Vince Claudio, of Gerber Collision & Glass, says more consistent messaging throughout an insurers’ claims organization would be helpful.Allstate’s Clint Marlow says consumers often view collision repair as one experience, rarely segmenting out the performance of the shop versus the insurer.Mike Cassata says shops should feel comfortable taking ideas to insurers to improve the claims and repair processes.Darrell Amberson of LaMettry’s Collision says he’d like to see more insurers getting input from shop advisory committees.

Insurers, repairers discuss ways each can bring more value to the other

Las Vegas—A panel discussion at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) in Las Vegas in November brought insurers and collision repairers together to discuss ways that each can play in helping the other improve their businesses.

Clint Marlow, director of analytics, innovations and strategic partnerships for Allstate Insurance, argued that consumers tend to look at the crash-to-repair as one experience, rarely segmenting out the performance of the shop versus insurers.

“So we all are in this together,” Marlow said.

With that in mind, he said there are a number of things shops can do that add value to insurers by helping improve the customer’s experience and thus their view of the insurer as well. It starts with how the shop’s company is perceived within the market.

“If you have a great reputation in the community, the whole claims process goes a whole lot easier,” Marlow said. “Everyone trusts each other. The customer isn’t wondering or questioning whether they’re being taken advantage of. So the repair facility’s reputation in the community is very important to us and value-added.”

The shop’s communication with customers is valuable to insurers as well, he said.

“If the repair facility does an awesome job keeping the customer informed, they’re not wondering what’s going on,” he said. “They’re not calling the carrier. Just something as simple as keeping the customer informed is a great value-added service for us.”

Mike Cassata, an independent consultant, who spent more than 15 years with Amica Insurance, agreed that the customer’s experience at the shop largely colors their satisfaction with the insurer.

“Whether you do an outstanding job of repairing their car, they’re probably not going to know that,” Cassatta said. “I don’t mean they’re idiots. I just mean they will look at the color match and know it looks nice, but [in terms of] the overall quality of the repair, they’re really not going to known what’s under those fenders. But they are going to know how they were treated.”

Repairers on the panel didn’t fully agree that it’s largely the shop that solely determines the consumer’s perspective of the claims experience.

“I would take a little bit of an issue with the consumer perceiving the insurer, repairer and rental car company as one,” Darrell Amberson, president of operations for Minnesota-based LaMettry's Collision, said. “That doesn’t always happen. I think that is the ultimate goal, and what it should almost feel like if we’re all doing our jobs well. But it’s not uncommon for that customer to come to us frustrated over something. Often times we feel we’re in the role of doing damage-control.”

Amberson pointed to a number of things insurers could do to improve shop productivity and profitability.

“A methodology for prompt authorizations so we’re not sitting and waiting on claims,” Amberson suggested, for example. “Give us a free reign to make decisions for parts procurements and other repair decisions. Scheduling is huge. Why do we keep talking about scheduling Monday through Friday? We continue to get push-back for scheduling cars in on Thursdays and Fridays. As an industry, we established it so long ago that a repair shop can be so much more efficient to operate with a consistent volume coming in and out every day.”

Amberson there are some “vast differences” among insurers in terms of how much of an administrative burden their claims place on shops, but across the board that administrative work is increasing.

“If you consider detailers as part of your support staff, we’re getting dangerously close to a 1:1 ratio within our shops of support staff in relationship to technicians,” Amberson said. “In some ways that’s good because we have a little bit more control of the repair process by doing that. But it does mean we have to operate even more in harmony with the insurer than we have in the past.”

Marlow agreed that insurers can and should do more to help reduce the overall administrative burden rather than solely shifting it to shops.

“If a carrier needs to ask a repair facility to take on something, we have an obligation to ask what can we take off that plate,” Marlow suggested to his fellow insurers. He pointed to reducing rekeying of estimates by allowing shops to download the insurer’s estimate as one way to cut administrative time.

“Insurers also should be thinking about how to take in [estimates] from any of the three information providers and not have that repair facility have to have multiple platforms,” Marlow said. “I think if it’s approached that way, that every time you’re asking your partner to maybe take on one more function because technology or society has changed, that there is something that comes off the plate. I’d ask the carriers to think about it in that way.”

Marlow said another concern he’s heard from collision repairers is about a constant flux in how insurers are measuring shop performance.

“One of the things that the repair facilities want is consistency,” Marlow said. “I hear it regularly: ‘This month the message is this. The next month it’s something else. Your processes change.’ So if you think about that ease of doing business, I think that’s important.”

Vince Claudio, a regional vice president for Gerber Collision & Glass, said more consistency would be helpful not just month-to-month but throughout the claims organization.

“You may have a conversation with somebody at a senior level with the company, and the message is ‘x,’” Claudio said. “But then somehow it doesn’t quite translate to the field rep. That makes it a challenge.”

Along those lines, Amberson also said he’d like to see more insurers have shop advisory committees.

“I don’t think we have enough of them out there,” he said. “I don’t think there’s enough exchange of information and enough listening that takes place. We need to sit down and listen to one another and come up with some mutual solutions.”

Cassata agreed on the need for more exchange between insurers and repairers.

“It should go without saying, but don’t be afraid to speak to your local claims representatives,” he said. “If you have an idea that you think will work, tell them. Don’t just think they’re sending your work so you got to kind of do what they want you to do. Don’t be afraid to speak up and tell them. Because they do listen. I know the insurer I worked for was in touch with the shops on a local basis and did what we could to work with them.”

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Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.