Archive for September, 2012

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In the current presidential election season I’ve been seeing several news outlets play clips of Ronald Reagan in 1980 during the presidential election when at the end of a debate with then President Jimmy Carter he asked a question to the viewing audience,

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

The question Reagan asked was a seminal moment during that year’s presidential campaign with the majority of voters answering with a strong “NO” catapulting Reagan into the Presidency.

 

It made me think about how those who compete in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry are doing this year compared to the past one, two, three or more years. Are you, your family or the company you work for better off this year than the past few years?

 

This past week I attended Auto Glass Week 2012 (AGW) in Louisville, Kentucky and while there…

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Just Sayin’ Blog – “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”


In the current presidential election season I’ve been seeing several news outlets play clips of Ronald Reagan in 1980 during the presidential election when at the end of a debate with then President Jimmy Carter he asked a question to the viewing audience,

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

The question Reagan asked was a seminal moment during that year’s presidential campaign with the majority of voters answering with a strong “NO” catapulting Reagan into the Presidency.

 

It made me think about how those who compete in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry are doing this year compared to the past one, two, three or more years. Are you, your family or the company you work for better off this year than the past few years?

 

This past week I attended Auto Glass Week 2012 (AGW) in Louisville, Kentucky and while there I talked with a number of attendees who all work in the AGRR industry. I spoke with retailers, wholesalers, distributors, suppliers and networkers; and I didn’t get very many positive answers to the question “are you better off?”..… That’s not to say there weren’t those in attendance who felt that their company was doing better this year than over past years, but since I asked the question at an industry conference even people who aren’t doing better may be trying to put a more positive spin on their own story.

 

While at AGW I had several retailers tell me that they’ve been looking closely at what they’re currently allowed to charge to insurers for replacements versus their costs to acquire the part to be replaced, cost of labor and benefits, the cost of urethane (and primer cost if needed), fuel costs for mobile vans, insurance costs, etc. Each of them told a story that they had seen profit margins shrink over the last year or years. One retailer told me about a customer for whom he had replaced a windshield for a few years ago and again replaced the windshield in the same car. The customer happened to be insured with the same insurance company and they still had the invoice from the first replacement in the cars glove box. When the retailer looked at that prior invoice and then looked at the current invoice, with the pricing that he’s allowed to charge under the insurance pricing guidelines, he saw that he was getting less money today for the same replacement. More than a little surprised when he got back to his store he went back to look up what he had paid for the part and urethane from a few years ago versus his current costs and found out that he actually paid more for the part and urethane this time around too. So he got less for the sales invoice and paid more for the part and required supplies to install it; and that doesn’t even take into consideration the increase in all his other costs.

He started to question why he’s agreed to the pricing guidelines and was also giving consideration about whether he should pull out of or stay in the pricing/billing mechanism required to bill for work he does for the network that the insurance company uses to manage its auto glass losses. He asked me what I thought about that. His idea which might be beneficial to some, could also be a very risky strategy for others. Still it is an interesting question to ponder don’t you think?

 

While talking with another retailer he was lamenting the fact that gasoline prices are killing margins. That’s understandable since the price of gasoline has gone up over the past year and depending where you live regular gasoline is up $ 2.00 a gallon since 2009.

The average price of regular gasoline on January 29, 2009 was $ 1.84 a gallon as per a ConsumerReports.org.

As per the American Automobile Association Daily Fuel Gauge Report the average price of regular gasoline today is $ 3.81.

By the way, in 1980 the average price of regular gasoline as per the website 1980sflashback.com was $ 1.25.

The retailer said that the price he’s paying at the pump to fill up mobile vans, along with the delivery surcharge he’s being charged by his auto glass supplier due to the rising cost of gasoline is a killer; with no opportunity to pass those costs along to insurance customers.

 

One supplier complained about competition from foreign suppliers in the market with goods of “lesser quality and price” putting even further pressure on wholesale prices.

Another supplier talked about the market size shrinking and suggesting that surely some weaker competitors will drop out of the market this year which could certainly benefit the stronger competitors.

One supplier mentioned that this coming winter was going to be a good one (of course meaning a bad one) since acorns are abundant and that woolly worms are darker this year and not as light as last year….  I said, “What?” He went on to explain what he read in the Farmers’ Almanac. I went online and looked up both of these legendary prognosticators of a bad winter and he was right! The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that when woolly bear worms are darker in color it signifies a bad winter coming. I found in the Farmers’ Almanac a story on when there are more acorns than normal it can predict a rough winter as well. I’m not sure about either as true predictors of this coming winter’s weather, but maybe if we all also cross our fingers; find a four-leaf clover or a penny face up; knock on wood; see a rainbow; rub a rabbits foot and don’t step on a crack, break a mirror or open an umbrella indoors………  I think you get the idea.

