Monday, 02 July 2007 07:57

Back to basics: the customer wants the insurer to take the pain away

Written by Sheila Loftus

Fix it right the first time, every time, on time.

According to John Kiff, that’s what car owners want from collision repairers. Kiff is the director of International Car Distribution Programme, with headquarters in the United Kingdom, so he should know. Speaking at the International Bodyshop Industry Symposium in June, Kiff said car owners want an honest quote and good quality work more than they want a nice, clean reception area. Honesty and high value of workmanship rank almost twice as high as convenience.

Easy enough to do.


So, what is the problem? Damned if I know. I can speculate, however.

Although auto collision repairers are experts at fixing crash-damaged vehicles, getting a hundred different parts into the workshop so repairs can begin, and spending thousands more on equipment to work better and faster, all with both hands tied behind their backs because insurers slow the process by micro-managing it, is a task more suited to a magician.

By inserting themselves between the car owner and the body shop, insurers have managed to confuse the process, so much so that some collision repairers are convinced that insurers, rather than car owners, are their real customers.

Insurers inserted themselves into the repair process because there is a huge amount of money passing through the supply chain. If there’s money to be grabbed, insurers are ready to do some grabbing with their giant-sized hands.

Direct repair programs (DRPs) are one way insurers control the process. It’s ownership on the cheap. Insurers have control without having to own the business and be responsible for its employee problems, liability issues, training issues, and equipment purchases.

Progressive, one of the top insurers in the U.S., is taking it a step further by setting up service centers in the U.S. Under Progressive’s Concierge program, which now has 55 locations, insureds drop off their damaged vehicles with Progressive and have no contact whatsoever with the body shop doing the repairs.

In Australia in the mid 1980s the largest Australian insurer in New South Wales did something similar, sending the repair industry in Australia into a tailspin. So if the customer, which I am going to say once and for all is the car owner, wants a good, quick, quality repair, why is the Concierge program attractive? Why would car owners drop off their cars at a Concierge center without knowing the first thing about who is going to fix their vehicles?

Here’s an answer: Convenience. Here’s another: Painless.

I heard a risk management expert say once that in the U.S., the customer wants someone to take the pain away. This is what Progressive promises.

Here’s another answer: Advertising.


Progressive has done a hell of a job with advertising. A recent Progressive television ad shows this scene: A woman drives to a Concierge center. After carrying her sleeping child inside, she exchanges her keys for the keys to a courtesy car. Smiling, she drives away with the sleeping child in the car seat. The entire transaction is handled barely above a whisper.

How painless is this? As painless as a child’s sweet dream. Or so the ad implies. I have one-stop shopping for my collision repair needs too. If I have a wreck, I take my car to Hanagan’s Auto Body in Silver Spring, Maryland. Hanagan’s has a rental car waiting for me. I call my insurance company and notify it that my car is at Hanagan’s and is available for inspection. I expect my insurance company to write the check to cover the repair less my deductible. Since I have a rider on my insurance policy to cover a replacement vehicle, I expect my insurance company to pay for that.

What I don’t expect is for Hanagan’s Auto Body and my insurance company to negotiate my repair. Hanagan’s is the expert. I want my car fixed right, the first time. I don’t want the insurance company representative talking to Hanagan’s about dumbing down my repair. The insurance company is obliged to pay what is reasonable for work done in a professional way.

Hanagan’s repairs the vehicle. The insurance company writes the check. Why does the process need to be more complicated than this?

In the U.S., the body shop and insurance company really doesn’t have the right to negotiate the work on my car. Most people don’t know that, and insurance companies are happy to keep their customers—and the body shops they deal with—ignorant of that fact.

All of this reminds me of the time, 32 years ago, when I started to write about auto collision repair. Having visited about 100 shops within a year, I met a shop owner named Butch. He told me he swept out his shop every night. I was amazed. I said what a good idea that was. I went back to my office and told my editor I had just found an idea that would be good enough to start a feature called “Idea of the Month.”

My editor didn’t think it was such a grand discovery. But how many shop owners failed to do what Butch did? And how much did their image with the public suffer as a result?

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest.

Why not get back to basics in car repair?

Repairers: Fix the car right the first time, on time, every time. Insurers: Write the check.