Accurate Documentation, Good Communication Keys to Successful Third-Party Auditing
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007
By Brie Ragland, AutoInc. Correspondent
Third-party auditing, a popular topic in the collision repair industry today, was the subject at a Saturday morning, Early Bird roundtable sessions at NACE. Mike Schoonover of Schoonover Bodyworks Inc., in St. Paul, Minn., led the discussion with his peers and brought an informed perspective to the session.
NACE attendees gathered together to share their opinions of and experiences with third-party auditing. Third-party auditing is a practice in which an estimate is reviewed without physically inspecting the damaged vehicle. This can often be deemed as a less-than-fact-based process that can be detrimental to the integrity of collision repair.
When asked if shop owners were seeing a trend in an increase or decrease of their estimates, both sides were represented. The consensus, though, was they were seeing a trend in the small items increasing while an overall reduction in estimates was more apparent.
Dealing with the insurers was a hot topic and suggestions were offered that would make the whole process run a little more smoothly. It was agreed upon that meeting the insurers’ needs is very important. Proper photos and accurate documentation are vital to allow for verification that all steps made were necessary to properly repair the vehicle.
Another suggestion for dealing with insurers was to have good communication − between the insurer and the shop and between the shop and the customer. It wasn’t known if the insurers always communicate changes of the estimate or repair procedure to the customers, so it was suggested that the shop contact the customers and professionally inform the customer of changes that are going to be made.
Often times, this can cause confusion or anger to the customer and can slow the repair process down. It was suggested that the shop owner encourage the customer to get involved to keep the insurers and the repair on track.
“The customer can become an advocate for your shop, because they are paying the premium, so they may have the most influence over the insurers,” said fifth-year NACE attendee Kurt Perkins of Towsley Collision and Glass in White Bear Lake, Minn. “I don’t think the customer should do our job, but I definitely think they can be a great tool if they can get involved.”
Schoonover asked if the audience thought third-party auditing could open the door for fraud. Many said they believe it could and sometimes does. Padded estimates, written double-priced so a settlement can be agreed upon, are often results of third-party auditing.
Dan Stander of Jerry Stander’s Collision Works in Littleton, Colo., offered up the suggestion of sticking to the facts. He said too many times shop owners let their hearts get involved, and that’s not what this process is about. Sticking to the facts and keeping good lines of communication open are key factors in having a good experience when dealing with third-party auditing.
Schoonover wrapped up the session by encouraging attendees to get involved in a trade association such as the Automotive Service Association (ASA), the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP) or the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) to have a voice in the industry. He said without a voice, shop owners cannot make the positive difference this industry needs.
Schoonover left the attendees with these closing remarks: “As legitimate business owners who write accurate estimates with proper documentation and clear photos, we can reinforce what we’re doing by giving the insurers all the information they need. Let’s strive to be accurate, professional and do the right thing.”