“Word-tracks used to offer repair shop referrals to consumers should not include comments, remarks or statements that disparage any collision repair business,” the proposal, crafted last year by the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) Trade Practices Committee, reads. “When a consumer voices their shop selection, their decision should be honored without further comment. Repairers should also refrain from making any comments that disparage an insurer, direct repair program or other repair facilities.”
But during a recent panel discussion at CIC about how this and other trade practice proposals might get implemented, it became clear that shops and insurers aren’t always speaking the exact same language. One man’s “steering” is another man’s “consumer education.”
“I’m not sure what this statement is intending to provide,” Allstate’s Randy Hanson said, a statement echoed by some other insurance company representatives on the panel. “If you’re trying to say,’ Follow the law and play nice,’ we do that. But I suspect there are other issues this is trying to get at, and this statement doesn’t do a lot for me in terms of what that is exactly.”
Industry consultant Lou DiLisio spoke for many collision repairers when at CIC he voiced frustration with insurers’ view of the issue.
“It’s the implementation and execution of those word tracks, and it’s what gets done when there’s something identified that’s out of place,” DiLisio said. “Whet gets done when I call up and say, ‘Your word track was deviated from…’ What gets done? Unfortunately, nothing.”
Steering vs. education
The panel discussion organized by the “Insurer-Repairer Relations Committee” at the latest CIC meeting focused on just two of the first five proposals developed by the “Trade Practices Committee.”
Hanson wasn’t alone in portraying the word tracks and other information used to describe a direct repair program as “consumer education.”
“We should have the right to inform the consumer about the process,” Michael Lloyd of California Casualty said. “In some states, once the customer voices a choice of shop, that’s where it stops, and I’m good with that. But there are other states, like California, which recently passed a regulation that says we have the right to explain our program to our customers. We’re going to honor their choice of shop, but I agree with that law that we should have the ability to make sure the consumer is informed.”
Joe Laurentino of Esurance told DiLisio that he doesn’t think his company’s employees stray from the company’s word tracks when talking to consumers about shop choice.
“I won’t say it doesn’t ever happen,” Laurentino said. “But the vehicles we fix today are highly complex. We need to make sure they get to the repairers who can fix the car properly and by the OE specifications.”
If there are concerns about the wording used by an Esurance employee, Laurentino told DiLisio, “I would personally address that if you call me with the claim number.”
Hanson said as more and more claims calls are handled by call centers, there is “strict adherence to the script,” scripts that Allstate has made available to the Automotive Service Association for feedback (and to which Allstate responded with some changes, he said). In response to a question, he said there is no financial incentive for call center employees to get a certain percentage of customers to use a Allstate direct repair program shop.
Hanson argued against state laws that limit an insurer’s right to discuss the program even with a consumer who has a shop in mind.
“What about the customer who comes back and says, ‘How come you didn’t tell me you had this program?’” he said. “I entertain a lot of those calls. That’s a difficult conversation too because I have to tell them I can’t tell them. They don’t understand that. They don’t understand that there’s a law that says I can’t inform them.”
But Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), challenged the idea that insurers are consistently adhering to scripts and honoring customers’ shop choice.
“Otherwise, I and the other association leaders in the room wouldn’t get calls on a regular basis from shops who say, ‘I had a customer. I had their keys. I had their car. I had a signed authorization, and the car got towed out because of what they were told,’ “ Schulenburg said. “That happens. Often. And there’s a lot of customers who quite frankly aren’t willing to fight. If the customer doesn’t have the time or energy in invest in fighting it and moving up the ladder and meeting the (insurance) manager and going to their department of insurance, at the end of the day they’ll throw their hands up and say, ‘Fine, tow it out and take it where you need it.’”
The panel also discussed another of the “Trade Practices Committee” proposals, which calls for insurers to make available their DRP agreement guidelines and key performance metrics, and to “publish the intended field application of the program’s policies, guidelines and metrics, along with a process for handling potential misunderstandings or deviations from company policy.”
As with the word track proposal, this idea got a mixed reception from insurers on the panel. Hanson said Allstate includes a copy of its direct repair program contract on its website. Lloyd said California Casualty already makes standard operating procedures available to its direct repair shops through its website.
“But as far as posting that (DRP) agreement to everyone, that’s not going to happen,” Lloyd said. “Hopefully our agreements give us some kind of competitive advantage. I guess that would be the main reason I just don’t see it happening.”
Laurentino said his company’s legal department won’t allow Esurance direct repair agreements to be openly published.
But several shop representatives on the panel said the actual terms of the DRP contracts are not as much the issue as in-the-field policies and procedures being interpreted or implemented differently by staff even within the same insurance company.
“When we believe there’s a deviation in the field, when a policy is being applied differently than, as I understand, corporate intended it, where do we go to bring that to somebody’s attention, to have some resolution of the issue,” Bill Lawrence of LC Automotive Group asked the insurers on the panel.
Joe Lacy of GEICO said in those instances a shop should contact a supervisor for a clarification. Lloyd said his company could be willing to put together some “generic guidelines of how we do business” but would want more input from the committee as to what topics should be covered. Hanson said he understand shops are sometimes hesitant to move up the chain of command because of possible reprisals. But he balked at the idea of some way to submit concerns anonymously or through a third-party or “hotline,” saying it “complicates the resolution” and often lacks enough detailed information to be “actionable.”
If a problem involves some sort of fraud—such as an insurance company employee seeking some of pay-off—repairers should contact the corporate security department at that company, several of the panelists said.
But panelist Mike Condon, one of the consultants that conducted a study last year to examine the viewpoints of top auto claims personnel, offered perhaps the most optimistic viewpoint on hopes for at least one aspect of the trade practice proposal.
“It was clear that most insurers wanted, or were interested in, some sort of dispute resolution process, but none of them really had any idea of how to do it,” Condon said of the interviews in the study with top claims personnel at nine major insurers.
He said the fact that no such mechanism exists could provide a good opportunity for the industry to work together to develop one, rather than having a number of different ones pop up.
“What we need to start is probably to develop requirements from insurers as to what it might look like,” Condon said.