Monday, 31 May 2004 10:00

Importance of keeping a commitment to customers

Written by Jennifer Gray

"Community requires commitment." When I read this quote recently, I was struck head-on with the irony of how this applies to our business. How often do we make a commitment and actually follow through with it? Pure excitement persuades our signature to the dotted line, promising commitment, but follow-through is often lacking. 

Be honest. You see a hot body in the latest issue of some fad magazine and swear it could be you in just a few short months. Determined (at first), you tuck away the candy bars, start your "committed" membership at a thriving health club, and set off on the road to becoming a better, more improved you. Unfortunately, those months to a better body don't come fast enough. The magazine portraying the perfect person comes up missing in the shuffle of things, and, as they say, "Out of sight, out of mind." Pretty soon you're frantically searching for (and eventually finding) those few extra pieces of chocolate hidden away just weeks ago. So much for commitment.

A similar pattern can be seen in our commitment, or lack thereof, to supporting the auto repair industry and its ongoing struggle with insurance companies. Typically, in the beginning, we're "gung ho" about helping in any way possible, as long as it doesn't adversely affect us. We spread the word that consumers are in danger of being taken advantage of by insurance companies and the repair facilities that had direct repair contracts with them. Soon after our commitment to make changes in the best interest of our consumers, everyday life begins again, and supporting the industry seems more of a burden than it's worth. Wrong.

While conducting interviews regarding opinions and views from people in the industry over the past few weeks, I noticed a pattern. Almost everyone thought insurance companies were trying to control the automobile industry and as well as other entities doing business with insurance companies. Repair facilities, glass companies, auto dealerships, and doctor's offices are all connected by the fact that they all deal with insurance issues.

A parts manager for a new car dealership in California who I interviewed says he's tired of insurers requiring the use of aftermarket parts on newer vehicles. "It's not fair to the customer when they bring in a vehicle equipped with factory parts, but leave here with aftermarket replacements. Most of the time, the insurance companies don't even bother to let the customer know that their original equipment parts have been exchanged with imitations. They leave that aspect of the job to repairers," stated my interviewee.

This parts manager has been in the automotive business for almost twenty years and says he holds out little hope that things will ever change

Little cause for optimism

I wish I could be more optimistic that there are still people capable of making changes and gaining control of our industry. Often, overwhelmed by day-to-day pressures, we overlook the possibility of positive changes by allowing insurance companies to control our business - which should be none of their concern. Insurance companies are a necessity in our society.

A field inspector for a major insurance company told me that insurance companies should stay insurance companies, and repair facilities should stay repair facilities. The two shouldn't mix." Honest opinions like this are few and far between, especially from someone who wants to keep her insurance company job.

I then asked the field inspector how she felt about DRPs. Laughing, she replied that she wouldn't want to see all shops become DRPs because it would eliminate her job as an adjuster. She also felt that consumers should know they have the right to choose the repair facility of their choice. When I asked her what consumers should look for when purchasing an insurance policy, she answered, "Look for competitive rates. Know your coverages. Look at the customer service. Know where your money goes."

Then she added, "People don't know where their money is going due to a lack of representation from their insurer," Concerned as a consumer myself, I then asked her what she thought the future of insurance looked like from her perspective as an employee. She said that if practices stay the way they currently are, the insurance industry will stay strong. However, she did state that customer service is "going downhill fast."

Is it time for concern?

Absolutely. Consider your customer service in light of what this insurance field inspector said. If it's "going down hill fast" today, what will it be tomorrow? We as service-providers need to dedicate more time and effort to insuring this doesn't continue to be a mainstream concern. It's insulting to policy holders, and needs to be addressed immediately. Do your part as a repair facility by informing your customers of their rights. Make it a point to be heard. You'll start realizing that customers share your concerns. If we make the commitment to work together as a community that cares for its customers, we'll put the collision repair business back on track.

Jennifer Gray is office manager at Gino's Auto Body in Susanville, California.