hours over that four-year period. The biggest increase we saw in the average number of labor hours per job in any state was four hours.

    In some cases, when the labor hours were broken down by type---body, refinish, frame and mechanical---we actually saw some small decreases in the averages in some state.

    So at the end of the day, severity has gone up, but it’s not because of a significant increase in the labor hours per job. The increase is more based on increased scans and calibrations, and because of the use of more---and more expensive---parts per job.

    As I looked at this data, I started to ask myself why. If you asked me this three or four years ago, I would have said maybe it’s insurance pressure. Insurance companies are really just hammering shops and trying to control severity.

    While that may be true to an extent, I believe that a majority of shops---and I’m not trying to offend anybody here---use the insurance companies as an excuse for their own lack of knowledge and training. I really believe we have people in shops writing estimates or repair plans who have not been properly trained.

    Part of the reason: We’re having to hire a lot of new people in our industry, and I think too often we’re not setting them up for success. We’re not giving them the time to train, we’re not finding the right training, and then we’re not giving them the time to write a proper damage analysis.

    In some cases, we have people who are not educated themselves teaching someone else. It’s kind of like that game of telephone we all played in school, where one person tells another person something, and that person is supposed to tell another person the exact same thing, and so on, but by the time the message gets to the last person, it’s very different than the original.

    Now my company offers estimating training, but there’s a lot of others sources of estimate training as well. You have Dave Dunn at Masters School. You have Kristen Felder and Larry Montanez with Collision Hub. You have Roger Cada from Accountable Estimating.

    So I’m not saying you need to get training from us. I’m just saying you need to find somebody that can help get your team properly trained. I think it’s only going to become even more important as we start working on more and more electric vehicles.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Are You Itemizing the Vehicle Prep Steps Necessary Prior to ADAS Calibrations?

    ADAS-calibration-OEM-requirements

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Are You Itemizing Vehicle Prep Steps Necessary Prior to ADAS Calibrations?

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published
    Dec. 5, 2022

    Collision repair shops are obviously seeing more and more vehicles coming in for repairs that include advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and that means more and more vehicles are requiring calibrations of those systems as part of the repair.

    There are a lot of great resources out there for determining which vehicles have systems that will need to be calibrated. I-CAR, for example, offers a free online search tool to find OEM calibration requirements

    Pull up the requirements for 2022 Acura MDX, for example, and the site shows what’s required related to the adaptive cruise control, collision warning, blind spot detection and about 10 other vehicle systems---there’s also a link at the top of the search results to a detailed page explaining how to use the requirements search.

    But what I want to focus on here are some of the things often required by the automaker to be done---by your shop or by whatever sublet vendor you are using---to the vehicle prior to the calibration. There’s also “stall prep” work that must be done, but I’m focusing here on steps related to the vehicle itself.

    This vehicle prep required for accurate calibration may include such items as verifying the fuel level in the vehicle, and adding fuel if necessary to meet the necessary conditions. It can include verifying the tire pressure, and the levels of other vehicle fluids in the vehicle like coolant or oil or washer fluid. It can include verifying the trunk doesn’t have any excess contents adding weight or “ballast.” You may have to check the back of the front seats to make sure there’s nothing in the seat pocket. An alignment is often a required step prior to calibrations.

    When I’m working with estimators or repair planners, I always teach them to itemize these operations aside from the calibration line entry itself. Why?

    Because there are variables. You may have two similar vehicles each requiring the same calibration, but one has the full fuel tank needed, while the other has only a half tank of gas, requiring an added step.

    Speaking of which, let me tell you about an experience one collision repairer recently told me about when I was visiting the shop. The shop had added fuel to a vehicle because the calibration required a full tank of gas, but the vehicle had come into the shop with only a half-full tank.

    After the customer picked up the repaired vehicle, he asked if the shop had added gas. The shop explained it was required as part of the calibration. The customer then asked what type was added. It turned out it wasn’t the type the customer used. He made such a stink about it, the shop had to drain the fuel and replace the fuel filters just to make the customer happy.


    Are You Itemizing Vehicle Prep Steps Necessary Prior to ADAS Calibrations? (article continued)

    I think it’s going to become more important that shops ask vehicle owners to bring their vehicle in full of fuel whenever possible, explaining it’s necessary for proper calibrations. This is something that always should have been done in order to do a proper suspension alignment, but now it’s just as critical---or perhaps more so---for calibrations. And if you do need to add fuel, contact the customer ahead of time to avoid the type of situation this shop found itself in.

    So the bottom line is estimates and invoices that include a calibration should also include lines items for whatever vehicle prep was required. Make sure you’re researching those requirements in the OEM information, and then make sure it’s being done properly. Don’t try to cheat it.

    There are some OEMs that may say if you have a half-tank of gas, you can offset it by adding a set amount of weight added to the vehicle. But if the OEM doesn’t call that out, you need to make sure it has a full tank of gas.

    The other thing: If you sublet your calibrations, you want to make sure these vehicle prep steps are done, either by your shop, if practical, before it goes to the sublet vendor, or by that sublet vendor. You may want to ask that sublet vendor to provide photos or other documentation that the necessary vehicle prep was done.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Are You Upgrading Your Shop’s Customer Service Experience?

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Are You Upgrading Your Shop’s Customer Service Experience?

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published September 18, 2018

    First, just a quick note to say I appreciate Autobody News offering me an opportunity to share some of my thoughts, opinions and ideas with you here.

    I know many of you may have only an occasional chance to attend one of my presentations or classes, so this is a way for me to try to offer you some information every month.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a term I first heard from Mark Fincher at CCC Information Services: “liquid expectations.” What it means, in a nutshell, is that your customers and potential customers aren’t comparing their experience interacting with your shop based solely (or even at all) on their experience with another body shop. They’re actually comparing it with their experience with other types of companies.

    Think about it: You can book a hotel room or airline ticket any time of day or night. Order almost anything from Amazon (24/7) and it likely can be delivered in the next day or two---often with free shipping. You can use OpenTable to make a restaurant reservation in the middle or the night, and the large movie theater chains enable you to buy tickets in advance online. Have you picked up a rental car from an airport recently? You likely could walk straight from the plane right to a designated parking space where your car was waiting with the keys in it – with no stop at a rental counter.

    Are you offering any type of conveniences like this? I’ve been told as many as one-third of consumers want (or even expect) to be able to do business with you outside of business hours. Are you making that possible? Or are you at risk of losing those potential customers to shops that understand the customer experience they want?

    Can your customers go online in the evening or on weekends and book an appointment for an estimate or to drop off their car? CCC’s “CarWise” is just one of the ways you can enable this. Customers can punch in their zip code to see a listing (and possibly reviews) of shops in their area. But go to the site and you’ll see only some shops have it set up to also allow a customer to click a “Schedule Appointment” button to see what appointment days and times are available and book online.

    A potential customer might not think to go to the CarWise site if they already know your business. So some of the shops I work with have the CarWise appointment scheduling system embedded right into their own shop website.

    Do your customers have to be at the shop to sign a paper document to authorize repairs? Or do you offer them the option of providing an electronic signature remotely?

    As you walk around a vehicle to check for prior damage, are you still using pens to mark the damage on the car, or are you capturing that information electronically?

    I know there’s lots of controversy about photo estimating, and I absolutely agree that you can’t write an accurate complete estimate from photos. I also know estimating by photo is not legal in some states.

    But with those limitations in mind, does providing photo estimating offer you a way to start the process with a potential customer who doesn’t find it convenient to come in for that initial step? Another client of mine has a two-minute video on their shop’s website that walks the customer through the process of shooting and submitting photos for an estimate using a cell phone app that they can download there at the shop’s website.

    Other shops offer a concierge service that sends an estimator to the customer’s home or work to prepare an estimate, perhaps even outside of traditional work hours. I know shops that use independent appraisers to provide this service on behalf of their shop.

    The bottom line: We have to provide a much more modern customer service experience, particularly if we don’t want to risk losing the estimated 1-in-3 customers looking to interact with us outside of typical shop hours.

    Mike Anderson is the president and owner of Collision Advice, a consulting company for the auto body/collision repair industry. For nearly 25 years, he was the owner of Wagonwork Collision Center, an OEM-certified, full-service auto body repair facility in Alexandria, VA.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Auto Body Shops Can Take Control of Credit Card Processing Fees

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Auto Body Shops Can Take Control of Credit Card Processing Fees

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published October 1, 2021

    It came as no surprise to me our “Who Pays for What?” surveys have found the vast majority (95%) of collision repair businesses accept payment from customers by credit card.

    All of us as consumers have become accustomed to the convenience of using credit cards, and enjoying the rewards---cash back, travel points, etc.---we can receive by paying our bills with them.

    But have you stopped to look recently at what it’s costing your business to offer that convenience to your customers? Have you looked into what your options are for reducing or eliminating those costs?

    Now you might think I’m talking about shopping around among the hundreds of merchant processing options out there, most of which are all too eager to assure you they will meet or beat your current processing fees. That is one option.

    But let’s look at some ways you might be able to trim your card processing costs without switching vendors.

    It’s a project one of my Collision Advice teammates, Mark Head, spearheaded this year. He’s a true financial specialist, working with our Collision Advice clients to dig into their profit-and-loss statements and really make sure they understand how to maximize their profitability and where they need to focus their attention.

    Mark first contacted our clients who are members of our “20 groups” to find out what the true cost was of their card processing, meaning the fees they were incurring monthly.

    As you’re probably aware, card processing fees can vary significantly. Some are based on a flat percentage. Some include a percentage plus a per-transaction fee. Some vary based on the type of card (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, etc.). Some differ based on whether the card was present at the time of the transaction versus a remote transaction. Did you know that? I sure didn’t!

    So Mark had our clients tell us which processing service they use---there were almost two dozen different vendors---and had them all use the same basis to determine their processing costs: divide the total fees paid in a given month, by the total sales dollars paid via credit card for that month.

    The bottom line on processing fees?

