A Spotlight on Education: Highlights from SCRS’ Repairer Driven Education Series

by Alana Quartuccio and Chasidy Rae Sisk

Year after year, the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) never falters in its commitment to provide an effective educational program to help today’s repairer get ready for tomorrow. SCRS’ Repairer Driven Education (RDE) series at SEMA 2023 was most certainly no different. Some of the industry’s top names came in poised and ready to share their knowledge to make sure that collision repair professionals left Las Vegas ready to put the resources, business solutions, technology updates and then some in place at their shops. 

Many aspire to be leaders, but few actually understand what leadership truly is. Industry icon Mike Anderson (Collision Advice) helped RDE attendees get a firmer grasp on “Building Operational Leadership” as he shared his favorite leadership lessons on how to improve an organization, how to share key lessons with your team and how to make them stick. He defined leadership as “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal” and acknowledged that leaders may or may not have formal authority. 

According to Anderson, great leaders are trusted, and they inspire others. They take time to explain why, they can admit when they’re wrong, and they use data to affect change. Leaders also understand the power of words and choose their words wisely. They know how to mentor and are willing to delegate responsibilities, and they build others up by praising progress. Because great leaders recognize the importance of accountability, they set clear expectations and hold themselves and others accountable. Leaders in management roles are careful about who they hire, and they always make sure to share visions of improvement with everyone involved in bringing those visions to life. 

Anderson was joined by a panel of four such leaders – Casey Lund (Collision Leaders), Ron Reichen (Precision Body & Paint), Andy Tylka (TAG Auto Group) and Michael Bauman (Diehl Auto Group) – who shared their experiences and insights on building, managing and supporting teams. 

Is your poor phone etiquette killing your business? Collision Advice’s Tracy Dombrowski made her SEMA speaking debut with “Phone Etiquette and the Power of Mystery Shopping,” emphasizing that today’s customer service experience must be extraordinary because “nobody notices normal.” 

She reminded attendees that customers do not WANT a shop’s services; they NEED those services. The vehicle owner is already dealing with a negative experience (an accident), so shops have to work extra hard to turn that negative situation into something more positive. Their experience begins the moment the customer first interacts with your brand, typically online, which makes it imperative that you control that initial interaction.

Dombrowski shared four key principles to providing an extraordinary customer experience: personalization, competency, convenience and proactiveness. “Personalized interactions let customers know that your company cares about them and their problems. To be competent, a customer support professional must have a strong knowledge of the company and its products, as well as the power to fix the customer’s problems. The more knowledge they have, the more competent they become.

“Is it radically easy to do business with you?” she asked. “Customers want to be able to get in touch with a customer service representative through whichever channel is the most convenient for them.” 

Lastly, Dombrowski explained that a proactive customer experience is about anticipating customers’ needs (or problems) before they are aware of them or need to contact you for assistance. Those principles begin from the moment a vehicle owner calls the shop, so how do you know if your shop is delivering? She recommended using mystery shopping to evaluate your shop’s customer service experience. Often, shop employees fail this test.

Dombrowski provided several tips for improving phone etiquette: always speak clearly and slowly, smile, don’t eat or drink, focus on the task at hand, have patience, use proper titles and the customer’s name whenever possible, and don’t use slang or jargon that the customer won’t understand. Most importantly, LISTEN to understand the customer instead of just hearing what they’re saying so you can respond. 

There’s a lot of competition in the collision repair world. That is no secret. But many independent shops may lack the secret formula toward building success in this competitive market. BASF’s John Shoemaker set out to show repairers how to go about “Being ‘Elite’ in a Consolidating Market.” 

Shoemaker started off by outlining the problem body shops face in an MSO world: 

“It’s hard to get paid for what we deserve when the national MSO is doing repairs for $3,500 or less,” he relayed. “How many of you have a repair in your shop for less than $3,500? Because independents are running about $2,000 to $3,000 higher. When I did my research, I looked at probably 100 shops every month, and one of the things I saw changing was that independent shops are losing repairs for $3,500 or less.”

His suggested solution? Shops need to move away from DRPs and begin to focus on OEM certification instead. Whereas it may be considered a stretch to go from DRP-heavy to zero overnight, he suggested shop owners examine their gross profit from insurance carriers, as his research led him to see these figures decrease.

