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Monday, 29 November 2010 12:09

My Customer, the Crash Test Dummy

Written by Lee Amaradio Jr.

As 2011 approaches and we move forward into another year in the collision industry, we can be sure of one thing: vehicles are changing. The way we as collision repairers do business is also changing. We are running our companies leaner. We are measuring our efficiencies and comparing our numbers with other shops around us. We have all become better at running businesses. We have changed drastically in how we manage our customer.

We have improved our customer service. Many of us have started our own customer marketing campaigns. We have CSI programs that measure our customers’ satisfaction down to the last detail. It would be safe to say that we have become customer-oriented companies. We communicate with our customers better. We return their vehicles faster. We give them completed paperwork at the same time we give them their vehicles. We take the time to explain even the smallest details to them and even offer them a cup of coffee while they wait. We are concerned about them and we want them to be treated in a professional and honest manner.

The entire collision industry has really “stepped up” and made the customers experience with collision repair a much better experience than ever before. Our customers trust us and we are beginning to replace the ‘alley body shop’ image of the past with a new service-oriented ‘dealership’ image.

BUT... While we were staffing up our offices and updating our claims processing and watching our numbers, there were few resources left over to purchase training and equipment that actually fixes the cars. Most shops have found themselves so caught up in the claims process that the repair has become secondary to the handling of the claim. Getting the vehicle out within the cycle time allowance and making the metrics look right is more important than doing the research to know if you are even equipped and trained to repair the vehicles.

In this economy very few shops will turn work away and this becomes very dangerous for the shop and the customer. So, while you may have the blessing of the insurance company and your numbers may look good and even your customer leaves happy, you unknowingly have sent them out in an unsafe vehicle because you really didn’t understand the proper repair procedure or use the proper OEM parts for that particular vehicle.

Many argue that “Safety” is NOT a problem because there is no documented proof of a vehicle passenger getting hurt because of aftermarket bumper reinforcements or aftermarket structure parts such as core supports, etc. This is a foolish argument. Are you really saying there cannot be a safety issue because there is no proof yet?

This argument is analagous to saying: ‘This intersection doesn’t need a RED LIGHT until we have some dead bodies.’ The tobacco companies knew that smoking was unsafe years before the bodies started piling up.  They took the same stand: “There Is No Proof Smoking is Dangerous,” and continued doing business as usual. Big Tobacco cited the longevity of some smokers to ‘prove’ smoking was not hazardous to your health.

We as a repair industry have stepped up our claims processes but we have neglected the collision repair itself. We reap the benefits of the one while the insurance company reaps the benefits of the other. We need to be efficient in both, but NEVER should the insurer control the repair process. It is not their business to repair collisions. It’s their business to handle claims and keep the costs down.  No matter how many classes their adjusters attend, you would never assume they could repair a vehicle.

We are still the ones liable for what we do, or don’t do, to each and every vehicle that rolls through our doors. We are the ones responsible for the parts we use and for every circumstance in which we use them, so it is important to know the facts. It is important to invest in the training and to purchase the equipment necessary to call yourself a collision expert.

We have a lot of so-called Collision Experts within our industry but as a shop owner you must be the real collision expert with the credentials to back up what you say and do. If you were a surgeon you would have years of training and certificates to justify who you claim to be. A surgeon can’t just talk some one into a surgery by inviting them into their garage that is set up as an operating room.

Shame on those insurers that know about the crappy repairs that are being performed with crappy parts and crappy repair procedures. Shame on the crappy parts people for trying to deceive the insurers into thinking that a component  test is a thorough and complete crash test when they know it is not. Shame on those collision shops that repair vehicles with out the proper knowledge and equipment. And shame on all of us for allowing this to happen when we all know the truth and the consequences.

Would you send your kid to be operated on by an unlicensed doctor in a back yard clinic because there was a sign on the door? No. You would demand credentials that proved everyone knew what they were doing. You would want to see a sterile operating room, properly equipped to perform the necessary procedure. You would want to know the doctor was an expert and had only your kids’ best health in mind.

I am a collision expert and I know there are some serious issues related to safety. I know that things must change because, as we speak, our customers are being used as crash dummies by those that continue to make false claims without the credentials to even have an opinion. The industry may never be fixed to the point it should be, but as collision shop owners the buck stops with you. Are you going to change the way you repair collisions or are you going to continue to make your customer a Crash Test Dummy?