    “It ranged from a low of just above 1.5%---1.64%, to be exact---to more than 4%---4.2%, in fact,” Mark told me. “This is often an ‘unknown cost’ for a lot of shops. They know they pay something, but have never really taken a close look at what it’s costing them to offer their customers that convenience. That’s what I wanted to point out to them: is it worth giving up 3 or 4% of the bill to allow customers to pay with a credit card versus cash or a check.”

    Remember this percentage erodes your bottom line!

    So what can auto body shops do about this cost?

    First, they may want to place a limit on the dollar amount a customer can pay using a credit card. Say a customer’s vehicle is in for a $3,500 repair, including their $1,000 deductible. Do you allow the customer to put the insurance payment into their own account and pay the whole $3,500 on their credit card? If so, you just paid $105 (if you pay a 3% processing fee) for that transaction.

    But what if you placed a cap of $1,000 on the amount the customer can pay by credit card? They still get the convenience of paying their deductible by credit card, but you paid only $30 in credit card processing fees because the insurance portion of the bill wasn’t included in the credit card transaction. In this example, the shop saved $75; multiply that by the number of credit card transactions you have per month, and it adds up to real money.

    There’s some indication a growing number of collision repair shops are placing such limits. One of our “Who Pays for What?” surveys in 2020 found 76% of shops had no such limit. This year, the survey found that had fallen to 61%. Limits of either $1,000 or $2,500 were the most common.

    But you might also consider under what circumstances you accept payment by credit card. Some insurance companies have pressed their direct repair shops to accept payment from the insurer by credit card. Shops that recognized what that 2% or 4% off the bottom line could mean for their business often found they were successful in requesting other forms of payment from the insurer.

    Some of those shops also said the insurance company allowed them to add the credit card fees to the amount they were being paid. I’ll discuss this later in this column, but I want to note here that is not something we confirmed ourselves, and neither Mark nor I are offering any legal advice here.

    But here’s another scenario Mark and I have been hearing about: tow companies who want to pay the bill at the shop by credit card when picking up a total loss vehicle. I just have to scratch my head thinking about any shop agreeing to that, particularly when our “Who Pays for What?” surveys consistently show more than half of shops are not marking up tow bills---that’s a topic for another column.

    When that tow truck driver pays that bill with a credit card and you’re not marking up the sublet tow charge, you’re not only not making any money on that tow, you’re actually losing money---the 2% or 3% or 4% you’re paying in credit card processing for that transaction. That just makes no sense.

    So those are some ways---aside from shopping for lower processing fees---to limit or reduce how much accepting some payments by credit card is costing your business.

    But Mark also did some more digging into some other cost-saving possibilities for shops.

    “We found some processors allow a shop to offer what’s called a cash-discount program,” Mark said. “It implements a service fee on all customers, while giving a discount to the customer who pays in cash or check.”

    There’s an important caveat, Mark said such a surcharge is not legal in 10 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas and New York, though we heard recently that may change in New York. But here’s how it can work in the other 40 states.

    “First, you have to post signage in your office or lobby or customer area explaining that all final bills include a 4% surcharge, for example, on top of the total bill,” Mark said. “The surcharge should be whatever percentage you actually pay in fees. And you need to tell the customer up front. That’s very important.”

    It’s easy for a customer to avoid paying that surcharge: they just need to pay their bill with cash or a check. Basically, the credit card fee shows up on the customer’s end, not the shop’s; therefore the shop isn’t paying a fee.

    Mark’s presentation on this was a real eye-opener for a lot of our auto body shop clients who really hadn’t realized, first, how much credit card fees were eroding their bottom line, and second, that they had options.

    I’m so grateful to him for doing this research and being able to point our clients to some of the processors offering the cash-discount program if they are eligible to use it in their state.

    “As shop owners, you always want to grow sales, but you need to keep an eye on costs as well,” Mark told them.

    He’s the kind of “numbers guy” I’m thankful to have on my team.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Automakers' Increased Role in Claims Seems Just on the Horizon as Connectivity Happens

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Automakers' Increased Role in Claims Seems Just on the Horizon as Connectivity Happens

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published December 28, 2018

    It’s been about four years since the industry began talking about the automakers playing a larger role in helping vehicle owners after an accident---using telematics to contact the driver at the crash scene, for example, to ask if they need medical help or a tow arranged for them, or to see if they would like a referral to a nearby shop certified by that automaker.

    I frequently get asked, particularly by shops that have invested in OEM certifications, when that’s going to start to take place regularly.

    I believe there are three things that need to occur---and are about to happen---to make that a reality. I should say these are strictly my opinions based on what I’ve read, conferences I’ve attended, etc. But the first thing that needs to happen is to have more vehicles “connected” via internet access. That’s happening rapidly. From the research I’ve seen, just three years from now, in 2022, nearly 90 percent of new vehicles in North America will be equipped with telematics.

    But being equipped to be connected and actually being connected are two different things. To have more consumers choose to be connected will require two other changes that I see beginning to occur.

    First, there’s a generational shift that has to happen. My 81-year-old father does not want GM’s OnStar to always know where he is. He’s concerned about privacy. But my 20-something-year-old niece, on the other hand, wants to stream music, so she wants to be connected to the internet 24/7. She wants her child to be able to watch movies while they are in the car. That generational divide may have slowed the adoption of vehicle connectivity, but that’s changing.

    The other factor that has to be addressed is affordability. Studies have found U.S. drivers aren’t willing to pay even $500 a year to have their vehicle connected, and Canadians are willing to pay even less---under $200 year.

    That’s why some recent announcements by automakers are convincing me that the connected car is about to become much more common very soon. There are automakers offering internet connectivity for $22 a month or even $17 a month. One automaker has said that in 2019 it will offer free internet connectivity for a number of years on its new cars.

    So the technology is there, the affordability is getting there, and the generational shift is happening. As those three things align, it starts to bring to fruition the ability for car manufacturers to handle first notice of loss after an accident.

    How will that look? Some automakers may offer their own insurance bundled with the car. They’ll want more control over their customer’s experience with that vehicle even throughout the claims process after an accident.

    Others may do something more jointly with insurance companies, partnering with them to provide the insurer with accident information, for example, and working together on first notice of loss.

    In either case, I think that shops thinking about where they want to be three or four years from now need to be moving toward OEM certification, so that as that OEM connectivity to the vehicles increases, you’re there.

    Could this create some challenges in the meantime? You bet. OEM certification programs may have different parts use expectations than insurer direct repair programs, for example. That may mean giving up some margin by using only OEM parts or maybe stepping back from some DRPs. I think it’s conceivable that as automakers control more of the first notice of loss process, they could help a shop regain market share the shop may have lost by ending a DRP relationship.

    Some shop owners will question whether there’s a risk of not getting a return on their investment in OEM certification. What if this increased involvement of the automakers doesn’t occur, or doesn’t result in added business for certified shops?

    To me, that’s a little bit like asking, “What if I invest in a whole bunch of training for a technician who then leaves my shop?” My response to that question has always been: What if you don’t train that tech and they stay?

    What happens, in this case, if you don’t get OEM-certified, and the connected car scenario I foresee happening plays out---only by then, the automakers already have their certified shops in your market? What will you do then?

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Building Trust Through Online Reviews, OEM Certifications

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Building Trust Through Online Reviews, OEM Certifications

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published July 2, 2019

    I was recently over at my best friend Greg Thompson’s house and his son, Jarrett Thompson, stopped by.

    Greg had agreed to babysit his grandson so that Jarrett and his wife could have an evening out. Greg asked Jarrett what their plans were and Jarrett said they were thinking about going out to dinner at an Italian restaurant I’ll call “Ernesto’s.”

    “Oh, you are going to love Ernesto’s,” Greg told Jarrett. “They have the best pizza.”

    I was there when Jarrett stopped by later that night to pick up his son and Greg asked Jarrett how they liked Ernesto’s.

    “Dad, we didn't go there because it didn’t have good reviews online,” Jarrett told him.

    Ladies and gentlemen, that is all the evidence you need that many people—young people in particular—rely more on online reviews than the word of their own father (or another family member or friend).

    I mention this because I’ve been thinking a lot about how shops can build trust among customers and potential customers. Greg and Jarrett’s interaction is a great example of how online reviews are a great way to start developing that trust.

    Customers are no longer just choosing the closest shop from the list they were handed by their insurance company. They go online to verify that whatever shop was recommended to them is, in fact, a good choice; therefore, it’s important that you have great online reviews.

    The whole issue of building trust came up at a recent conference where I was a speaker. Another one of the speakers, Ray Chew of CCC Information Services, went around the room asking shops how they think people feel when they have to find a shop after an accident. Some said anxious, upset, mad, sad, etc. However, everyone agreed that consumers face negative emotions when looking for a body shop.

    So, our first goal should be to alleviate those negative feelings by building their trust. Having positive online reviews about your shop can help ease customers.

    Oftentimes, after the customer comes to the shop, a discussion about insurance company involvement is brought up.

    We need to stop and make them feel better first—recognize their pain and sympathize with their experience. Then, start to build trust by focusing on why they made the right call by choosing your shop.

    You might ease your customer by saying, “Okay, I know you’re concerned about whether your Nissan will ever be the same. I want you to know that there are 40,000 body shops in the United States, but fewer than 2,000 have met the training and equipment requirements to be Nissan certified. We’re a shop that has been Nissan certified. In fact, we’ve had advanced training.”

    That term “advanced training” is important, Ryan Taylor of Bodyshop Booster said. Having the “advanced training” to earn automaker certifications is a good way to build trust and reduce their anxiety.

    I don’t think enough certified shops are talking about that certification with potential customers and then these shops gripe about spending money on OEM certifications, without seeing any work from it.

    However, at recent automaker conferences, I brought people up on stage and we called their shops. I would say, “I just wrecked my [brand of car] and wondered if you work with ABC Insurance.” The shops would assure me they are a direct repair shop for ABC Insurance and ask me if I had a claim number, but never mention they are certified by the maker of my car and what that means to me.