Being considered “elite” doesn’t necessarily mean a shop must obtain 10 OEM certifications. It could simply mean being certified in only two or three. “Understanding your market will help your strategy. Identify the cars in your market and fix those. Being certified means shops have the wording, language and equipment needed to repair vehicles the right way and that makes one’s shop the ‘repair authority.’ Having information from OEs to show that third-party payer why these vehicles need to be fixed a certain way also makes it easier to get the reimbursement needed.” 

A cultural shift within one’s business is another step toward being elite. Make sure customers know they are at the right place to fix their car, and have every single member of the staff know the shop’s brand and expectation. 

“If your people aren’t able to identify your brand and promote it, you’ve lost. They are the ones on the front line, at the check-in point, at the follow up, to get those Google reviews. If your employees don’t understand your brand, you won’t get the gains.” 

Sales are an important component of what shops do, but few shop owners are marketing specialists. Those interested in transitioning from “Padawan to Master” had an opportunity to learn from Micki Woods (Micki Woods Marketing and host of the Body Bangin’ Podcast) during her highly interactive “Marketing Jedi Training,” as she discussed “three top marketing techniques that million-dollar corporations know, understand and implement, yet small business owners aren’t taking into account to market and leverage our businesses.”

The first marketing technique Woods explored was the power of creativity. To better understand how to access one’s creative brain, she explained that the limbic brain is responsible for the fight, flight or freeze stress response. While the limbic brain is engaged due to a stress response – which most people live in on a daily basis – it becomes impossible for a person to access their prefrontal cortex and move into a space of creativity, so Woods and attendees brainstormed different ways to reduce stress and access more innovative thinking.

Because most decisions, including purchasing decisions, are made based on emotion, the second corporate secret is understanding the power of the emotional connection and using it to positively affect prospective customers. Insurance companies master this technique along with the third technique, the power of differentiation. Differentiation is the hardest to truly identify, and the class enjoyed a fun but challenging game showcasing what made their business different and if that was truly a differentiator or something that others in the room could also say.

Woods impressed upon the group that satisfaction does not equal loyalty, and by putting into place the three top marketing techniques, the businesses in the room would not only increase their sales but also their raving fans.

Finding the right formula for business success is another key toward keeping one’s business in a healthy place. Opus IVS’ Frank Terlep set out to challenge business owners to consider planning. Many owners are reluctant to plan due to lack of commitment and/or time, existing company culture and values…and maybe just because planning means change, which is something some might be reluctant to do. 

In order to grow, one has to be able to stop and look at their business. It’s an action that is of absolute importance. “If you don’t think about it, you won’t get there,” Terlep confirmed. It’s about having to look at one’s shop and see it for what it is, he explained. “One has to be able to look at their baby and say ‘I have an ugly baby,’” so they can work on what they want to fix. 

Ultimately, “every business that gets started is for sale at the right price,” according to Terlep, who indicated that one must think of the future. Mission statements need to be examined and updated when the business’ mission changes and the business’ vision statement should also change over time.

“Planning is great, but if you don’t execute, it won’t matter.”

During a panel discussion moderated by Jim Chargo (BASF), Danyon Kirchner (Zimmerman Auto Body Supplies) and Yanni Koutmos (EagleMMS) set out to talk to repairers about the “New Age of Paint and Material Billing and Reimbursement,” as getting paid properly for the materials is certainly not getting any easier.

According to Kirchner, “one of the best negotiating tools one can have is the OEM relationship between your paint company and the manufacturer.” 

Documentation is the key. Kirchner encourages his shops to have their insurer send his company an email if they get pushback on something, and he will send back every piece of documentation that they need to explain why the products and processes are required. “Especially if you’re an OEM certified shop of any brand, if you’re using one of the five major players of paint, they have gone through a rigorous process to become OEM certified. And there are certain things that you must do to maintain the paint manufacturer’s warranty.”

If you missed these sessions live, SCRS will be releasing select RDE sessions virtually for purchase, typically available by the end of the calendar year. For further information or to purchase these sessions or to access education sessions from previous years, visit rde.scrs.com.

Want more? Check out the December 2023 issue of Hammer & Dolly!