Wednesday, 21 November 2012 17:23

Customer Service Has the Power—Don’t Perfume the Pig

Written by The Insider

Customer service has taken on a life unto itself. If you don’t have a job in which customer service is Priority Number One, then you won’t be employed for very long. Why? Because your company will lose business and eventually downsize or go out of business. We’ve become a society where outstanding customer service is no longer just expected. It’s demanded. And it’s demanded NOW!

Remember that old slogan at Burger King: “Have It Your Way.” To elaborate how extensive the desire to please the customer goes, here’s my embarrassing tale of my teenage grandson. He was visiting the other day and told me that he’d gone into a “BK” the day before and immediately after ordering had asked them to make fresh French fries because he didn’t want the ones already made. And I suppose their answer will be anti-climactic at this point: They did it.

I asked him why? Were the fries old? He said, acting very surprised, that they weren’t at all. But they told me, he said, that “I can have it my way.” Wow. I wish I could employ those tactics at home with my wife. It’s never my way.


Customer service seems to be the primary driver and motivation for virtually every large corporation today. At times, profitability seems almost secondary. Okay, maybe not quite, but the fact is that customer service motivates companies to take action and change. JD Powers and Associates’ customer service reports seem to draw the same focus as quarterly earnings reports. Executives await the results to see if their attempts to drive results have become a reality. Employees await the congratulatory email or a call-to-action to improve results.

In the shrinking market for auto insurance, carriers are focused on gaining and retaining their customer base. We spend millions of dollars on marketing to new customers. Has that translated into new policyholders? The results have been mixed. If it was that easy, even a caveman would do it. If it was as easy as throwing money to create commercials and trendy gimmicks, everyone would be following that model AND reporting record sales. Spending millions hasn’t proven to create the desired result. There have been a few success stories, but far more examples exist of money wasted for 30 seconds of air time.

As a result, companies are now evaluating whether or not spending the ridiculous amounts of money on marketing and advertising pays dividends. Buying customers through trendy advertising still requires you to deliver an exemplary product and service. My dad used to say, “Son, you can’t put perfume on a pig.” The pig may smell nice but he’s just as dirty and sloppy as he was before. The bottom line is that he is still a pig. I think that’s what consumers have experienced with those companies that have spent significant amounts of their annual budget to attract but not retain.

So, you may ask, if companies aren’t growing, what are they doing to retain business? They’re doing a myriad of things but let’s focus on their direct repair programs (DRP). As a direct repairer for a given insurance company, do you have any idea the power you have to influence the customer’s perception? If you don’t, you are missing the best opportunity you have to grow your business.

You aren’t really in the business of repairing vehicles, nor are we insurers in the business of paying for their loss. All of us are in the business of providing service in a time of need. The easiest thing any of us can do is help the customer through something that happens once every seven or so years on average. We should be providing respect, courtesy, information, updates, smiles, reassurance and comfort to name a few things. The cost to provide those items? Nothing. Assuming that you don’t charge for effort, care and compassion.

The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can win the game. Customers and insurers expect the car to be repaired properly and on time. We both demand customer service. Depending upon the carrier, the vehicle owner will spend more time in your facility and interacting with your staff than they will with their insurance company. If you wow the customer, the customer is going to be satisfied with you and more than likely the insurance company. If they don’t like you, you can bet your last customer service survey that they don’t have a lot of nice things to say about us either.

In my opinion, insurance carriers allow the repair facility to have too much influence on the customer experience. Carriers have become acclimated to pushing additional responsibilities onto the shops. Customer service is something that insurance companies need to reclaim more of a share in. Unfortunately, insurance companies are beset with shrinking budgets and are reducing staff because of the lack of growth and fierce competition.

That’s good news for shops. It creates an opportunity, obvious or not. Find a way to deliver consistently outstanding customer service, and your direct repair business is going to grow exponentially because insurance carriers need you.

Don’t try putting perfume on the pig. You can’t fake good customer service. You either create a culture of service in your business or you will be left behind with the other swine.

“The Insider” is an auto insurance company executive who wishes to remain anonymous. This column reflects solely the opinion of The Insider as it offers an unvarnished look at various issues impacting the collision industry.