    We need to start making our advanced training and automaker certification part of the conversation up front to build customer trust.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Calculating the Cost of Comebacks

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Calculating the Cost of Comebacks

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published August 27, 2019

    What’s the cost of a comeback?

    It’s a question most shops haven’t considered; fewer shops have actually calculated the cost of a comeback. If you figured out the actual cost each time a customer has to bring their vehicle back into the shop, you’d be investing more of your time, systems or other resources to prevent it.

    I’m not talking about a customer coming back for a trim piece or other another part that was on backorder at the time the vehicle was delivered. I’m talking about the customer coming back that you didn’t expect to see until their next accident. They could be returning because of a paint issue, wind noise, or some vehicle system not functioning properly – something related to the quality and completeness of the repairs you performed.

    Clearly, most of the issues leading to such comebacks are avoidable through the use of such practices as having a good (preferably electronic) quality-control process in place throughout the repairs (something I discussed in a previous article), conducting a post-repair scan and test drive, and adhering to the OEM repair procedures researched at the time the repair plan for the vehicle was developed.

    If you don’t have those practices in place – or if you do and something still manages to fall through the cracks – you’re likely to have a comeback. So let’s do the math and figure out how much that costs your business.

    First, let’s think about some of the other indirect costs to which we might not be able to attach a dollar figure. How does that comeback impact the trust and reputation you’ve built with that customer? How much potential future business will you lose from that particular customer – or from others who hear, or read online about that customer’s experience?

    But leaving those intangible costs aside, you can actually measure the other bottom-line financial costs of that comeback. Here’s how.

    Start with the cost of your body technician’s time addressing the comeback. The average collision technician produces about $55,000 or $65,000 per month in sales. At a 45 percent gross profit, a $55,000-per-month technician generates $24,750 in gross profit.

    Divide that by the number of hours they work in a month (let’s say it’s 195 hours) and you’ll see that technician is generating $126.92 in gross profit for each hour worked.

    So if that technician has to spend two hours on a redo or comeback, that just cost your shop $253.84 in lost gross profit. If there’s paintwork involved in the comeback, you can use a similar calculation to add in what it cost in paint shop labor gross profit.

    How about the estimator who worked with that customer and who took the call when the customer found a problem with the vehicle? He had to spend the time to speak with the customer, schedule the car back in, order any necessary parts, look up any additional OEM repair procedures, convey the information to the necessary staff, and coordinate getting the vehicle back to the customer a second time. Each of those small steps adds up, and they often interrupt work the estimator was doing, adding to the time lost in getting back into that work. An estimator making $60,000 a year cost you about $25.64 per hour ($5,000 per month divided by 195 hours worked per month) so if that comeback eats up 1.5 hours of their time, you’ve just added $38.46 to the dollars and cents cost of that comeback.

    Does your $15-per hour detailer need to spend another hour re-cleaning the vehicle? Add that in. Were there any paint materials needed? Add that in. Hopefully, the comeback didn’t require additional scanning or calibrations, but if so, you can add the cost of those in as well.

    It’s easy to see how a comeback for even a relatively minor issue can rack up $500 or even $1,000 in costs for your business. Even just three of those a month can put an $18,000 ding in your shop’s annual bottom line – and I suspect there are a lot of shops dealing with far more than three comebacks a month.

    So let’s talk about what you’re doing to avoid comebacks. Send me an email (mike@collisionadvice.com) about your quality control process or other insights you can share. Let’s start taking some of the wasteful cost of comebacks out of your shop and out of the industry.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Calculating the ROI in ‘Growing’ Your Own New Body Techs

    investment-in-paying-apprentice-collision-repair-technician

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Calculating the ROI in ‘Growing’ Your Own New Body Techs

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published
    May 9, 2023

    More collision repair shops are recognizing they’ll never be able to find all the experienced body technicians they will need, and they instead will need to develop one---or more---themselves. So they are hiring an apprentice, and either training them in-house or sending them to training while they work part-time in the shop.

    It’s that model of schooling coupled with work experience that makes me a huge supporter of the Collision Engineering Program. Now in place at seven post-secondary schools---and growing---around the country, the Collision Engineering Program puts students through a two-year training regimen in which they rotate eight weeks at school, then eight weeks working within a shop.

    I see many of my client shops doing the math and realizing they can receive a good return on their investment in helping a student complete a training program at a school that’s part of the Collision Engineering Program, or at one of the other quality collision repair training programs around the country.

    In some cases, these shops are telling these prospective apprentices: If you successfully complete the program, in addition to your other pay and benefits, we’ll pay your monthly student loan payments as long as you’re working within our business.

    So how does that pencil out? Obviously, the cost of a student’s training can vary based on the school’s tuition, and on whether the student is attending a local school or needing room and board to attend a program elsewhere. But just for the purpose of this article, let’s say the cost the shop is committing to is $40,000. In this example, that covers two years of tuition and room and board while the student is spending each eight-week period at the school. The student also finishes the program with a starter tool box and I-CAR credits.

    How long will it take the shop to recoup its investment in that student and start generating a return? Let’s work through the math.

    Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing the average body technician generating about $53,000 to $63,000 a month in gross sales. That number has risen in the last few years as the average number of parts per job---as well as ADAS-related steps---have increased overall repair costs. And I’ve seen technicians at shops with great estimators, particularly if they are working on higher-end vehicles in markets with higher labor rates, producing as much as $75,000 or $80,000 per month in sales.

    But again, for purposes of this exercise, let’s say the body technician you’re investing in is able to produce $60,000 a month in gross sales.

    Now, say your shop is making a 43% gross profit. That’s unloaded without taking employee benefits into account. I know some shops making less than that, and some making more. But let’s stick with 43%.

    If you calculate 43% of $60,000, that technician is generating $25,800 in gross profit per month for that shop. For technicians reading this article, understand that is gross profit. That’s not net profit for the shop owner. Out of that gross profit, the shop has to pay its rent and utilities, pay its taxes and pay for its administrative staff, pay for training and the estimating system costs, etc.

    So now let’s divide that $25,800 by the 180 clock hours the technician in this example works in a month (four weeks of 45 hours each). That technician is producing $143.33 in gross profit per hour. Again, this is just for the purposes of this article; some technicians produce more, others less.

    Let’s just say your apprentice is able to produce $100 an hour in gross profit. It will take 10 weeks, at 40 hours per week, for that technician to generate gross profit equal to the $40,000 you invested in their education.

    Again, that doesn’t take into account a lot of things, like the cost of health insurance you provide, uniforms, vacation pay, workers’ compensation insurance premiums, etc. But even if you calculate it will take twice that long, 20 weeks, that’s still not a particularly long period for your investment to start providing a return.

    Aside from that, think of the loyalty you’re building in that technician who knows his or her student debt is being paid by the business as long as they work there.

    I know with most shops being extremely busy these days, owners often hate the idea of sending technicians to OEM or other ongoing training. But if that training improves their productivity or efficiency, the exercise we just walked through can show you the potential return on that investment.


    Calculating the ROI in ‘Growing’ Your Own New Body Techs (article continued)

    It’s also a good calculation to perform when you think of anything that pulls that technician away from working steadily on vehicles. Every time that technician has to go look for a part or a tool, every time that technician is writing their own supplement notes or having to walk to the office for something, that’s costing your shop the equivalent of $100+ per hour in gross profit. That’s one of the reasons I’m a huge proponent of having an estimator/repair planner working out in the shop, to help ensure the technicians are able to stay on task.

    In any case, I think we all have to start thinking a little out of the box in terms of recruiting and retaining technicians, and making an investment into “growing your own” can have a significant return.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Can You Meet Collision Repair Shop Customers’ Changing Expectations of Service?

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Can You Meet Collision Repair Shop Customers’ Changing Expectations of Service?

    Written byMike Anderson, Autobody News
    PublishedDec. 20, 2021

     

    I recently had the opportunity to meet in person with many of my 20 Group clients, and one of the things that came up was collision repair customers are not as patient as they used to be.

    At the beginning of the pandemic, if you told a customer a part was on backorder, or a part would take longer to arrive because the supplier had reduced how frequently they were doing deliveries, they were pretty understanding.

    What I’m hearing from auto body shops around the country is those same customers today are much more demanding, and they’re not so patient. They don’t care about supply chain issues or the shortage of employees. They just want their car repaired and back to them.

    And I hate to say it, but unfortunately I believe that’s only going to get worse.

    Which brings me to the topic of liquid expectations. You’ve probably heard that term. It basically describes that customer expectations in terms of service from a business are really shaped by their experiences with other companies.

    If I can use the Starbucks app to order and pay for my coffee and have it ready and hot on the counter for me when I walk in, why can’t the local coffee shop around the corner offer me similar convenience and service?

    In terms of our industry, I’ve been thinking about things I used to go get that now get delivered to my door. Take groceries. I may spend $100 on groceries, maybe $300 sometimes. Either way, my local grocery store delivers that to my house for free.

    I get a prescription filled that costs me $7.99. My local pharmacy delivers that to my house. For free. No delivery charge.

    I believe it’s just a matter of time before customers are going to start saying: "I spent $4,000 with you, and I have to leave my job early to come pick up my car?" I think it’s just a matter of time before they’re going to want the same type of pick-up and delivery service they are getting from all types of other businesses.

    Now understand: I’m not saying I agree with this. I’m not saying it’s something we have to do or should be doing. But I believe collision repair customers are starting to want and could start to expect and demand a “white glove” or “concierge” type of service experience from us.

    I was on a call recently with an insurer who said they’re seeing that sort of expectation from customers in terms of the insurer’s DRP shops.

    So what would that mean for your body shop? Well, it means having another one or two people, right? We need to make sure they have a clean driving record and can have good interactions with customers. We’ll have some added liability if we’re driving customers’ vehicles back and forth.

    We’re going to need to be profitable enough that we can offer that type of services. That goes back to a previous article of mine about employee wages where I said either labor rates have to change, or shops have got to be paid for more not-included operations, or some combination of the two.

    Alternatively, it may also be something we could have a fee for. You pay $6.99 for a delivery by DoorDash. People spend that. So maybe it’s time we start offering pick-up and delivery for a certain dollar amount.

