Thursday, 31 August 2006 17:00

Improving relations between shop owners, insurers

Written by Lee Amaradio, Jr.

I've been writing articles trying to give my perspective on what I think would be good changes for our industry. This collision industry is a major part of my life. It provides a living, I enjoy doing what I do, and I love to repair collisions. But there are many things in my life that I value more. I'm also "Lee" the person; I have a life apart from this industry. If we ask about the most meaningful things in our lives, the answer is never going to be the collision industry. While it consumes most of our time, it is far from the most important aspect of our lives.

It is necessary to take a long look at how we do business - the human touch has certainly been lacking. The Golden Rule needs to be invoked. We need to treat the insurance adjusters the way we would like to be treated. They need to treat us with a little more love also.

We are all just trying to make a living, yet we act like we are enemies. Even though they are not the enemy we do have an enemy out there, a very sneaky vicious enemy that wants to pit us against each other. This enemy is the corporate executive that sits behind a desk somewhere counting numbers. Their knowledge of the collision industry goes little beyond a spread sheet. Yes, our enemies are the bean counters of corporate America.

Instead of developing business relationships based on trust and ethics, they become dollar based. It would be nice to see this change. I would like to go back to a time when quality and integrity mattered more than money - when giving someone a good value for their dollar was just as important as net earnings, or the stock value. Our industry has depersonalized itself. Instead of building relationships with people, we have become anonymous in regard to company spread sheets.

Today's world is one of urgency. Everything has a time limit and a number attached to it. Things should be different, but as corporate America continues to be driven by the almighty dollar, I see myself constantly worrying about things that are relatively insignificant not only to a quality repair, but also to the important things I value in life.

When will enough be enough? Never! We will never be able to make enough money for ourselves or produce the correct numbers to make the bean counter corporate executives happy. As soon as we reach one benchmark, they will raise the bar to keep pushing us toward a new one.

Enough was enough

Our already stressful industry is turning into one that's over the top on the stress meter. Recently one of our managers quit. As he handed me his rolodex I asked him why he was giving it to me. He replied: "I'm done with this industry. I'm tired of having four bosses." He went on to tell me that between the customers, the employees, the insurance companies and me, he found it impossible to keep everyone happy. I really understood his position and how impossible it must have been for him to feel like he was doing a good job because he always had someone mad at him.

We need to reinvent trust within our industry. It is not trust when someone is watching everything you do - questioning every decision. We labor under the illusion that the insurance companies trust us. Sure we have brought some of this on ourselves, but our present system shows there is very little trust. I write 2 to 3 supplements on every job. Is this because we don't know how to find damage, or write an estimate? No it's because of a lack of trust.

Why don't we repair the vehicles and submit the bill at the end of the repair, (once we determined the vehicle to be repairable). Because the insurance companies think we would overcharge them. Because they don't trust us! If they did trust us, the repair process would go much quicker and the paperwork would be cut to a minimum.

I've done business with contractors who gave me a bid and billed me for the work and the extras at the end of the job. I trusted them because I had a relationship with them. I trusted them in my home with no one there to watch them because I knew what kind of people they were.

Building trust

This is why we need to start doing business with people again. We need to develop relationships with our insurance companies that are based on trust. For this to happen we need to be trustworthy. Remember the thief always thinks everyone is trying to steal from him, and the cheater always thinks someone is trying to cheat him.

Are we the pot calling the kettle black? I think that in many ways we are. Every time we do a substandard repair or short cut a repair, we become the cheaters. We are cheating the consumers and the insurance companies. When was the last time we were overpaid for a repair and we sent a portion of the money back? We can justify anything if we try hard enough, but we need to remember who we are when we go home, and what our values are. We are not thieves, so why should we steal?

I am "Lee the person," and my life outside this industry has certain values that I don't leave behind when I walk in the door. Nor should yours! If you feel that you are being forced to repair things in a substandard way or even cheat to make a profit, you need to draw the line. Don't do it, remember who you are when you go home and don't allow this industry to push you to become someone you're not.

We are people and we all have a life outside this industry. Both sides need to let their guard down a little bit. This could go a long way towards repairing the resentment we feel towards one another.

Have you hugged your adjuster lately?

 

In business for 26 years, Lee Amaradio, Jr. is the president and owner of "Faith" Quality Auto Body Inc. in Murrieta, California. With 65 employees, he attributes his success to surrounding himself with good help, claiming to have some of the best office staff and techs in our industry. Amaradio has been in this industry long enough to see the handwriting on the wall. He feels that now is the time for us to unite as an industry before it's to late. He can be reached at lee@faithqualityautobody.com.