Shop Strategies: How a PA Shop Delivers Excellent Customer Service & Consistently Receives Top Reviews

Jim Pfau general manager of Alan's Collision Center

When Jim Pfau talks to his customers at Alan’s Collision Center, he often asks if they are familiar with their vehicle insurance policy. The general manager of the Philadelphia, PA body shop said that since the average person does not have a clear understanding of their policy, he takes the time to explain the issues associated with the repair process, such as labor rates and parts usage.

Alan Zeitz founded Alan’s Collision Center in 1973. Just two years later, he decided to move to Florida and sold the business to Dennis Winokur and Bob Neisser.

“Our mission is to ensure vehicles are repaired safely and returned to pre-collision condition,” said Pfau, who has worked in the industry since he was 16 years old. “We deliver the best customer service and workmanship possible and put our customers first…always.”

Pfau was hired in 2012 to modernize the business. Since then, the company has invested thousands of dollars annually in the latest, most advanced equipment and training.

Autobody News talked to Pfau about the importance of communicating to customers throughout the repair process, his views on scanning vehicles and the reason he thinks the shop consistently receives top reviews.

Q: You have 19 five-star reviews on Facebook as well as five-star reviews on Customer Lobby. Congratulations! What do you think sets Alan’s Collision Center apart from others in the industry?

A: Honestly, it is simple. Listen to your customers, educate the customers, and keep them in the loop. Do quality work and sell yourself at the delivery. We show all of our customers the work performed and explain why it is important to review us. By the end of the repair, we usually wind up with a new friend. Google and Facebook are so important. Almost everyone reads reviews during a big decision and I understand the value of that.

We are NOT a DRP (direct repair program) shop, and we do believe in factory certifications. The industry is slowly changing, and I believe that over the next five years, certifications will be mandatory in order to keep your doors open. We do invest in our shop annually. The equipment we own is up-to-date and well-maintained. We are also an I-CAR Gold Class shop.

Alan’s Collision has a unique business model. We are certified for Ford F-150, Mercedes Benz, Hyundai, Honda and Nissan. A large percentage of our work is referred by two local new car dealers.

Our employees make all the difference. They are mature and work hourly so the work is top-notch and it shows. We have 15 people employed at Alan’s and most of them have worked here for over 20 years. We have a pair of twins who started right out of high school—Mike Kochis (lead metal tech) and Steve Kochis (lead painter). Mike and Steve have never worked in another body shop. The brothers are now in their 50’s.

Q: How has your background in the industry prepared you to work as general manager at the collision repair facility?

A: I spent all of my youth in my father’s garage doing restoration work. When I was 18 years old, I landed my first job at Faulkner Cadillac as an engine rebuilder. I was then hired at Acura of Huntingdon Valley as a lead technician and transmission specialist. Soon after, I was promoted to service manager. During my first year as a young manager, I won a trip to Aruba, all expenses paid for being number one out of 25 for customer satisfaction. Later on, I was promoted again to service director. I was in charge of four award-winning service departments. Our body shop manager had a heart attack and I was asked to take over collision. This was a huge adjustment, as I had never dealt with an insurer before. I felt it was time to move on and “fix” another business, so I went to work for a local MSO. Quickly, our store became number one in service and received numerous awards.

Once I had everything dialed in, it was time to move on to my next project. I worked for a local Chevy dealer that had a dying collision center. It took me five years, but when I left, it was well in the black.

Five years ago, I was asked to take over the store at Alan’s Collision Center and modernize it. This has by far been my biggest challenge yet, and the most fun. I have an awesome group of friends on Facebook. We exchange ideas and war stories every day.

Q: How do you communicate the repair process to customers, and what is the importance of doing so?

A: During the first point of contact, we review the scope of the damage and how we will repair it. We also inform customers about the way their insurance policy dictates what an insurance company will pay. The biggest eye-opener for consumers is always aftermarket or salvage parts usage. They are always under the impression that if they demand OEM parts, the insurance companies will simply say OK. We explain the entire process and how we interact on their behalf to get the claim paid correctly. We continually update consumers throughout the repair process. We make them aware of any issues that require their attention regarding the insurance claim. We also show them industry publications and arm them with information to refute an insurance script. I have always believed that an informed customer is a good customer.

Our repair process is not anything elaborate. We blueprint the repair after a complete tear down, order parts through CollisionLink and research ALLDATA for a correct repair. A work order stays with the vehicle and is quality checked at each hand-off point. We match parts for correctness and then monitor the cycle time in the office. We also use our paint scale in the front office to determine the true costs of repair.

Every file has the quality control sheet, ALLDATA research and electronic notes among our staff. When our customers see everything in place, it gives them a sense of confidence.

Q: In your opinion, what is the importance of scanning vehicles and what steps have you taken to explain this to consumers, employees and the industry in general?

A: This is a big topic! It is not only important, but also a legal obligation. Can you imagine if a repair shop did not scan and calibrate the collision avoidance system and the owner was in an accident as a result? Personally, I do not pre-scan every repair. Pre-scanning, in my opinion, is to catch any system failures early in the repair process. If a vehicle is in for minor body repair, I do not see the need to pre-scan. However, those vehicles will always get post-scanned and calibrated. This is extremely important to review with the owner of the vehicle prior to the repair. We arm them with the position statement from the vehicle manufacturer and explain why it is important. We also explain to the owner why aftermarket scan equipment cannot properly see all of the data. We use an outside vendor that has OEM software, with the exception of Mercedes-Benz.

I have been heavily engaged with one insurance company that is flat-out refusing payment to the vehicle owner. This insurance company is one of, if not the largest, in our country. I have spoken to the managers there and they hold the position, “…that if there is no light on the dash, the vehicle does not need a scan or calibration.” This is old-school thinking and despite the numerous articles and position statements I have provided, they will not change their point of view. As a result, I have made several complaints to the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, contacted our Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who happens to be one of our customers, and wrote to every local news outlet. I will not give up until I get this resolved for the consumer. As far as the industry goes, I am very disappointed. I am disappointed by how many shops do not follow OEM procedures. The OEMs have set the standard for which we are to repair the vehicle properly—not the insurer.

The industry is in turmoil, but it will get better as we weed out the poor repair shops that do not care about safety.

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

AkzoNobel Beta web graphic v2 600px

Shop & Product Showcase