    Either way, it also means we’re going to need to do much better in terms of quality control inspections of vehicles, because we don’t want to get a repair vehicle out to the customer’s home and only then discover an issue.

    As I said, suggesting yet another challenge for collision repair shop operators isn’t something I like. But I just see this as one of the ways customer expectations are changing which we need to consider.

    Related article from Mike Anderson:Are You Upgrading Your Shop’s Customer Service Experience?

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Check OEM Procedures Before Disconnecting, Reconnecting Batteries

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Check OEM Procedures Before Disconnecting, Reconnecting Batteries

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published August 7, 2019

    The “Who Pays for What?” summer survey looked at how often shops research the OEM procedures related to disconnecting and reconnecting batteries.

    The results report won't be tabulated until early this fall, but for now, we can take a look at some of the intricacies of disconnecting and reconnecting batteries when repairing a vehicle.

    What was once a seemingly easy step has become more complex and time-consuming as vehicle technology has evolved.

    Disconnecting the battery prior to repairs has become a common requirement. In the past, it was often considered necessary prior to performing any welding on the vehicle; but, many other procedures require disconnecting the battery, such as removing or disconnecting any electrical component.

    It’s important to remember that disconnecting and reconnecting the battery is a non-included operation. There is no standard for what procedures are required by the automakers when reconnecting the battery; it varies based on the specific year, make, model and options of the vehicle being repaired. That’s why you MUST research it for every single repair.

    Let’s look at some examples:

    • On a particular Audi, the automaker’s procedures state that when reconnecting the battery, you must “activate the one-touch up/down function for the power window regulators.” It also requires that you “Check DTC memories of all control modules, and delete the displayed entry “Undervoltage” under the vehicle diagnostic tester.” Most automakers say disconnecting the battery will set diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs). You can’t check for those without doing a post-repair vehicle scan in conjunction with reconnecting the battery.
    • Do you think reconnecting the battery is only a more complex process on high-end European models? Guess again. The procedure for the 2018 Chevrolet Cruze is seven pages! It notes that you also need to inform the customer that the “start/stop” feature on the vehicle “will not be available until the vehicle is allowed to sit for at least three hours undisturbed.” How would you know to do that unless you read the procedures for reconnecting the battery?
    • Many vehicles have specific wait times after the vehicle is turned off using the ignition before the battery is disconnected. For the 2017 Nissan Armada, for example, the wait time varies even by engine type. You have to wait four minutes before disconnecting the battery on Armadas with some engine types, and 12 or even 20 minutes on Armadas with other engine types. Some automakers also have designated wait times after the battery has been disconnected before you can disconnect certain electrical components.
    • You also need to check the OEM procedures for what systems need to be initialized or calibrated after the battery is reconnected. Toyota’s procedure for reconnecting the battery on some Camrys, for example, lists five such systems that need to be initialized.
    • The OEM procedures also will tell you what type of test drive (or “drive cycle”) is necessary after a battery has been reconnected.

    Hopefully, these examples alone are enough to convince you of the importance of checking the OEM procedures for every job before you do something as simple as disconnecting or reconnecting a battery. It’s not as simple as the procedure once seemed.

    And two side notes: Don't put “R&I battery” on your estimate or invoice if what you are actually doing is just disconnecting and reconnecting one terminal. Doing so could be seen as “work billed but not performed.”

    Also, have you ever had to buy a battery for a customer because the one in the vehicle died while it was at the shop? If so, avoiding that is another great benefit of performing a pre-repair scan of every vehicle when checking them into your shop. That scan can catch voltage errors that point to a weak battery. You can then inspect the battery, check its date, and maybe sell the customer the new battery they need on ‘day one’ of the repair.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Collision Repair Industry Has a New Voice on OEM Safety Inspections

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Collision Repair Industry Has a New Voice on OEM Safety Inspections

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published May 4, 2021

    One of the issues I have written and spoken about most passionately recently---including being quoted in an article on the front page of Autobody News in April---is my belief the post-collision safety inspections called for by most automakers are the single biggest friction point in the collision repair industry right now.

    We see shops looking to do the right thing, but getting pushback from third-party payers.

    This is why I want to give a shout-out to the team at I-CAR. They recently held a virtual summit in regards to automaker safety inspections as the start of some dialogue about what some OEMs require, when those inspections are needed, what outcomes they produce and what they can prevent.

    I-CAR invited participants from all industry stakeholders---OEMs, insurers and collision repairers---and about 150 people participated. This is important because it’s only when we start talking about these issues that we can work toward resolution while ensuring the vehicle owner gets a complete and safe repair.

    It would have been unrealistic to go into that virtual summit expecting a solution would come out of just one meeting. But I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen happening since that time.

    I had one specific insurer, for example, ask me to put them in touch with some of the OEMs to have a direct dialogue to better understand this issue. It was an insurer seeking to do the right thing. So I want to give a shout-out to that insurer---even though I can’t identify them here---and to the OEMs that agreed to speak with that company.

    I want to give a shout-out to FCA, now part of Stellantis, for publishing an updated statement this spring to provide more clarity in regard to steering columns after a collision. The automaker also held a webinar for its certified collision repair shops to give those collision professionals a chance to hear from the automaker’s technical experts and get more information about safety inspections.

    Thank you to the team at FCA. They heard the voice of the industry, and said, “Let’s engage in some dialogue on this.”


    There’s another automaker that, depending on when you are reading this, has announced or will soon, a new matrix and parameters for the safety inspections on its vehicles, to narrow down which are required under which circumstances.

    But there’s another thing that resulted from that I-CAR summit, and this is where I’m issuing a call to action to you. I-CAR wants to continue to move this issue forward with all stakeholders, but needs more data to do so. So I-CAR has posted a brief form** shops can use to submit information on the safety inspections they perform, what triggered the inspections, and what was found.

    You find that form here.

    I strongly encourage you to take action and regularly submit information to I-CAR. When the OEM procedures for a vehicle you are repairing call for a seat belt inspection, or call for R&I for inspection of an airbag sensor or module, or require you to measure the steering column or to R&I the dash to check the support brace, submit those examples to I-CAR. Whether those inspections reveal damage or not, submit that to I-CAR.

    Those of you who know me know I always seem to have a new saying or expression I recite regularly. My current one is this: There are people in life who WATCH stuff happen, and there are people in life who MAKE stuff happen. I’m choosing to be someone who makes stuff happen.

    And that’s what I want to invite you to do. Don’t sit on the sidelines and complain about these issues. Let your voice be heard. My biggest concern is that I-CAR, in an effort to move this issue forward, sets up this data collection, but nobody submits any examples. They’re going to say: This isn’t an issue.

    But it is an issue, an important issue. But if we don’t submit anything to I-CAR so they can see it is, then shame on us. We have an avenue to have a voice, a way to have our voice heard.

    So I strongly encourage you to use it. This is the only way to further the dialogue to find a solution that works for everyone. As I also often say: Don’t delay; do it today.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Collision Repair Shops Play Vital Role in Helping Reduce Vehicle-Related Deaths

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Collision Repair Shops Play Vital Role in Helping Reduce Vehicle-Related Deaths

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    PublishedJul. 05, 2022

     

    I read a sobering article in The Washington Post recently that I think offers some insights into where vehicle technology is likely headed.

    The article featured an interview with Jeffrey Michael, who spent three decades at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and is now at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.

    He’s a car guy. The article said when he’s home, he likes to tinker on the 1987 Porsche 911 he bought as a fixer-upper. While he was with NHTSA, he worked on issues related to seat belts, child restraints, drunken driving and emergency medical services.

    But the article also said this:

    “Michael saw the ability of federal programs to influence safety and cites a gradual reduction in road deaths over 50 years. But in an interview with The Washington Post---days after new NHTSA figures showed fatalities hitting a 16-year high---Michael pointed to the nation’s failure and potential fixes.”

    Make sure you read that again. Roadway fatalities have reached a 16-year high.

    You have to believe NHTSA and other regulators are going to place an even greater emphasis on vehicle and roadway safety. You have to believe the automakers are going to be pushing forward on getting more and better ADAS and telematics features into vehicles. That’s going to impact the vehicles we have coming into shops.

    Michael also noted in the interview, “To improve things, we’re going to need to individually make concessions about convenience, about driving a little slower, about taking a little more care, about personal responsibility, of using our seat belts, of driving at or below the speed limit, of driving responsibly, certainly driving without impairment, without fatigue, without distraction.”

    The “using our seat belts” portion of that quote caught my eye. Our industry has a vital obligation to make sure those seat belts have been inspected after a vehicle has been in an accident. Every automaker has very specific requirements about this.

    Even when General Motors revamped its post-collision vehicle inspection requirements, for example, its stance on seat belts did not change. GM wants “every seat belt of every [GM] vehicle inspected every time” a vehicle is in for repairs, “regardless of the [crash] severity level or what’s being done” to the vehicle, said John Eck, collision manager for GM.

    We’ve been asking about seat belt inspections in our “Who Pays for What?” surveys dating back to 2016. On the surface, the news is good. Back in 2016, close to two-thirds of shops said they’d never billed for the labor involved in inspecting seat belts, and among those who had, fewer than one in four said they were paid for that work by the eight largest national insurers “always” or “most of the time.”

     

     

    In the seven years since, the percentage of shops not billing for the work has fallen, and the percentage being paid regularly has grown.

    But looking at the numbers still keeps me awake at night. As of this year’s survey, there were still 28% of shops---more than one in four---that acknowledged never having billed for seat belt inspections. I have to believe many of those shops aren’t doing this critical work, perhaps because they’re not researching and following the OEM procedures.

    And in the seven years we’ve asked, never have more than two in five shops billing for this work said the insurers regularly pay for it. How can the insurance industry deny payment for this needed step? And though shops are morally---if not otherwise---obligated to do it even if they’re not paid for it, are insurer payment practices contributing to it not being done on every single vehicle?

