Thursday, March 7, 2013

Insurance Adjusters — Friend or Foe? by Robert Spitz, Management Success!

Robert Spitz
Snr VP of Business Dev
Management Success!

I was talking with a fairly new shop owner the other day on the state of his business and the challenges of starting a new business. During our conversation, the subject of adjusters came up.

This particular owner, like many others in the business, has a passion for art; he is a master painter and does beautiful work. Like many new operators, he has some collision guys, but he is still the one who does the painting. He has goals. He wants his shop to be the best collision shop in his market, and I have no doubt that with his drive, he might make it. The reason I say might is because he is currently stuck working in the back and trying to run the business, which includes writing his own estimates.

He is experiencing his first case of true stress, and it is starting to show itself in the way he handles people. He looks at an adjuster as the enemy who is there to drive him crazy and whittle down his profits to the point where he is not making any money.

I asked him if he provides a space for the adjuster to work while he is in the shop. His reply was instantaneous and filled with antagonism. "Why should I do that? He is not here to help me!" I knew immediately that he was looking at the adjuster as an adversary and not a potential ally.

I was not trying to find fault with him. He is a well-trained and experienced painter with a lot of knowledge and talent in that area. His problem is he is not trained in the fine art of handling people, which, as an owner, is more important than his skills as a painter. As a result he is trying to handle the wrong problem in his business. Killing adjusters will not improve his bottom line!

I got him to calm down and take a look at what an adjuster does and how the adjuster creates a balance between the insurance company and the shop that has the customer's interests as the priority. I got him to also look at the fact that he needs the adjuster's help in accomplishing his goals, and yelling at them and being belligerent is probably not the best way to win someone over.

I agreed with him that not all adjusters are sweethearts. Some are a real problem. They can be difficult and unreasonable. Maybe they just got chewed out by the owner of the last shop they were in. Maybe they have a chip on their shoulder due to their own failures in business. It doesn't matter. You need this person to help you get what you need. Maybe just offering them a bottle of water and a place to sit down for a moment to talk about anything other than the business at hand would help. Not all of them are out to get you. In fact, if he would put down his sword and shield, he might find the majority of them are just trying to do a difficult job the best way they know how.

Dealing well with people is not only a skill, but it is an art form that has to be mastered by anyone trying to run a business. There are many things to know about business. Understanding personal relationships and knowing how to negotiate is among the top items on the list.

Understanding people and how to handle them well is a priority for those who have to deal with the public. Very few people are born with these skills. They have to be learned.

I asked him, "What if you had the same ability in dealing with adjusters that you have in dealing with cars? Where would you be?" He stopped dead in his tracks. I continued, "You are a gifted, talented painter who only knows how to do the job one way: the right way. Your upset with the adjuster is because you feel he is trying to get you to do the job in a lesser way, a way that will not satisfy you or the customer. You do not have the skill to get the adjuster to see it your way. This leaves you with the limited choices of short-cutting or accepting what is being offered, which reduces your profit. Neither one of these is acceptable, nor should it be. You are going to do it the right way, regardless.

"Two things need to happen here, and they need to happen quickly or you will burn out and never achieve your goals. The first is you have to learn how to recruit, hire, and train the right people so that you can back out of the paint booth and run your business. You are killing yourself trying to do both. What is currently happening is you get short-fused when you have to stop what you are doing to handle the insurance adjusters. You start the conversation with the adjuster with an already negative attitude.

"The second thing is you have got to learn how to deal with people and negotiate in order to get what you need to do the job right and put money in your pocket."

His shoulders sagged, and he said to me, "Where do we start?"

I am happy to report that this particular shop owner did not blow up his business and is now in a much better condition. He smiles easier and has a good business. He is well on the way to achieving his goals.

Collision shop owners are in the people-handling business. If you are not achieving your goals and you are feeling fed up and frustrated, give Management Success! a call. We can help.

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