AASP/MA Continues Efforts to “Break Free in ’23”

by Alana Quartuccio

Last Fall, AASP/MA planted the seeds to “Break Free in ’23.” This past June, they watered those seeds by feeding members of the Alliance with more tools and resources to help them successfully take back the reins of the business and break away from the clutches of insurance companies who refuse to pay fair reimbursement rates for proper and safe collision repairs.

Last year’s discussion focused on the frustrations shared by Commonwealth repairers who have grown tired of insurer-suppressed rates and begun to take matters into their own hands. Many shops are finding success, fighting back, regaining control and getting properly reimbursed by requiring a copay – also known as balance billing the customer. Others have been finding positive results by removing themselves from insurance repair programs as they have come to believe they set a negative tone to what shops get paid.

As a follow up to that discussion, the Alliance set out to make sure collision repairers are prepared with the tools and resources needed in order to regain the control of their businesses. Members of the Alliance gathered once again at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School in Marlborough on June 17 for “Breaking Free in ’23 – Part Two,” which featured national speaker Kristen Felder (Collision Hub).

Felder, who has first hand knowledge of the insurance side of the fence from her background working with a major provider, led an eye-opening discussion that honed in on the proper documentation needed, and why it’s needed, in order to avoid potential issues and ultimately protect the best interests of one’s business.

It all begins with understanding what one’s rights are and how those rights are determined, she stressed.

“At the end of the day, there is the truth, there is what you believe to be your truth and then there’s what you can actually defend and work with in court. Sometimes those things are the same. Sometimes they’re not. And sometimes even if you’re right, going to court isn’t really where you want to be because you don’t have the pockets necessary.”

A business owner may think they have all the proper documentation but Felder pointed out one must make sure they have the right documentation. Contracts are key and having permission to work on the car should be in writing by way of a contract.

“Just because someone gave you their keys, doesn’t necessarily mean they gave you permission to do anything to it,” she pointed out.

Verbal communication may lead one to believe both parties are in agreement but as Felder stated, “I never met an attorney who likes verbal contracts.” She advised that if one were to receive verbal permission to immediately follow it up in writing by way of sending an email. She empathized that waiting can be painful for a shop owner who just wants to get the repair started. “The one customer you didn’t get a contract with is the one who is going to be the problem, so make sure to get that contract.”

She spoke of the importance of making sure one’s front office is talking to the back office; make sure to charge only for the work you are doing.

As for what to charge for, Felder suggests a shop can charge what it wants to charge, but it doesn’t necessarily mean someone will pay it. She also questioned who is responsible for making the determination of what is considered a “reasonable” charge.

“Our consumers will become judges. You have to think about that perception. What do you think a consumer will think is reasonable?” she asked.

Then when it comes to getting insurers to pay, one must be able to clearly make their case.

“Insurance adjuster turnover is high,” she noted. “Most have little experience and there is tons of pressure on them. Showing them a dollar amount versus an hourly rate makes it easier for an insurance adjuster to digest.”

Instead of saying a tear down took a certain amount of time at a certain rate, present it as a collision damage access and inspection with one total amount. “When it comes to charges, anything you put in a dollar amount is more palpable to the insurer.”

In addition to reminding collision repair professionals of the options they can consider, attendees were reminded that they absolutely cannot negotiate on behalf of a consumer, tell a customer what to do to get paid, tell a customer what their policy covers or write complaints to the Department of Insurance on their behalf.

Felder stressed the importance of documentation to ensure protection if faced with having to go to court over a repair. She recommends consulting one’s attorney. “Go in every six months and ask them what they would need and want from you if they were to defend you in court.”

Where most believe documenting the repair is key, Felder suggests protection lies in documenting along the lines of the direction the bill payer would take. She believes strongly in having a 72-hour touch on every repair to make sure things are moving along and one can’t be accused of trying to stall or hold a vehicle hostage to rack up a storage bill, for example.

First impressions are also key when it comes to dealing with insurers, according to Felder. “The opinion formed of you will come from the emails you send and in the way you write your estimates. Don’t try to come across like you know it all.

“If you get an email with run-on sentences, it doesn’t tell me you are very smart,” she continued. “Make the first impressions count to your benefit. We want to show our professionalism.”

“We need to change our mindset,” AASP/MA Executive Director Lucky Papageorg stated following the meeting. “We are the ones who have to change how we look at our customers. We are not Superman. We can point customers in the right direction. It’s their vehicle, it’s their insurance company. It’s their bill.”

Every shop represented at the event received a thumb drive with materials discussed at the meeting which can be used in their day-to-day business.

AASP/MA is grateful to the following sponsors who helped make the event a success: Five Star Collision of Westport and Mike’s Auto Body of Fall River (Featured Speaker Sponsors), Crown Collision Solutions (Snack/Beverage Sponsor), North Andover Auto Body (Door Prize Sponsor) and Steve’s Collision Center of Sturbridge (Breakfast Sponsor). 

Want more? Check out the August 2023 issue of New England Automotive Report!