    Ladies and gentlemen, it often doesn’t require any more than looking at the vehicle owner’s manual to document the seat belt inspection requirement. In the resources section of the “Who Pays” body labor report, we point to an excellent list of links to vehicle owner's manuals, put together by the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG).

    You can take the current “Who Pays for What” survey during July here.

    In some cases, in addition to a visual inspection, the OEM procedure may require the use of a diagnostic scan tool to check the pre-tensioners. On some Honda and Acura vehicles, for example, a deployed pre-tensioner does not trigger a diagnostic trouble code, so other “live data” from the scan must be checked. In these cases, it’s important to know I’ve read of instances where shops have found their aftermarket scan tool didn’t catch blown pre-tensioners an OEM scan did.

    I encourage you to check the NHTSA website for some sobering statistics about highway deaths, and some tools you can use to help educate your customers.

    But we also all need to make sure we’re not contributing to the problem, by repairing every vehicle fully and correctly, including the seat belt and other OEM safety inspections.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Common Situation in Shops Damages Vehicle Interior

    sun-damage-crash-wrapped-truck

    Pooling rain water and sunlight led to an unexpected consequence.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Creating an Action Plan is Key to Reaching Business Goals

    Mike-Anderson-collision-repair-business-action-plan

    Collision shop owners often have a goal, but they don't always have a strategy in place to achieve it.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Creating an Extraordinary Customer Experience Before, During and After Collision Repairs

    Sheryl-Driggers-customer-experience

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Creating an Extraordinary Customer Experience Before, During and After Collision Repairs

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published
    July 5, 2023

    In an earlier column, I shared part of a conversation I had with one of my teammates at Collision Advice, Sheryl Driggers, about what she sees it takes to create an extraordinary customer experience at your auto body shop. 

    The customer experience is about more than just “customer service.” Those are individual moments, but are only part of the customer’s overall experience of interacting with your brand start to finish, not just during the time spent interacting with your employees. Our conversation was based on our belief that customers won’t really notice a “normal" experience with your shop, only an "extraordinary" one. Here’s more of what Sheryl and I discussed.

    Mike: Sheryl, we talked previously about what goes into creating an extraordinary customer experience prior to them even arriving at the shop. Now let’s talk more about what else needs to happen prior to repairs.
     
    Sheryl: Sure. So once we have the customer in front of us, in our office, how do we communicate the value of choosing our shop? No one likes to go somewhere and be “sold.” No one wants that pushy, aggressive salesperson just trying to sell them something. So I always say: We don't have to sell; we just have to communicate the value of our shop to customers. 

    customer-epxperience-Sheryl-Driggers-Collision-Advice
    Sheryl Driggers of Collision Advice.

    As I’d mentioned, talk about the shop certifications you have, and why that certification matters to them. Show not just that you have advanced training and equipment to repair the vehicle back to when it was when it was manufactured, but also explain how that helps maintain the vehicle warranty.

    Mike: What else should go on during that conversation?

    Sheryl: Talk to the customer about being their advocate throughout the claims and repair process. Give them a designated person to be able to contact. At our shops, we designated a person who was the contact for each customer, the one responsible for contacting that customer every other business day. The customer had that person’s email address and cell phone numbers so they could call or text if they had questions in between those updates. 

    Another one of the most important things that I think that shops often do not communicate clearly is the value of their shop’s warranty. Early on, talk about what that warranty includes, what that means for the customer. Often you hear insurance companies talk customers into going to their preferred network or their DRP shop because of the warranty. So it's important that shops talk about their warranty early on, and explain even in that first in-person repair consultation what it means to the customer.

    Mike: So after that is it just about fixing the car correctly?

    Sheryl: No, there’s more to it. We want to treat customers as if they are our VIPs, so when we give them that extraordinary experience, they then become brand evangelists. Sure, you have to fix the car the way that the manufacturer says it should to be fixed, using the repair guidelines from the manufacturer. But you're supposed to do that. So that's average. That's normal. 

    You have to look for opportunities to be extraordinary. You have to look for opportunities to be generous with your customers, to do things that they do not expect. Maybe the customer’s car has a scratch on the other side of the vehicle that you are able to buff out. When you are generous with the customer, you help create an extraordinary experience.

    Mike: What else do you see going into that process?

    Sheryl: Well, one of the most important things that we can do with that customer during repair is always overcommunicate. Mike, you wrote a column once citing that quote from author Jon Gordon who said, “Where there is a void in communication, negativity will fill it.” So communicate to avoid those voids, even from the beginning, through the disassembly phase, through writing a complete repair plan. Keep the customer informed on what is going on. Even if you're waiting for someone else---maybe on the bill payer to approve a supplement---make sure that the customer is in the loop during the entire process. 


    Creating an Extraordinary Customer Experience Before, During and After Collision Repairs (article continued)

    And you have to be responsive. We have to respond to the customer quicker than they expect. One of the things we asked our customer service team at our shops to do was to always have the customer updates done before 10 a.m. Because if a customer is expecting a phone call from you today, if they don't hear from you before lunch, they’ll automatically assume you're not going to call. So it’s important to always respond quicker than they expect.

    Mike: So does that bring us to the vehicle delivery process after repairs?

    Sheryl: That’s right. We've got to finish strong. And so one of the things that we did was we set up delivery appointments in order to make sure we were prepared and had the time we needed to spend with that customer. The first thing that we did at the delivery appointment was review the repairs with the customer at the car. We were proud of the work that we did. We weren't trying to hide anything. So we reviewed the repairs with the customer, while at the same time talked again about the warranty. We talked about the CSI survey that they’d be receiving in a couple of days, stressing that we value their feedback. And then after all of that is done, that is at the point where we will collect any kind of payment or insurance check that we needed from the customer.

    Mike: Is there more about the payment process that can help create an extraordinary customer experience?

    Sheryl: Yes, we would send the customer the final bill electronically, and offer them the option to pay electronically if they wanted. We could send them a link before they even showed up at the shop for the delivery appointment to take care of that, if they wanted. Some people want to do everything on paper, while others want to do everything electronically. So giving customers options is important.

    Mike: Sheryl, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your expertise with me on creating an extraordinary customer experience---so that I can share it with the readers of my column. I’m proud to work with you.

    So, readers, what goes into creating an out-of-the-ordinary experience for the customers at your shop? I’d really love to hear your ideas. Shoot me an email!

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Daily Release Meetings a Must for Successful Collision Repair Shops

    An Autobody News reader recently emailed me a question he had about daily release meetings at his shop.

    I always like hearing from shops because that’s often where I get ideas for this column. So let’s talk a little about release meetings: when they should be held, who should attend, what should be discussed.

    I want to start with the caveat that some people tell me they think release meetings are a waste of time. I disagree. I think they are critical for a shop’s success. And I suspect people who think that probably aren’t leading---or aren’t attending---good release meetings.

    When thinking about release meetings, I suggest thinking about a football game. At a football game, the play comes from the sidelines out to the quarterback on the field. The quarterback has 30 seconds to get that play off. So the team huddles so the quarterback can tell everyone the play, and the huddle ends with everyone voicing an enthusiastic “Break!”

    That huddle is really what a release meeting is all about for a collision repair facility.

    When I had my shops, we held a release meeting every single morning. My team was required to get to work by 7:30 a.m., and at 7:45 a.m., they had to be in uniform. That’s when the meeting began. Not at 7:50 a.m., not even at 7:47 a.m. It began at 7:45 a.m.

    Who was there? Everyone. The people who washed cars, the painters, the body techs, the parts manager, the estimators, the customer service reps. Everyone.

    Now, I will say I’m currently working with a shop that does $1 million a month in sales. For an organization of that size, it doesn’t make sense to have everyone come together for a single release meeting. But that company is divided into multiple teams, or “cells,” and each of those has its own release meeting with everyone on that team.

    In either case, the key purpose of the release meeting is to make sure everyone is on the same page about the vehicles scheduled to be delivered that day, or on either of the next two days. So you’re looking out in advance three days.

    We’d discuss if there are any issues with any of those vehicles, in order to take a proactive rather than reactive approach. The parts guy might say, for example, “We have all the parts for these cars, but the taillight for Mrs. Smith’s Toyota won’t be here until 2 p.m. today.”

    We’d make sure the painters knew everything that needed to painted that day, and in what order we wanted them painted. We’d let them know what they would be painting tomorrow, so they’d know what to move on to if they got through today’s work early.

    We’d make sure the customer service reps had the information they needed in order to communicate with customers.

    We’d review any appointments coming in that day, and find out there if there was any equipment that needed repairs or service, or any facility maintenance work needed. We’d make sure any sublet work had been scheduled to be handled by vendors. We’d discuss any warranty or customer request items we needed to process.

    We’d talk about who was going to be out on vacation, and make sure their responsibilities were being covered.

    As the only time of day when everybody is together, it can be a good time to highlight if it was an employee’s birthday or work anniversary, and give them some high-fives. In any case, try to end each meeting on a positive, enthusiastic note, just like the chant of “break” at the end of a huddle.

    Here’s another thing: I don’t think the release meeting should ever last more than 15 minutes. In my shop, we started at 7:45 a.m., and everyone knew we had to be done by 8 a.m. when we opened our doors for business.

    A couple of cautions: When I talk to people about their grievances about release meetings, two things are the primary buzzkills. Those who show up on time don’t want to be left standing around, wasting their time, because whoever runs the meeting isn’t there. They also aren’t going to have much tolerance---nor should they---for a meeting leader who isn’t prepared.

    So in order to be prepared to lead your 7:45 a.m. release meeting tomorrow, you likely will need to have some other brief, smaller meetings throughout the day. I liked to have a meeting with some key employees right before or right after lunch to make sure we were still on track for the day. I also liked to meet with my paint team at the end of the day to see if everything got accomplished. If it didn’t, I could update their list for the next day before the release meeting.

    I’ve got a document that includes a sample SOP for release meetings, and highlights the topics that should be covered.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Destructive Weld Testing a Crucial Step You Should Be Paid to Perform

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Destructive Weld Testing a Crucial Step You Should Be Paid to Perform

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published Mar. 08, 2022

     

    One of the few discouraging statistics for me from the “Who Pays for What?” surveys we’ve been conducting since 2015 involves destructive testing of welds.

