He was fuming about repeatedly having to wrestle with insurance companies over what they will and won’t pay for. But, rather than getting mad, he’s now using the social media site to query other shops about what is and isn’t being paid for elsewhere.
Abel Cantrelle, 49, is the owner of Advantage Collision Center in Houma, LA. He recently purchased a 40-inch smart television and hung it on the wall it in his reception area in his shop where both customers and insurance adjusters can see it. But, they’re not watching The View or Dr. Phil. What they’re seeing is a real-time feed of Cantrelle’s Twitter account, so that when insurers deny anything for any reason, he can tweet the details to shop owners and companies like CCC and Mitchell to get their immediate feedback.
The story begins in late 2013, when Cantrelle got wind of a new trade association that was in its infancy, he explained. “Back in December, my paint rep walked into our shop and asked me if I was going to be attending a meeting of the new Louisiana Collision Industry Association (LaCIA), and I told him I hadn’t heard about it. So, on December 5, I walked into their meeting in Baton Rouge and I was surprised to see over 200 people there. In my experience, people in this industry tend to work against each other, but when I walked into that room and listened to what everyone said, a light bulb went on in my head. ‘Hey, a lot of us are in the same boat!’ I thought.”
After the January 2014 LaCIA meeting, there was a question and answer session, and that’s when Cantrelle shared his brilliant idea with the attending members. “After seeing my 14-year-old daughter (Ashley) on her cell phone texting her friends, I realized that we can use this social media to help the organization and each other,” he said. “All these kids now are on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter every day communicating with [their peer group], so why can’t body shops do the same thing?”
Cantrelle is not a techie and surely not a social media expert, but he knows that communication and networking can be powerful if used properly, he said. “It’s all about communicating with the tools we’ve got. I remember way back when they started telling us about personal computers and programs like CCC and Mitchell. Lots of us didn’t know anything about computers and now they’re in front of us every day. We can go to Twitter and communicate back and forth and get answers right away—at our fingertips.”
Cantrelle is using Twitter to call out insurance adjusters that want to deny when it comes to repair processes they don’t want to reimburse. “If an insurance company comes in here now and says we don’t pay for this or that, all I have to do is say let’s stop right here and ask these shops in America about whether they ask for this supplement or not,” Cantrelle said.
“It freaks them out, to be honest. Mitchell and CCC are also on Twitter, so they can answer the question too, if they want to. I want them on there, because that way they’re accountable as well. The repair procedures are right there listed on CCC and Mitchell, so if it’s there, it should be paid for.”
Cantrelle used to have several direct repair programs (DRPs), but no more, he explained. “I’m done with it, and now they’re steering us away to other shops,” he said. “I don’t think they’re happy with the Twitter thing, and I’m certain that they do not love the idea of it all being displayed on a TV in my front office. It’s also gaining momentum, because we now have more than 100 followers on Twitter and body shops are joining every day. There are now folks from the United Kingdom and all over the country that have joined us, and I’m astonished by all the people that are going through the same thing and really care.”
Alysia Hanks is the executive director at LaCIA and an administrator at Lakeway Collision Center in Mandeville, LA. She strongly believes that Cantrelle’s use of Twitter is an ingenious and perfectly-timed idea, for many reasons. “I’m all for using social media, because it’s a great way to keep connected to our members, other body shops throughout the country, and other state associations,” she said. “We always want to be networking, so that we know what’s out there and be ready for the next thing. We talked to other state associations and one of the main problems they encountered was a lack of communication, so things like Facebook and Twitter can keep us in the loop.”
Hanks appreciates the transparency and accountability of the way Cantrelle is using Twitter. “We’re taking to it the insurance companies, because it’s been too long,” she said. “We’re not doing this to start a fight, and we’re not intending to start a lawsuit. We just want the body shops in this state to know that we’re here, to work together, and make a better business environment for all of us.”
A man on a mission, Cantrelle wants body shops at a national level to get involved in what he calls, “this Twitter thing.”
“If we could get, say, 800 to 1,000 shops on this thing,” Cantrelle said, “Well, now, we would have something really special. Since I don’t have any DRPs, I’m not afraid of telling the truth. One of my first tweets was ‘Enough is enough—I’m tired of working for free,’ and everybody loved it.”
“Last week, we did a car and they paid me for the seam sealer and every single process I had to do. I tell any insurer if there is a process I’m not doing on a vehicle, I will pay you back. I will prove everything I’m doing. We’re taking pictures of every single thing now.”
“One big insurer told me some of these shops in the backyard will charge for this and this, and I say do your job and go catch them and find them not doing those things and make them pay you back. I recently wrote a car for $5,040 and State Farm wrote an estimate for $2,800, threw it on my desk and ran. I made them come back out, rewrite it and go over it with me and they ended up writing the same estimate as me.”
By telling the collision world about his new communication tool and process, Cantrelle hopes other shops will join Twitter and realize it’s a great way to know what other shops in other parts of the country are dealing with.
“If everyone [joined Twitter], the screen would be popping and jumping,” Cantrelle says. But when you’re in Mississippi and I can tweet, ‘I have a Progressive guy [for example] here and he’s telling me shops aren’t charging for this or that,’ and then ask, ‘Are you charging for this?’ and they say, ‘Yes,’ I can look at the Progressive guy and say, ‘Well, there’s your answer.’
“United we stand, divided we fall. If people don’t start joining hands, it’s going to get bad,” said Cantrelle.
Join Cantrelle’s Twitter feed (#advantageccinc). “Hop onboard and ask me a question,” he said. “If I can’t answer it, somebody will be able to, and that’s the beauty of it!”