Monday, 31 July 2006 17:00

Benefit from more professional channels of communication

Written by Lee Amaradio, Jr.

"What we have here is a failure to communicate!"

    - Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke 

This has become a major problem in the collision industry today - we have a failure to communicate. We fail to communicate our needs to the insurance companies. We fail to communicate with our customers. We fail to communicate with our employees.

How do I communicate to the insurance company or a customer that the tech that was working on their car just quit without giving any notice and we are all scrambling to find the parts to assemble their vehicle? I'm left making excuses for something that is out of my control. We are a blue collar industry with a serious handicap - we have white collar mentality trying to direct us.

White collar employees would never think of quitting work on Monday and starting a new job on Tuesday. A white collar worker would first think about how this would negatively affect his resumé for future employment and would give reasonable notice before quitting.

Not so for the collision industry. It's the exception to the rule to get the proper notice before a tech quits. Often they quit without even assembling the vehicles in process, forcing us to figure out how to finish them. Even worse is that the tech is prompted to leave in such a manner by my "colleague" who hired him. Some even offer signing bonuses to lure my employee away faster.

This communication problem goes much deeper - it trickles down to the repair process itself. I had an experienced body tech install a green glued-on molding on a silver F150 pick up truck. When I made him pay for the molding, he quit on the spot. His argument was that the estimator handed it to him and told him to put it on. He thought I was being unfair because he was doing what he was told. He never assumed any responsibility for the mistake, because it wasn't his job to order the parts. This is blue collar mentality and the collision industry operates within the parameters of our employees' blue collar attitude and approach. We can't change this, but it can be managed with damage control.

It's our responsibility to communicate our needs to the insurance companies. There has to be a margin of error allowed when considering a vehicle repair. Inadvertent mistakes happen every day even though we continue to put programs in place to eliminate them. This is the nature of our industry. We don't think the same as the white collar insurance executives. If you tell the insurance company an employee has just quit without notice, they may think the fault lies in your management style and display little sympathy.

Blue collar industry

We are a blue collar industry and being penalized because of it. In a war, foot soldiers and commanders are equally necessary and valuable. I wouldn't want my estimators doing auto repairs. Nor would I want my body technicians writing the estimates. Both are necessary and both are very valuable, but they don't think the same. One leads and the other follows.

It is imperative to start communicating our issues to our insurance company clients. They should listen to us because we understand both worlds as we work in them both daily. We need to communicate our needs to the insurance companies based on our world, not theirs.

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I have spent years teaching my techs to become the professionals they are. Showing them how important they are, teaching them to be professionals and to take pride in their work, only to have someone sitting in an office deduct hours from an estimate by looking at a photo. This affects their pay and the communication line is broken down once again. They see someone with little or no knowledge of how to repair a vehicle, dictating how something is done; this can be quite discouraging when you're the guy repairing the vehicle.

Again we have a failure to communicate. We need to be the ones running our repair processes because we are the experts. This must be communicated daily in our approach to each repair. We need to take the time to explain in detail to any adjuster that doesn't understand why a procedure or a part is necessary. It is our job to communicate to the person sitting behind the desk why they shouldn't cut our sheet.

We can no longer just agree for the sake of our relationships. Remember they have white collar mentality. The same way we don't understand them, they don't understand us. It is our responsibility to communicate to them. When we allow them to remove something from an estimate that we know is necessary, it undermines our own credibility.

We must communicate to every adjuster why we do what we do; it's their job to make sure we are not over charging. If we are consistently having over charges removed from our estimates, how can we expect to have credibility? Document anything questionable. Take some in-process photos after the paint has been ground off when you think the original photos won't justify the labor times. It's all about communicating in a professional manner.

Experience has shown that as long as a supplemental procedure can be explained, I will get paid. Remember we are the collision experts and should never assume that the insurance company understands the repair process better than we do. As the experts we should be able to explain, in a polite professional manner, the need for a procedure. Only then will we gain the respect of our white collar colleagues.

 

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 by e-mail at lee@faithqualityautobody.com.