    Last year, more than 40% of collision repair shops acknowledgedthey had never sought to be paid for the labor to create test welds and perform destructive testing on them prior to welding on a vehicle to ensure the welder was set-up properly.

    Let me be clear: I’m less concerned with whether shops are being paid for this work, though I believe they should be, and I hope this article will help you negotiate to get paid for it.

    What I’m really discouraged and concerned about is that I believe many technicians and shops are skipping this absolutely essential step in the repair process.

    Ladies and gentlemen, unless you perform destructive testing of welds prior to any welding on a vehicle, you cannot know whether the welds you are doing on the vehicle are proper and will perform as necessary. It would be like an automaker not doing vehicle crash testing before selling a new model of vehicle.

    It’s a serious liability for your business. If you don’t do this---every time---you run the risk of someone who is in another accident in a vehicle you repaired being seriously injured or even killed because of a faulty weld.

    I cannot emphasize this enough: We have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure our technicians are doing this. It’s not about whether you get paid for it. It’s the right thing to do. If we don’t do it, somebody could get hurt.

    A real-world example of the importance of destructive weld testing came up during an online meeting. At Collision Advice, we facilitate 20 Groups called The Spartans, which includes virtual estimating training sessions once a month.

    During one of these recent discussions, member Dean Massimini of Autotech Collision Service---one of the most committed shops that I know of in terms of following OEM repair procedures---shared with our members that they make sure their technicians are performing and documenting weld testing every time it is needed. He told us they recently were performing a destructive test weld that failed.

    “We had a malfunction on our welder that we would not have found if we weren’t doing destructive tests,” Massimini said.

    This is what every shop should be doing.

    Another recent cautionary example: I was onsite at another shop in South Carolina, and one of the technicians told me how they had been having issues with a welder, and another industry consultant told them to use a different wire. Fortunately, I knew someone at the manufacturer of the vehicle involved. His first question: Has the shop had the software update done on their welder? Sure enough, the welder had not had the most recent update.

    My friends, performing destructive test welds is not a once-in-a-while labor operation. It must be done on every single vehicle.

    Recently I had the opportunity to speak with some OEMs considering providing weld coupons with replacement panels. That would be huge. But again, shops must know how to perform this destructive test, and the OEM procedures spell it out for us. I only know of two OEMs that don’t have this in their procedures, and they defer to I-CAR, which provides information on how to perform this test.

    Roughly 30% of shops across the industry tell us in our “Who Pays” surveys that they are being paid all or most of the time for destructive weld testing when it is necessary and they are doing it.

    In my next column, I’ll discuss how you, once you ensure your technicians are doing this important step, can join those getting paid for it.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Determining Whether---and How---to Charge for OEM Research

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Determining Whether---and How---to Charge for OEM Research

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published June 4, 2020

    I get a lot of questions from shops regarding billing for the process of researching OEM repair procedures.

    Obviously, I can’t tell anyone whether to charge for this, nor how much to charge, but I can point to some things you may want to consider as you make that decision for your business.

    First, I can tell you what our “Who Pays for What?” surveys indicate about what’s happening in the industry related to billing for OEM procedure research. The surveys definitely show a growing number of shops are charging an administrative fee for this work.

    Back in 2015, three in four shops said they’d never sought to be paid such a fee. Last year, just shy of half (49 %) said they had. Among those seeking to be paid, about half said the largest eight insurance companies weren’t paying the fee, but 16% said otherwise, saying they were being paid “always” or “most of the time” for OEM research. That was up from just 6% five years ago.

    FREQUENCY OF BILLING PAYMENT web

    Next, I can tell you the two aspects to keep in mind as you determine whether and what to charge for OEM research.

    First, consider what you’re spending to access the OEM procedures. A few automakers make access to the information available at no charge, but most charge a subscription fee. If you’re working on a type of vehicle you rarely repair, you might just pay for a day or two of access to that automaker’s procedures, and your receipt for that can serve as part of the justification for your charge.

    But maybe you buy annual subscriptions to some automakers’ procedures because you use them regularly. A “Who Pays for What?” survey last year, for example, found more than 25% of shops have an annual subscription to the Honda/Acura repair information website, and even more have one to the Nissan/Infiniti website.

    In that situation, you might consider calculating a per-vehicle cost for that access. Say you pay $400 a year to access one automaker’s information, and you repaired 100 of that automaker’s vehicles last year. Then that access averaged $4 a vehicle. Whether you bill for it---marked-up or not---is another business decision for you to make.

    subscription fee web

    Our surveys last year asked whether shops charge a separate line item specifically to cover the access fees they pay for OEM information. Almost one in four (23 %) say they always or almost always do, and another 20% said they do when using an OEM site for which they don’t have an annual subscription.

    The second thing to consider as you determine whether and what to charge for OEM research is the labor time involved. That consists of the time to find all the needed information within the OEM system, read it, print it and distribute or review it as needed with technicians.

    As many of you are likely well aware, that can be a time-consuming task. One of my teammates, Josh Kuehn, recently wrote an estimate to replace a quarter panel on an Acura MDX. He had to pull more than 90 pages of OEM repair procedures.

    It’s not a matter of just pulling the procedures for the quarter panel. You need to know, for example, what’s involved in removing and reinstalling the bumper cover. You need to know, if removing and reinstalling a door is involved, whether you need to reinitialize the pinch protection on the window. You need to know what steps are required after reconnecting the battery if disconnected for welding. You need to look up all the corrosion protection steps involved.

    Some might argue that Josh should know some of what’s included in those procedures. But you can’t take anything for granted, because procedures vary from model to model and may change over time.

    It also can involve digging for needed information other than the first place on the OEM website where you might assume you’d find it.

    I was contacted by a shop that had researched the OEM procedures for replacing a rocker panel on a specific vehicle. Because no sectioning procedure was shown, the shop replaced the entire rocker panel. The insurance company involved refused to pay because there was a sectioning procedure. It just was included under the door post section of the OEM website.

    So sometimes you have to think outside the box and look in other areas as you do the research. All of the OEM websites are organized differently.

    I had a similar experience to Josh’s when I recently wrote an estimate to replace a quarter panel on a Toyota Camry; more than 90 pages of documents were involved. I by no means claim to the best at researching OEM procedures, but I believe I’m above average. Yet I easily had five hours into researching the OEM procedures and writing the estimate.

    Now obviously, the more OEM research you do, the better and faster you will get at it. Repetition breeds efficiency. That’s why a few shops---our surveys indicate about one in 20---designate a particular person to do all the OEM research.

    There are third-party solutions that standardize the organization of the OEM information, which is great, though I still am a proponent of accessing the OEM information directly. But in any case, this is definitely not a five-minute task.

    I know there are efforts under way by automakers, estimating system providers and others to create solutions to these challenges, to help reduce the amount of time it requires to find the correct dozens of pages of documents needed for most repairs.

    But until that happens, you need to keep doing it, and consider whether it is something for which you should charge. And above all, save all the researched documents with the job file, so in case you ever need to do so, you can prove how the automaker called for the vehicle to be repaired at the time you did it. 

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Does Your Shop Lump In Unrelated Costs with ‘Paint Materials’?

    paint-materials-jobber-invoice-Mike-Anderson

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Does Your Shop Lump In Unrelated Costs with ‘Paint Materials’?

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published
    Sept. 5, 2023

    A reader recently sent me a question related to refinish materials. This is the second in a series of articles prompted by that question, all related to refinish issues. (Click here to read the first one.)

    One of the most common questions I get from shops is something like, “Mike, can you help me, I’m not making money on my paint materials.” As I mentioned in my previous column, I first want to see what their average paint labor hours per repair order are, and then what their paint materials sales are as a percentage of their total revenue.

    But I also want to look at their paint material costs as a percentage of sales. In other words, how much do they pay for materials compared to what they collect? I often see their costs are very high. Now there's several reasons why this could be. It could be their painters are having to redo a lot of jobs. There could be other waste. There even could be theft.

    But often what I see is a shop classifying costs as paint materials that really aren’t paint materials costs.

    paint-jobber-invoice-example-Mike-Anderson
    A Collision Advice reporting tool shows an example of a shop spending $16,379 with their jobber in July. About $5,000 of that total wasn’t for “paint materials,” but rather things like equipment and small tools.

    To illustrate this, I can pull up a screen from our portal where we track the performance of many shops we consult with. It shows the shop spent $16,379 with their jobber in the month of July. Now some shops might just look at that as their cost of materials, and measure their paint materials sales against that number.

    But that’s not accurate because most shops buy far more from their jobber or distributor than just paint materials. In our example, just over half---$8,891---of the $16,379 paid to the jobber was for liquids: primers, sealers, colors, clear. All paint materials.

    The shop also bought allied products: sandpaper, tape, masking materials, mixing materials, etc. For this shop, those purchases were more than $2,800 of the $16,379 total. I consider things like gravel or chip guard, tack rags and things of the nature part of a miscellaneous category under paint materials. And all of that is legitimately paint materials costs.

    But look at what else this particular shop spent with its jobber in July. About $1,120 of the $16,379 was for stock parts, things that should be itemized and billed out on the estimate. Things like seam sealer, undercoating, cavity wax, weld-through primer, clips and fasteners. Not paint materials costs.

    This shop spent about $367 on safety items: paint suits, respirators, dust masks, gloves. Not paint materials costs.

    The shop bought body supplies, a $1,476 piece of equipment, $507 worth of shop supplies, and small tools costing $720. Not paint materials.

    If this shop was posting all those costs against their paint materials sales, that’s just not an accurate measure of what they are making on paint materials. That jobber bill includes about $5,000 spent on items that should not be classified as paint materials. Of course it would look like the shop wasn’t making any money on paint materials if all those other costs were included.

