Friday, 30 April 2004 17:00

Central Cal group learns negotiating techniques in seminar

Written by Janet Chaney
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From coastal cities Ventura and San Luis Obispo to as far east as Bakersfield, over 75 collision repair industry professionals traveled to the rolling hills of Santa Maria to participate in a High Impact Negotiation workshop presented by Mel Hunke. 

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The first class to receive Certification of Completion for the High Impact Negotiating Workshop. Poses are newly discussed body language techniques.

Following the successful estimating workshop presented last fall, Hunke asked the class what educational programs they would be interested in for the future. "Negotiation" was the response by 100% of the attendees hands down (or hands up).

This event is a cornerstone in the history of collision repair education - the first 8-hour negotiating workshop designed specifically for the industry upon the request from this dedicated California group. Furthermore, once again, this program was sponsored by Santa Maria local jobbers showing support for the shops they work with.

Hunke began the workshop with a brief history to bring into perspective the critical nature of the negotiation process in today's collision repair business.

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Peter Romero (left) of Prestigious Auto Body in Goleta doing some 'negotiating' role playing with Cory Balaam of Foster's Body & Paint in Santa Maria with instructor Hunke as the referee
With no statistical documentation to reference, it is a fair assumption that at least half of the interactions between repairers and insurance representatives leave one, if not both parties, feeling like they have been "beaten" or taken advantage of, Hunke began. The tragedy of the current process is that it should not be that way, assuming both repairer and insurer are committed to the same goal of making a vehicle owner whole after an "insurance-covered event."

What's the confusion?

The plan of action is pretty much established. A part or panel is either bent or it is straight. It needs to be either repaired or replaced. The database publishers, I-CAR, Tech-Cor, vehicle manufacturers and others provide rather specific information regarding procedures and implementation. In general terms, someone from the outside looking in would wonder what all the confusion is about. The auto collision repair process has significant authoritative resources to nearly eliminate disagreement. However, company policies, individual perceptions and constant change do not allow an agreement to be reached easily.

Hunke asked the group "Have you ever been involved in an emotionally-charged argument where someone didn't walk away hurt or angry? It's part of the deal - someone has to lose an argument." As soon as the argument is over the loser begins looking for ways to retaliate, leading to what currently exists in the collision repair industry - one giant search by repairers as well as insurers for the next opportunity to get even.

Hunke suggests that the industry look at negotiation as a new skill, much the same as welding or color matching, the difference being the tools will be information and words rather than torches and paint guns.

"You don't get what you deserve,"professed Hunke, "you get what you negotiate." At times, this workshop seemed more like a college psychology class than one on collision repair. Power, pressure and fear are the subjects the negotiation process is based on. Power - who has it? Pressure - are you feeling it or applying it? Fear - there are several ways the very powerful emotion of fear is present in the negotiating process.

Analysis of many negotiation sessions in the collision repair environment exposes considerable abuse of fear tactics. Repairers fear they will be ousted from the DRP program. Vehicle owners fear having to pay more than their deductible or rate increases or cancellation. Appraisers often fear performance reviews and the threat of losing their jobs if they authorize procedures beyond the profiles given them. Hunke talked about the actual physiology one's body goes through when the brain senses fear - something most people in the room could relate to on a daily basis.


Negotiation begins with knowledge
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Cindy Reis, owner of Otis Auto Body in San Luis Obispo, ponders the challenges of negotiating collision repair alongside Otis estimator, Kevin Burch.
The room was quiet and thoughtful during this discovery process, then became more interactive and participatory as actual negotiation solutions were introduced. The bottom line for a shop to use these new negotiation skills is to run a good shop - know the numbers, profit margins and always do what you say you are going to do.

Hunke offered negotiation tools for attendees to start to master the "science" of negotiation. He was painfully honest when questions were asked by the repairers about proper procedures being denied and not being paid for. "There are some things that we will not get, however unfair and unjust that may be," he responded. "But you still have to try. Negotiate every line on every estimate if you need to. Don't give up!" he appealed to the group.

After a jobber-sponsored lunch, the class worked on negotiation skills. Role playing and negotiation exercises led to more questions than answers. "Good," said Hunke, "this is the beginning of a brand new process in the collision repair industry."

Monica Rincon, Avila Auto Body, Buellton, stated "This class was excellent, especially for me as a newcomer to the industry. I will use all of these techniques when negotiating. Thanks for the new knowledge!" Rincon has moved from a position in corporate America to work with her father in the collision repair business.

Positive feedback

The evaluation forms submitted at the end of the day were all refreshingly honest. "Did we miss something important?" was one of the questions. An unsigned sheet came back with an adament "yes." This person would like more information on the laws so negotiation isn't necessary. Another person commented that he had just had an argument with his boss over these same issues. "Thanks for the tips," he gratefully expressed. Hunke received great feedback from an industry transitioning into new business methodologies.

"Coming back to Santa Maria," reflected Hunke, "is humbling and inspiring for these folks at this level of business experience to place their confidence in High Impact Workshops and me."

The continued spirit of cooperation shown by this Central California group should be an inspiration. It is impressive that they can pull together and bring this educational program to benefit shops and vendors.

Thanks are in order for the following sponsors of this workshop: 3M, BASF, PPG, DuPont, NAPA, Central City Supply, Color Wheel, Dyna Com, See Progress, D'Angelo's Santa Barbara, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Custom Colors, First Interstate Bumper, Foster's Body & Paint, Toyota of Santa Maria, Apex Auto Glass and Wurth Products.

A very special thank you to Steve and Jeanette at Foster's Body & Paint whose hard work and dedication to the collision industry started this educational process.

Janet Chaney has served in many facets of the collision repair industry. She is now looking after the best interests of her clients from Cave Creek, Arizona. Her email address is janet_chaney@earthlink.net.


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