A.I. for Dummies: Embracing the Business Benefits

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

What is artificial intelligence (AI)? Cinema and literature depict computer programs and robots assuming human-like personalities and taking over the world. While most of us recognize the fictional aspect of the science-fiction genre, plenty of misconceptions and fears related to AI abound, even as it becomes an increasingly integral part of everyday business.

Although we often fall into the habit of viewing AI as “the future,” it is actually being used today in myriad ways that can benefit collision repair facilities – from damage analysis to improving the customer experience, AI tools offer the ability for shops to work smarter, not harder.

“AI is going to be the tool that becomes just like a part of us for the future,” insists Ryan Taylor (Bodyshop Booster). “We can hardly imagine doing a math test without a calculator nowadays. It’s going to be like that where we can hardly imagine doing our jobs without some form of AI assisting us. And it’s just starting, but we are going to see it coming faster in a big wave that impacts every area of our industry.”

“AI is currently assisting in many ways across the repair ecosystem,” James Spears (Tractable) adds. “AI helps identify repairable versus total loss vehicles at first notice of loss. It helps prepare faster and more accurate estimates using computer vision, machine learning and AI, and it helps with coordinating booking the appointment to secure a repair. Presently in development is a way for a customer to call in a request for a repair quote, have a link texted to them and then book the repair without having to involve expensive admin staff from the shop.”

Insurers, information providers and vehicle manufacturers have already begun including AI in their workflows. “Today, AI is predominately being used with photos, estimating and total loss triage, and it is also being used in all aspects of a vehicle – from design, to manufacturing, ADAS systems, in cabin access and so forth.” Frank Terlep (Opus IVS) points out. “In the future, AI will permeate all aspects of the collision repair industry, resulting in dramatic improvements in repair planning, repair procedures, diagnostics, marketing, ADAS, claims processing, collision center administrative processes and more. It is only a matter of time before AI is incorporated into the major repair procedure and service information platforms. When this does happen, it will be a HUGE benefit for collision repairers and the rest of the industry!”

But it’s important to realize that AI solutions are already available to benefit shops when it comes to administrative and customer service tasks, allowing technology to assist with marketing, sales, HR, virtual assistants, chatbots, language translation, logo, image and video creation and more. 

“Tractable currently has the ability to assist shops with customer service 24/7,” Spears notes. “A shop using AI can now assist their customers when their competitors cannot. AI has the ability to text a link to the customer, deliver a high quality repair quote and even book the appointment.”

Taylor agrees that AI can play a significant role in customer interactions, providing a demonstration of CSR Sidekick, an AI “working” as the assistant to a customer service representative – AI expressed empathy and concern, asked the questions that CSR training teaches and even sold the shop’s certifications (try it yourself by dialing (432) 465-2978)! 

Providing support on the phone when a shop is busy or after hours is just one way that AI can provide shops with some administrative lift, according to Taylor. “In today’s environment, 41 percent of customers want to do business with you after hours, but your staff cannot work 24 hours a day; AI can. We’ve also found that, on average, shops lose nearly half of their customers on first contact – 43 percent of callers never bring their car to the shop – so we created AI that can help improve that metric.”

AI can also help shops with sales by “taking a traditional estimate and helping customers fill in the blanks about why you’re the right shop, here’s what will happen next, etc,” Taylor says. “We are seeing a five to 10 percent increase to shops’ estimate capture rate by using AI because it helps customers understand why they’re making the right choice. AI can also upsell a customer. For example, it might notice a vehicle’s headlights are faded and offer to restore them.”

This technology offers myriad opportunities for shops that choose to embrace AI’s potential. 

“Shops can now post on their website a link to secure images and customer info, and the AI will prepare the quote and book the appointment,” Spears lists. “Shops can also use AI to scan their estimate prior to submission to a DRP partner carrier so the submission will be approved in record time, leading to lower cycle times.”

Terlep suggests additional benefits AI can offer shops include, “Reduced administrative tasks and expense, improved productivity, customer service, better and faster decision making, faster and more effective digital marketing and much more. AI-driven chatbots can provide 24/7 customer support, answer frequently asked questions and guide customers through the claims process, enhancing customer satisfaction. It can also analyze customer data to offer personalized services and recommendations, such as preferred repair shops or tailored insurance policies.

“AI will be able to predict and document most major parts and components with photos of a damaged vehicle,” he continues. “AI will optimize repair shop workflows by scheduling tasks, managing inventory and ensuring that repairs are completed efficiently. Additionally, AI can analyze data from multiple sources to provide insights into shop and network performance, customer satisfaction and insurance claim trends, helping businesses make data-driven decisions. Another way that AI will help shops is facilitating the calibration and repair of ADAS components, ensuring that vehicles are properly restored to their pre-accident condition.”

