Use of E-Signatures is Customer Convenience, Faster Authorization Reduces Cycle Time

Use of E-Signatures is Customer Convenience, Faster Authorization Reduces Cycle Time

After a non-drivable car gets towed into your shop, how long do you generally have to wait to get a signed authorization from the customer to tear-down or begin work on their vehicle? Would that customer be more apt to sign the form more quickly if they didn’t have to come to your shop in order to do so? And could getting customer signatures more quickly in some cases allow you to start and finish work more on their vehicle more quickly, potentially improving your cycle time and cash flow while reducing rental car costs?

Those are the kind of questions Pat Beavers, chief operations officer of the 11-shop CollisionMax chain in the Philadelphia area, hoped to address through the use of e-signatures. Anyone who has bought a piece of real estate or paid taxes electronically knows that putting ink to paper is no longer always necessary for a signature to be considered valid and legal.

“We’ve used it successfully over 600,000 times over the last six years in 48 states and two Canadian provinces,” Vince Brigidi, president of the CEI Group, a fleet accident management company, told attendees at the Collision Industry Electronic Commerce Association (CIECA) Implementation Conference in San Diego this fall. “The process of obtaining customer’s authorizations is antiquated. The electronic signature is legal and effective. And there are significant efficiencies to be gained and rental days to be saved by doing this.”

Testing with a repairer

CEI manages claims for fleet, government and insurer accounts, using a network of more than 3,600 collision repair shops. Brigidi said CollisionMax is part of that network, and CEI worked with Beavers to set up a system to enable CollisionMax to obtain authorizations and other required customer signatures electronically.

“Sometimes in the past we’ve sent someone to a customer’s house to get a paper documents signed, or used FedEx,” Beavers said. “We have a shop full of technology for everything else we do to repair the car and speed the process, but when it comes to having a piece of paper signed, the best we can do is FedEx or fax it?”

Here’s how the system CollisionMax created with CEI’s assistance works. Say a vehicle is towed into a CollisionMax shop. The shop can email the customer a link to the electronic authorization form it needs the customer to sign. It could be CollisionMax’s own form, or the custom one the insurer involved needs to have signed. The customer can read or even print the form from their computer, phone or tablet, then “sign” their name simply by typing it into the space provided. The signed form then is electronically returned to CollisionMax.

Over a 3-month period and more than 300 non-drivable claims, CollisionMax compared the traditional method of obtaining customer signatures to the e-signature method. The results convinced Beavers that e-signatures are the way to go.

Using the traditional method, 62 percent of the needed signature were obtained the same day, and 18 percent were obtained the next day. The balance took 3 days or more (in the longest case, 9 days) and the overall average was 1.94 days.

By using e-signatures, however, CollisionMax obtained 97 percent of the signatures the same day and the other 3 percent the next day.

“Pat and I feel even that 3 percent is going to come down,” Brigidi said. “Some of it may have been user-error on our side.”

The longest amount of time it took to obtain the authorization was just 26 hours, and the overall average length of time: Just over one hour.

“From the insurance company perspective or whoever is on the hook for paying that bill, that means dollars,” Brigidi said. “These are all non-drivable claims, all claims in which the vehicle is sitting there, the insurance company is paying for a rental, and the driver is without their vehicle, In the CollisionMax world alone, there’s probably $200,000 or more in rental savings for non-drivable vehicles.”

Customers very accepting

While customer surely found the process more convenient than making a trip to the shop, Beavers said, his company received little in the way of comments from customers. Brigidi said that tells him the process is accepted if not an expected way of doing business for customers today. In order for e-signatures to be enforceable, customers must be given a choice whether to use it, but Beavers said during the study not one customer declined to sign electronically.

Brigidi said 47 states have signed onto the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, which makes electronic signatures legally valid. (The three other states—Washington, Illinois and New York—have their own state laws governing the use of e-signatures.) CollisionMax has shops in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, states that have different requirements for shop in terms of authorizations to be obtained, but the system worked well in both states.

Brigidi said that of the 600,000 e-signatures his company has obtained over six years, not one has been challenged as invalid. But, he said, in addition to tracking the day and time of the authorization, the system tracks the IP address of the device on which the customer signed the authorization, allowing it to be tracked back, if necessary, to the location or device from which it was provided.

Beavers said he wants to use e-signatures for all the customer authorizations the shop must obtain, even for drivable vehicles. It reduces paper use, is convenient for the customer, and would allowthe shop to use the same process for all claims. Customers dropping vehicles off could use a kiosk at the shop to sign electronically, or could be sent a link to the document via the phone they are carrying.

“When you think about some of the delays and how long some of those cars sit while we’re waiting to be authorized, to me they are all like checks waiting to be processed,” Beavers said. “The new standard is minutes, not hours or days.”

Beavers also said the potential savings and additional audit trail for insurers are obvious.

“I have some speculation that some shops are using that authorization part of the process to benefit themselves,” Beavers said. “Maybe they don’t expedite the authorization at times because they have plenty of work. Typically for the insurers, the proverbial clock starts to tick only when we have a signed authorization. So if a shop has delayed that for whatever reasons, the pressures aren’t on so much.”

Brigidi said he was surprised to learn an e-signature system hadn’t been integrated into the estimating or shop management systems, but believes that will eventually happen.

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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