Estimating To Keep the Customer

By our guest writer Bob Winfrey

I am writing this to help some of you guys improve your estimating processes to help you catch those jobs that we seem to pass paper on and they never seem to return. Alot of the time when insurers do not inspect a drivable car they tell the customer to go get three estimates. Well 9 times out of 10 unless that customer is sold on you and your shop, they are going to go with the cheapest of the estimates. Sometimes it is hard to manage customer's expectations as far as price. Some people hear over a thousand dollars and shock sets in! With higher deductibles, peoples fear of turning in claims and a tight economy some people are just trying to get the claim money and not fix the car!

In order to avoid being the highest estimate you have to be a little creative. You don't want to miss anything important and look like you do not know what you are doing. I have found a few little tricks that can help you and I am going to share them here.

This works well for drive up estimates, tow ins are a different situation.
I always ask if they have an insurance estimate or an estimate from another shop. If they have an insurance estimate I explain that we have to work off of their estimate to get started since they are paying the claim. I usually know what my competitor's write so it is not critical I see the estimate, it is nice to know the total price. If I can't get near the total of the other shop I will definitely ask to see it to see what they missed and explain that to the client. I know some people are hoping the shop will be cheaper than the Insurer, but that is really tough in today's economy. If you can beat an Insurer's estimate you are usually selling yourself short unless you are a shade tree body shop.

You also need to manage your customers expectations, are they ok with used parts or aftermarket? Sometimes on a few year old car it can be saved from being a total loss that way. If they are adamant about OEM parts on an older car it is going to be a tough battle. I usually tell them to read their policy and it may exclude OEM parts or require used or aftermarket. I will write what they want but sometimes that will definitely make you the highest estimate.

If there is obvious unibody damage you make a note on the estimate that there is possible structural damage and the vehicle will need to be measured to identify the degree of damage. This way you are not guessing and this will usually knock several hundred dollars off of the estimate.  The same thing works on suspension damage, hood hinges, trunk hinges and some scratches and scuffs.

We do not write sand and buff on a drive up estimate although we do write tint color and blend, explaining to the customer why we have to tint and blend color. There are hundreds of variants for some colors and we explain location of assembly has a lot to do with which variant color we have to use.

Some of you may or may not know of me but I am a 33 year veteran of the auto body trade. I have a ton of I-Car certifications; I am ASE Master certified and too many others to list. I currently own my own shop and teach I-Car part time. I also do diminished value claims and have made myself available as an expert witness.



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