Of course, shops aren’t the only ones using AI. Many insurers around the world have already embraced this powerful technology for damage assessment, cost estimation, claims processing, fraud detection and risk assessment.

“AI-powered image recognition systems will quickly and somewhat accurately assess vehicle damage from photos, reducing the time needed for manual inspection and increasing the accuracy of damage assessments,” Terlep shares. “AI algorithms will provide instant repair cost estimates based on the extent of the damage, historical data and parts pricing. This speeds up the claims process and ensures consistency in estimates. AI can and will also automate routine parts of the claims process, such as document verification and fraud detection, leading to faster claim approvals and payouts. Machine-learning models can analyze patterns and anomalies in claims data to detect potential fraud, reducing the financial impact on insurance companies, and AI models can assess risk more accurately by analyzing driving behavior, environmental factors and historical data, leading to more precise insurance premiums.”

When a vehicle owner informs their carrier that they’ve been in an accident, the insurer sends a link which prompts the customer to take some photos, and AI can generate a preliminary estimate. “Straight-through processing is expected to create more customer pay scenarios since AI can determine the size of the job and help the customer find a body shop if the vehicle was significantly damaged (24 percent of accidents),” Taylor explains. “If the vehicle sustained small (44 percent) or medium (32 percent) damage, it will offer the customer the option of locating a body shop or depositing money in their bank account immediately. 

“In Spain, one insurance company is now settling claims on small to medium damage in less than 12 minutes. There’s a lot of financial benefit to the insurance company when they can settle that quickly,” he adds, recommending shops start considering how they’re going to deal with customer pays as that trend continues to increase. He also warns that shops will see fewer total loss vehicles in the future as AI will be able to identify totals, bypass the shop and move the vehicle directly to the salvage yard, allowing the insurer to avoid teardown and storage fees.

Fears related to this type of change have caused many collision repair professionals to reject the possibilities of AI, but other fears have prevented shops from accepting the benefits AI can offer. Although some people have expressed the belief that AI will take jobs away, Spears assures, “It is quite the opposite – a person using AI will have hireability advantages that people not engaged in the technology will not. The time to start understanding how to leverage AI is now.”

“Some common fears are related to inaccuracy, sometimes called ‘hallucinations.’ Other common fears are job elimination, loss of skills, less human interactions (already happening with social media), misinformation, cyber warfare, amplified bias and more,” Terlep contributes, stressing, “AI is a tool, just like other technologies, but it has the potential to be much more powerful and impactful than previous technologies.”

“AI has the potential to bring a lot of benefits to body shops,” Taylor agrees, but he warns, “If you’re not already figuring out how it can help you today, it’s going to become really difficult for you to be competitive. For example, CSR Sidekick can answer 100 calls per minute, works around the clock without taking breaks and has the ability to scale. It can take on such an extra load that it would be impossible for a single shop to hire people to compete.”

He offered a comparison of how long it takes to perform a series of tasks: DRP assignment first contact, selling the estimate, estimate follow up, repair booking, rental car booking, up-sales, e-signing documents, estimate and repair appointment reminders and post-repair follow-up and marketing. What would take a person over four hours to complete manually, AI can accomplish in 30 seconds. Multiply that by 100 customers, and human staff will have invested 51 days compared to AI’s 49 minutes. 

Taylor’s recommendation to shops? “Learn to use AI to your advantage.”

So, how can repair professionals move forward with using AI technology to their benefit?

“To start, repairers should jump in and learn as much as they can about how AI works,” Terlep offers. “They should ask their suppliers and other industry personnel what they see and think about it and how they are planning to implement AI in their solutions. Also, get started by using the commercially available AI platforms.”

“It’s easy to begin an AI journey,” Spears suggests. “I would recommend that they set a business goal such as faster customer response, lower cycle times, better expense margins or more customer conversions, then select an AI partner like Tractable to begin to learn about the technology and put it into production. They should start now because those businesses that use AI outperform those that do not. I believe it’s a leader’s responsibility to provide their team and business with every advantage they can to be successful.”

“AI is only going to move faster, not slower, and right now, it’s the worst that it’ll ever be,” Taylor stresses. “It is moving exponentially faster and getting better all the time. Shops that plan to be in business and want to be successful for many years to come need to figure out how to work this strategy in; this technology is only going to become more important to shops and the customers who deal with those shops because AI offers an unparalleled level of convenience.”

Want more? Check out the June 2024 issue of New Jersey Automotive!