    Some jobbers or distributors will send their customers multiple invoices or statements that help break the total costs down to simplify bookkeeping. But that’s usually four or five sub-invoices at the most, and I think there’s actually a dozen or more different categories. Some shops buy software from their jobber, for example. Others buy aftermarket parts. You can't just take all these things you buy from your jobber and post them to paint materials because it’s not all paint materials.

    More on this topic in my next column.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Doing More Calibrations 'In-House' Often Doesn’t Mean in Your Shop

    Mike-Anderson-how-to-bring-ADAS-calibrations-in-house

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Doing More Calibrations 'In-House' Often Doesn’t Mean in Your Shop

    Mike clarifies how existing body shops, most of which just don’t have the right space and conditions to do this work accurately, should bring it "in house."

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published
    Oct. 4, 2023

    I’ve been a proponent---here in this column and elsewhere---in collision repair businesses working to conduct more ADAS calibration, resets and reprogramming in-house. One of the members of my Spartans groups recently told me he had some concerns about that view, and he had some valid points I thought were worth addressing here.

    Let me start by saying I still believe shops should do more of their ADAS work themselves, for several reasons. Clearly, it’s a potential---and growing---profit center. But more importantly, it gives you more control over the process. It can reduce cycle time issues caused when work is sublet. And most importantly, it better ensures the work is being done properly---for the safety of your customers and to reduce your shop’s liability.

    That said, Andy Tylka pointed out there are some real challenges to bringing more ADAS “in-house” I didn’t fully spell out. Andy owns multiple body shops in the Midwest, is the current treasurer on the Society of Collision Repair Specialists’ board of directors, and is co-owner of Midwest ADAS, stand-alone calibration centers serving body shops in Indiana and Illinois.

    Andy’s concern with my position about bringing ADAS in-house is it’s just not something many---if not most---shops have the facility to do under the same roof in which they are performing collision repair and refinishing. And he’s right about that. So let me clarify what I’m saying.

    First, bringing ADAS work in-house involves so much more than just buying some equipment. You need to get the training required, for example. Some automakers, like Toyota/Lexus, offer hands-on technician training in ADAS work. I-CAR is offering training as well. But the key is you can’t just think you can just take somebody off the street and start doing this work without the right training.

    Second, you need to have the right equipment. To the best of my knowledge, no automakers, other than Lucidand Rivian, have approved any aftermarket solutions for calibrations. So until that happens, until the OEM engineers have signed off on an aftermarket solution, I stand by my position that you need to be using factory scan tools, targets and equipment for all ADAS work. The precision this work requires makes that an absolute must.

    Third---and this was one of the key points Andy pointed out I failed to mention---is you have to have the right space and environmental conditions within your facility to do this work accurately. Most existing body shops just don’t, which limits their ability to bring this work “in-house.”

    All of the automakers, for example, spell out their space requirements for ADAS calibrations. While it varies, you generally will need a minimum between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet of space. That’s space with no obstacles---columns or poles, or even toolboxes. Some shops think they can re-engineer the calibrations to offset or compensate for their space. “I only need this much space on the left rear of the car because I'm only doing a blind spot monitor calibration in the left rear.” That’s not accurate. You have to have the specified space on all sides of the vehicle to do consistent, accurate ADAS work.

    The floor has to been precisely level; if there’s a drain in the floor, that’s generally an indication that floor will not be level enough for accurate ADAS calibration work. Again, what qualifies as a "level enough" floor varies by automaker, but they all provide those specifications. A slope of even just a couple millimeters beyond the specification can have a tenfold impact on that calibration. Very few existing body shops have a level enough floor for calibration work.

    Controlled, consistent and dimmable lighting is equally important. If your shop has skylights or windows or overhead doors open during calibrations, all those variances in lighting can impact the accuracy of ADAS work. The presence of metal, the glare of the floor or anything hanging on the walls also can impact calibrations.

    Given all this, I want to clarify that when I say shops should be working toward bringing more of this work “in-house,” that generally doesn’t mean trying to do it in their existing shop. The clients of ours I see doing this most successfully are developing other facilities specifically for this work, sometimes as separate businesses from their shop---dedicated buildings, employees, equipment and training for this work.

    As I said, the key upside for doing this is ensuring the work is being done correctly. With no offense to dealerships, many of them are not doing correctly the calibration work body shops are subletting to them---often because they don’t have the space and environmental conditions needed. Andy shared with me one such story.

    “We had an educational session at one of our facilities right after we opened it, and we had more than a dozen adjusters there from three insurance companies, along with representatives from other shops, dealerships and even an automaker there,” Andy told me. “That morning we had received a vehicle that had been calibrated elsewhere. We checked it, and the automatic emergency braking was off by two- or three-and-a-half degrees. This was a car that had been returned to the customer as calibrated. The car wasn’t telling the customer there were any issues with it. But the radar was off by several degrees and pointed up in the air. So we had a perfect example of why this work needs to be done right, in the right facility.”

    I want to thank Andy for pointing out that when I say shops should be doing more of this work themselves, I need to clarity that doesn’t necessarily mean “in-house.” They have to be able to do it with the precision needed to do it correctly.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Don’t Let Higher Sales Take Your Eye Off the Ball

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Don’t Let Higher Sales Take Your Eye Off the Ball

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    PublishedAug. 10, 2022

     

    There’s an expression I’ve been thinking about in relation to the collision repair industry: “Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.”

    As it applies to business, I think it means if you end up being greedy or taking the good times for granted, it’s going to catch up with you.

    It reminds me of another expression I use a lot: “Lots of sales cover lots of sins.” You can substitute “mistakes” for the word “sins.” I hear from a lot of body shops about how much their sales are up, sometimes to record levels, and I’m concerned a false sense of security can settle in.

    It can be easy to take your eye off the ball when work is plentiful.

    Let’s start with the higher sales number. At least some portion of that is likely attributable to more parts per repair order. CCC Intelligent Solutions reported there were almost 12 parts per claim on average last year, a number that has been climbing since 2011, and especially in more recent years. I’ve seen some other statistics that suggest there’s anywhere between seven and nine more parts per repair now.

    Add to that the increased price of those parts. Again, CCC data shows parts prices increased 5% in the first quarter of this year alone, after a 7.4% overall increase last year. I’ve seen other statistics showing some parts prices have gone up between 18% and 23%, depending on the type of part.

    So if there are more parts per repair order, and the prices for those parts have gone up, then of course your sales should be up. But remember, as a repair order includes more parts and less labor, your overall gross profit as a percentage starts to decline.

    I’m not saying that’s bad or good. All I’m saying is looking at just your increased sales may be giving you that false sense of security.

    Remember the start of the pandemic, when work temporarily stopped coming to the door? So many shop owners and managers told me during that time they realized they needed to get back to basics, in terms of making sure SOPs were being followed, focusing on selling and capture rate, and offering great customer service.

    That’s what I’m suggesting to you here, that your increased sales may have led you to stop keeping your eye on the ball. Maybe your estimate quality isn’t as good as it should be, but the higher parts dollars are masking that. Are you continuing to watch your profit margins on labor, parts, materials, sublet, etc.?

    Is the backlog of work leading to any customer service “sins”? It can be easy to get complacent when you know if one customer gets mad at you, you have 20 more lined up at the door. But you still need to care about that customer not going somewhere else. Make sure your customer service isn’t slipping.

    Maybe your outstanding parts credits are stacking up. Maybe your receivables have started to slip. Maybe you’re not closing out ROs in a timely manner. Are you still watching your efficiencies? There are a lot of things to still make sure you’re keeping an eye on.

    I’m not an economist. I don’t know what the future holds. But in every recession, I’ve seen shops wish they had stuck to the basics. Take some time right now to make sure lots of sales are not masking a lot of sins in your business, and that you’re not going to suffer the fate of the hogs.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Few Collision Repairers Are Separating Out Scanning Time Versus Diagnostic Time

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Few Collision Repairers Are Separating Out Scanning Time Versus Diagnostic Time

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published December 31, 2019

    It’s been just over a year since I wrote about the inconsistency in how shops are billing for scanning, and it’s still an issue that concerns me.

    The results of our “Who Pays for What?” survey this last October related to scanning charges are similar to those from a year earlier. In 2019, among the more than 800 shops responding to the survey, about 1-in-4 of those who perform scans in-house charge a flat fee. Nearly 50 percent charge up to 1.0 labor hour at a mechanical labor rate; but, the remaining 25 percent of shops scanning in-house were all over the map. There was similar variety in how shops bill when they use a remote scanning service.

    The real problem, I believe, is the inconsistency in what shops are including in that scanning charge. Shops need to separate scanning time from their diagnostic time.

    Scanning involves performing the output or functionality test on the vehicle to gather the diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs).

    The diagnostic time begins once the scanning is complete. For example, say I scan a vehicle and it has seven DTCs. For each of those codes, I have to search for that code in the OEM repair procedures. I have to find out what it means. In some cases, it may be simple and clear, an indication that a certain part needs to be replaced.

    Oftentimes, the diagnosis is more complicated. The OEM information may site four to six or eight potential causes for that DTC, and I must go back to the vehicle and go through that list, one-by-one, to see which is the cause on that vehicle. The OEMs sometimes offer a flow-chart for this process and navigating that takes some time.

    So, that vehicle with seven DTCs will require ‘x’ amount of diagnostic time, far more than the vehicle where the scan finds no DTCs, but less than the vehicle where the scan finds 50 DTCs, each of which needs to be researched. It’s that variation in research or diagnostic time that I think many shops are missing.

    Here are some tips that may help with the diagnostic step. First, be aware that across manufacturers, DTCs begin with a letter that helps point you to the origination of the code. A DTC that begins with a “P” is powertrain-related. One that starts with a “B” is body-related. A “C” at the start of a DTC indicates it is chassis related.

    The one that’s a little less obvious is a DTC that begins with a “U,” which indicates it is network related. This refers to network communication, and collision repair work frequently causes such codes. It happens, say, when we unplug a component when we remove a door mirror or handle, remove a headlight, or then drive the vehicle from the body shop to the paint department. The control module is looking for that component we’ve unhooked and can’t find it, so it stores a “U” code for lost communication.

