COVID-19 has dominated every aspect of our lives. You can’t turn on the TV or radio or check social media without seeing something about it. You’ve probably seen more masks during these times than on Halloween in Las Vegas, and you might have even worn one yourself. You’ve seen hoarding and panic, and yet you’re still here pushing forward.

When we come out of this, there will be opportunities for your business – that is, if you can get through these months that are testing you right to your core. Let’s discuss what those opportunities are.

Car Count
When I want to tap into the pulse of our industry, I turn to my friend, industry icon Mike Anderson of Collision Advice. I knew Mike would have insights, and he didn’t disappoint. He said, “Mark, the car count to the door is the new KPI.”

Anderson explained that shops need to be counting how many cars are coming to the door. They need to truly track referral sources and use their management system’s referral or source report. He says they need to educate their customer service reps about this, explaining why this is so important to capture. Anderson believes, as I do, that digital sources are going to be on the rise going forward.

“Digital sources are where shops should be putting a great deal of their focus,” Anderson said. “That includes your website and how it is found through organic search, paid search, direct traffic to your site as well as your social media presence. Your prospects will compare the ease and relevance of the experience you provide them online against the best of all industries.”

That may not seem fair, but it is reality. Your target audience uses Amazon, Netflix and other top sites all the time. They like how clear things are, how easy sites are to navigate through, how easy it is to search for what they want and place their orders. The experience is simple, clear and gratifying. And then, they need a body shop. Does your web presence provide a similar ease of use, and then a gratifying experience at the end of the process?

Digital Storefront
You need a digital storefront, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Approximately 36% of consumers need your services outside of the normal 9-to-5 business hours. Your site should make it easy for them to request an estimate. Photo estimating and appointment booking systems are available from companies like Bodyshop Booster and CCC Information Services. These can be tied directly to your website. We do it all the time for our clients, and the feedback is outstanding. Make it easy and then do killer follow-up to close the sale.

Photo estimating, according to Anderson, has additional benefits like helping couples make joint decisions on repair options, alternate transportation, finances and more. Photo estimating reduces claims with local agents. You can use photos to triage and/or schedule your workload, and you can use these photos to get a headstart on researching OEM procedures. Winner!

Anderson also pointed out something we’ve been saying for years: that online reviews are extremely important as OEMs and insurers are paying attention to them. Google reviews also help your organic ranking potential.

Opportunities Abound
Anderson clearly believes that a lot of shops will fall victim to this virus economically.

“Many shops do not have the cash reserves to withstand this,” he said.

If you’re a survivor on the other end of this, there will be opportunities – lots of them – to fix cars. Consider the following from Anderson:

People are going to have cabin fever and go stir crazy. They will be hitting the roads in unprecedented numbers. More cars on the road and more vehicle miles traveled (VMT) = more accidents!
People will return to their full-time jobs, and some people may have to work part-time jobs as well to get caught up on their bills. More cars on the road and more VMT = more accidents.
People will avoid ride-sharing/public transportation due to lingering concerns over the coronavirus. More cars on the road and more VMT = more accidents.
People will be making up for celebrations, rescheduled weddings, etc. More cars on the road and more VMT = more accidents.
People will be drinking more, partying, blowing off steam and, unfortunately, driving = more accidents.
All of this means your web presence overall must be ready to seize these opportunities and make the experience easy and gratifying. Now is the time to make that happen.

The short and simple answer is: Because repairers across the country allow them to!

For the long answer, I encourage you to read an “Ask the Expert” column I wrote in the February 2019 edition of BodyShop Business where I answered a similar question.

To provide you an abbreviated answer, insurers have taken full advantage of repairers who try to merely “go along to get along.”

Paradigm Shift
Decades ago, there was a slow and steady paradigm shift in who determined what was needed in a vehicle repair and how it was to be done. The repair industry slowly relinquished their role as the repair experts while retaining all the responsibilities and liabilities for the repair. And, they received a less than fair and reasonable price while the insurers saved monies that should have been paid for a proper and thorough repair with no liability for the outcome. In short, repairers retained all the risks while the insurers enjoyed all the rewards.

When insurers underpay for needed repairs, the repairer typically fails to properly assert their expertise in fear that they will alienate the insurer. To make matters worse, the repairers are reluctant to involve their true customer, the vehicle owner, in fear of being seen as the cause of a poor experience, potentially damaging their reputation.

The fact is, the repairer is the expert professional, and they should be the ones who determine what damages have occurred as well as the best method for a proper repair. From a legal perspective, if an issue arose where damage or injuries resulted from a less-than-proper repair, the repairer would be held fully accountable. All one needs to do to fully understand this is to research the John Eagle lawsuit where the repairer was held responsible in spite of their ineffective argument that they merely performed the repair as per the insurer’s direction.

The Beginning
The problem begins when the repairer, at the beginning, fails to properly inform their customer of the issues and fully explain their damages, recommended method for their repair and any options if applicable (i.e. aftermarket parts, etc.).

Once the repair is underway and an insurer chooses alternative methods or fails to provide for the proper procedures, parts and materials, it becomes incumbent upon a quality-minded repairer to notify and inform their customer. They should fully explain the differences, potential ramifications and reasons for their recommendations and seek direction from the customer as to how they would like their repair performed. The repairer then has the right to proceed as they deem best for their business, including but not limited to terminating the repair if it protects them, their staff and their company from unreasonable liabilities and risk (e.g. damage to their company’s reputation).

Going to the Doctor
Imagine if a loved one was gravely ill and your doctor took cost-cutting measures because the insurer wouldn’t approve their recommendations in an effort to minimize their costs of treatment. Even worse would be if the insurer’s recommendations placed your loved one in jeopardy for further risks and potential disabilities, and your doctor failed to inform you. If you later learned of this, I can’t imagine anyone who would be the least bit satisfied with their doctor’s conduct.

The truth is, many collision repairers conduct business like this on a daily basis by using unsafe parts, omitting needed procedures and performing incorrect repair methodologies while not informing their customer in order to not expose insurers’ behavior. As such, the repairer becomes the problem while encouraging the insurer to continue their cost-cutting measures…all the while, doing so without risk.

So repairers must ask themselves, “Am I part of the ongoing problem?” If so, do they continue to do as they have always done, or do they change their behavior in order to properly serve their true customer and instill accountability to change the behavior of insurers who have chosen to conduct themselves in this manner?

As the old comic strip character Pogo once stated: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”