It’s Time to Lose the Cape

by Ken Miller, AASP/NJ President

In our industry, we often encounter individuals who would willingly give the shirts off their backs to help others.

This altruistic mindset is admirable but may contribute to some of the significant challenges we face. One such challenge is the entrenched habit of negotiating claims on behalf of our customers, a practice that is proving increasingly unsustainable for future profitability. 

For too long, we’ve been donning our metaphorical superhero capes, entering battles on behalf of our clients against insurers, often to our detriment. It’s time to reassess this strategy. Has it truly served us well? Traditionally, shops have been told that they must negotiate. But what does this mean in practice? Typically, it translates to making monetary concessions to reach an agreement with the bill payer, a practice that has persisted for years. 

Let’s consider for a moment a few definitions of negotiate: 

**ne·go·ti·ate** /nə’gōSHē’āt/ [transitive]: negotiate something; to arrange or agree to something by formal discussion; to negotiate a deal/contract/treaty/settlement; to confer with another so as to arrive at the settlement of some matter. 

Nowhere in this definition is there mention of concession, capitulation or giving up our money. Negotiating is not about “splitting the difference” or accepting what a bill payer offers because it seems like all we can get. That’s quitting! (Or at best, taking the easy way out.)

I suggest that our thinking on this issue is all wrong. Were you trained to negotiate? Did you get authorization from the customer to negotiate on their behalf? Do you need authorization to do so? Have you ever negotiated away the rights afforded to a customer under their policy in returning their vehicle to pre-loss condition by not doing so, or worse, done so for a claimant when no policy provision exists? 

We must remember that we did not damage the vehicle, choose the insurance company or write the procedures to repair the vehicle. In fact, to quote a friend, we don’t determine how much it costs to fix the car – the car does; however, we are responsible for repairing the vehicle properly. This means writing a thorough and proper repair plan, ensuring all charges are justified and involving the customer in their claim process so they are informed about the repairs being performed on their vehicles. Then, in the instance a bill payer refuses to reimburse for complete, safe and proper repairs, the customer should be advised, and they need to provide direction on how they would like us to proceed, including how to address any potential short pay. 

Changing our behavior is crucial. Only then can we expect to see changes in our reality. For those feeling unsure about where to start, engaging with industry associations and attending training seminars can be a great option. Business coaching is another excellent choice. The path to a more profitable way of running your shop is likely closer than you think. Actually, it’s right there! Just on the other side of your comfort zone! 

By shedding the superhero cape, reevaluating our approach to negotiations and involving our clients in their repairs, we can foster a healthier, more sustainable industry that benefits both our businesses and our customers.

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