    These codes need to be cleared, much like a dirt nib needs to be taken out of the refinish. Such codes are sometimes referred to as a “cyber fingerprint,” because if you don’t scan the vehicle post-repair and clear those codes, someone down the road who scans the vehicle will be able to see what you’d removed without clearing the codes.

    The other tip I would offer is whether you are scanning vehicles in-house or using a third-party provider, make sure you collect and save the “freeze-frame” or “snapshot” data. This varies by vehicle manufacturer. Some automakers capture “freeze-frame data” that tells you the exact date, time and mileage when the fault code occurred. This can clarify what was crash- or repair-related, and what DTCs may be unrelated.

    Other manufacturers capture “snapshot” or “key-cycle” data, which tells you only how many times the keys have been turned on and off since the fault code occurred. This can be a little less definitive in determining what is claims related, but is still helpful to have.

    Capturing this data when you do a scan, or having your scanning-provider capture and provide it to you, can be a critical resource in billing for your scanning and diagnostic labor.

    I hope a year from now to be able to say I’m seeing more consistency in the industry in terms of separating the time for scanning and the time for the resulting diagnostic work.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Hands-On Testing Shows Limitations of Relying Solely on DTCs or Aftermarket Scan Tools

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Hands-On Testing Shows Limitations of Relying Solely on DTCs or Aftermarket Scan Tools

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published November 2, 2020

    I’ve had the good fortune recently to spend some time recently working with Nissan/Infiniti as they prepare some new hands-on training they are developing, and it gave me a chance to spend some time scanning and learning about calibrations on their newest vehicles.

    That led to a couple of key takeaways that I wanted to share with you here.

    The first item I discovered made its way into a six-minute video that can be found on Jake Rodenroth’s LinkedIn page here.

    Jake and asTech were also at the Nissan/Infiniti training pilot, and his video demonstrates that shops can’t rely solely on the absence of diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) as an indication that all advanced driver assistance systems on a vehicle are calibrated and ready to function properly. It also shows why even minor damage to a vehicle is enough to warrant a scan.

    “I have a 2020 Nissan Titan, my personal vehicle, with some minor freight damage on the front,” Jake said. “There are no DTCs present for the radar. But because of the damage, the radar is actually off-center. The horizontal alignment is measured in degrees, and the spec is plus or minus 3 degrees. My truck is pointing at negative 3.38. It’s out of spec according to Nissan’s manual. But it hasn’t triggered a DTC.”

    That’s why shops need to do a thorough review of a pre-repair scan---not just checking for DTCs---to identify the need for something like that to be adjusted. Don’t rely just on the presence or absence of a DTC to determine an ADAS requirement.

    Aside from checking for DTCs, check the “values” of the ADAS components---the horizontal and vertical specifications, for example. Just like a four-wheel alignment, you can’t verify if something is properly aligned unless you verify what it is and what it should be, given any acceptable tolerance. You simply cannot determine if specific ADAS components are within specs on a Nissan or Infiniti vehcile without using a scan tool.

    The second thing I confirmed while I was working with Nissan is something I don’t always win friends by saying, and that’s this: What you find when scanning a vehicle absolutely varies depending on whether you are using a factory scan tool or an aftermarket scan tool. We did side-by-side comparisons on four brand new Nissans and a new Infiniti, and every single aftermarket tool we tried failed to connect with at least one or more of each vehicle’s control modules.

    On a Sentra, for example, the aftermarket tool we used picked up three control modules. The Nissan scan tool picked up 22. You read that right: 22. The aftermarket tool didn’t get past the gateway to be able to pick up anything more than data from the emissions-related controllers.

    There’s also another key distinction. Scanning tools aren’t just about reading a module to determine if there are DTCs. It’s about bidirectional control. Can that tool not just read the data, but can it “talk back” to the vehicle? Can it send that vehicle a command that it reacts to?

    “When you do ADAS calibrations, that’s all you’re doing,” Jake said of bidirectional control. “You’re telling the camera, ‘Hey, I’m going to calibrate you, and so I want you to look for a particular pattern.'”

    It’s a similar process If you’re doing a radar calibration. You’re using the scan tool to send the module a command to activate the radar. Because otherwise that radar doesn’t even activate until the wheels are turning.

    Makers of aftermarket scan tools talk about having “coverage” for a wide swath of vehicles. But does that mean full coverage? Can that tool not just read codes but clear codes? Can it reach all the modules on board?

    So while some people don’t like that I point out key differences between factory scan tools and aftermarket, I will challenge them to prove me wrong. I’ll meet you wherever you like with a brand new Nissan and the factory scan tool. You bring whatever aftermarket scan tool you like, and together we’ll do a side-by-side comparison.

    That’s not to say there isn’t a place for aftermarket scan tools. It’s just important to recognize the key limitations, and as with any tool, not to presume it can do things that it cannot.

    And when it comes to scanning and ADAS calibrations, any such limitations can have serious consequences for the driver and passengers in that vehicle post-repairs.

  • From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Have We Handcuffed Employees from Providing Extraordinary Customer Service?

    From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Have We Handcuffed Employees from Providing Extraordinary Customer Service?

    Written by Mike Anderson, Autobody News
    Published April 7, 2021

    I’m concerned some of you may read the first paragraphs of this column, and presume it’s about customer satisfaction indexing (CSI)---it’s not---and decide to move on.

    Or you may think it’s about online reviews---it’s not, really---and decide to move on.

    So please stick with me here. I’m going to talk about CSI and online reviews, but only as an introduction.

    It’s no secret for years many insurance companies have conducted---or asked their direct repair shops to conduct---CSI surveys. Many body shops track CSI on their own, regardless of whether a job is done under a DRP or not. And in recent years, more automakers have added CSI requirements for the shops in their certification programs.

    It all makes sense. Insurers and automakers want to make sure the mutual customers they refer to shops are being kept informed during repairs, are receiving their repaired vehicle back in a timely manner, etc. They want to make sure their brand is being protected.

    For shop owners, CSI makes good sense as well, particularly as a shop’s volume or location count increases. When I owned multiple shops, I used CSI to help identify “blind spots” in my business. Since I couldn’t touch every single car, CSI results helped me ensure my employees were providing the same quality of repairs and customer service I would personally.

    So to be clear: CSI is useful and valuable. It’s helped our industry reach “net-promoter” scores that are better than those found in so many other industries.

    But I believe online reviews are becoming equally important for shops. Consumers increasingly have a “trust but verify” mentality.

    In a column I wrote a couple years ago, I shared a story about the time my friend Greg’s son and daughter-in-law didn’t go to a restaurant Greg had highly recommended, because that restaurant’s online reviews weren’t as good as others the son looked up. Greg’s son used online reviews to verify whether his own father’s referral could be trusted.

    Given that, do you think consumers are going to trust a shop referral from an insurance company or an automaker without verifying by checking the shop’s online reviews? Maybe my 84-year-old father isn’t going to do check those reviews, but my niece in her 30s definitely will. So that makes online reviews increasingly important as these generational shifts continue.

    Part of what this brings to mind is something I learned from Ryan Taylor at Bodyshop Booster: “People are more afraid of making a wrong decision than they are of spending money.”

    Think about it: Have you ever passed over a lower-priced option for something you were buying because you were leery the cheaper one could be a mistake? Have you ever sorted your search results on Amazon based on average customer reviews rather than price? I know I have.

    And think about this: How much are online customer reviews influencing your ranking in search results?

    State Farm is among the insurance companies using a shop locator that now includes online review scores. Some of the automakers have done this as well.

    Anyone who Googles “best auto body shop near me” is going to see only shops with a four-star rating or better---even if others are closer. That search may bring up four or five shops, but if the consumer conducts a voice-activated search, their device is likely to suggest only the one shop---the one with the best online reviews.

    I think connected cars are only going to accelerate the use of voice-activated search. Try it yourself: Ask your phone something like, “Hey, Siri, what’s the best auto body shop near me?” Is your shop the one that’s suggested?

    But as I said at the start, my message here is about something bigger than CSI scores and online reviews. It’s about figuring out how you can differentiate yourself by providing exceptional customer service, creating a memorable or---not to sound like Disney---a magical experience for your customers.

    Why? I think as an industry, most shops have developed ways to ensure customers will answer the three or four basic CSI questions positively. We’ve found ways to keep them informed, to ensure their vehicle is returned on time, etc.

    That’s part of how CSI has made us better as an industry. And of course those things are, and will continue to be, very important elements to our business. But as we’ve crafted our customer service around just those things, I think we may have handcuffed our team, limiting how much they think outside the box in terms of providing exceptional, memorable service.

    That’s why I think the additional power of open-ended online customer reviews will open new opportunities for your business to set itself apart.

    What does that memorable or magical customer experience look like? I’ll be honest: I don’t know.

    In talking about this with my good friend Ray Chew at CCC Information Services, he told me he thinks it has to start from that first point of contact, when we first get that assignment or referral. From that point on, we need to be looking for opportunities to wow that customer, to turn what they might perceive as a bad situation into a great experience.

    An example: How often have we had a customer call to say they left their sunglasses or phone charger in their car when they dropped it at the shop? Once you locate the item in the car, do you just tell them how late you are open if they want to pick it up---or does someone offer to drop it off at their home or work? It’s a little thing, but a kind, convenient gesture customers may well mention as part of a five-star online review.

    I can point to something similar in my own life recently. I had groceries delivered to my home, and in trying to pick up more of the bags than I should have, I managed to drop one, cracking open a watermelon and most of a dozen eggs---the equivalent of “one-time-use parts” in the world of groceries.

    About 20 minutes later, there was a knock at my door. There was the young grocery delivery guy with another watermelon and carton of eggs for me. He wasn’t the person responsible for the busted groceries. He didn’t even work for the grocery store; he was a subcontractor who did this on his own. You better believe that turned an otherwise mundane transaction into a memorable experience to share in an online review.

    That’s the sort of thing your employees need to be empowered to do. It will be key to helping your business thrive as online reviews expand the customer experience beyond the basic building blocks of CSI.

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