 

Certainly other costs of doing business have gone up over the past year or more which most AGRR businesses are bearing with little opportunity for upside revenue to cover them. Many of us have lived through lean years and bountiful years in this industry. It’s always been that way hasn’t it? Hopefully the pendulum will swing back to an improved time for the AGRR industry in 2013.

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 1859

 

The reality is that the current marketplace demands that everyone in the AGRR industry find ways to deliver or provide a superior product and/or service offering via a low cost model to combat those who are willing to deliver or provide a poor product and/or service via an even lower cost model, if you want to survive.

 

So if you’re asked the question,

“Are you better off than you were four (or one or two or more) years ago?”

what would your answer be? Obviously you are the only one that can answer that question, but here’s hoping that you’re surviving all the turmoil that’s been experienced by many in the industry over the past few years. And that the upcoming year will have a definite swing to the better for you, your family and your business. Wouldn’t that be a welcomed change? You bet!

Just sayin’.

 

Cartoon courtesy of weblogcartoons.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Auto Glass Networks – Part 2

Cartoon courtesy of TomFishburne.com

In a recent blog post titled “Auto Glass Networks – Part 1” I wrote about difficulties that auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) networks or TPAs face in managing auto glass losses for clients. In order to survive, networks and TPAs must manage a never-ending “effort to create some semblance of uniformity amongst a very large, broad and diverse set of participants” that actually do the auto glass repairs and replacements across the country.

In this blog I’m focusing on how networks attempt to demonstrate better performance for its clients versus what those same clients could achieve by directly managing auto glass losses.

The network does this by reporting on its operational “metrics”. Investopedia defines “metrics” as:

“Parameters or measures of quantitative assessment used for measurement, comparison or to track performance or production. Analysts use metrics to compare the performance of different companies, despite the many variations between firms.”

The reporting of metrics to clients begins with a network measuring:

  1. How many rings or seconds it takes a network to answer a telephone call from someone reporting an auto glass loss;
  2. How many seconds or minutes a policyholder is on hold while reporting the loss; and
  3. How many total minutes a policyholder has to spend on the telephone reporting their claim.

Why are these three metrics important to a network? Most policyholders believe that they are talking directly to their insurance company when they call a network that manages auto glass loss for insurers; generally that’s not the case. Since the network customer service representative (CSR) is acting on behalf of an insurer while talking with a policyholder, the insurer expects that a network is providing the same level of customer service to its policyholders that the insurer would provide. These three metrics are ones that the network has complete control over and are important metrics to measure how responsive it is to the insurance company’s policyholder.

But networks aren’t only tracking the performance metrics of areas under its direct control while handling auto glass losses; each also provides metrics on the performance of the AGRR retailers that actually perform the auto glass repairs or replacements. Why track that performance? It depends of course upon the network, but keeping track of the level of service that the AGRR retailer provides can determine how much work the AGRR retailer may get in the future.

What are some of the metrics on which AGRR retailers are measured or should be measured?

  1. The AGRR retailer that provides repairs or replacements is graded by its own individual customer service index (CSI). In determining CSI there are a number of key components and you’d like to think that a CSI score is the most critical metric that an AGRR retailer has in determining its value to a network. The basics of CSI is clearly spelled out via the RATER Model by tracking these five elements:
    1. RELIABILITY – A company’s ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately;
    2. ASSURANCE – The knowledge, competence and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence;
    3. TANGIBLES – Physical facilities, equipment and appearances that impress the customer;
    4. EMPATHY – The level of caring, individualized attention, access, communication and understanding that the customer perceives;
    5. RESPONSIVENESS – The willingness displayed to help clients and provide prompt service.

Each network uses either its own questions or metrics for determining CSI or it may use CSI metrics that the client prefers used for its policyholders.  Ultimately these CSI metrics show which AGRR retailers are providing great service and those that aren’t based on what’s being measured. Do you know what your company’s CSI is for each network? If not you should ask.

  1. What is the windshield repair percentage performed by an AGRR retailer? If the network believes that a policyholders broken windshield is repairable, does the AGRR retailer repair it or replace it?

Repair over replacement can obviously save big money and if you’re an AGRR retailer that ends up replacing a windshield that the network feels should have been repaired you’re making them look bad in the eyes of the client as it drives up the average cost of the claim.

If the network has a GAI (guaranteed average invoice) agreement with a customer when an AGRR retailer replaces instead of repairing a windshield, you’re costing the network money so you can anticipate fewer calls for your service or greater oversight of glass losses you must bill through the network. So your repair percentage is a critical metric.

  1. How many warranty claims (problems of any kind while handling a glass loss such as customer call backs for leaks or air noises, scratched glass, improperly installed moldings, any damage done to a vehicle during the repair or replacement, etc.) does an AGRR retailer have on work performed for the policyholder?

Obviously the more warranty claims you have the higher the likelihood a network will not be looking for your company to handle glass losses on its behalf.

  1. Customer service cycle time is also important. How long does it take for the policyholder to have a glass loss repaired or replaced from the first call reporting the loss to the time it takes to be completed and billed by the AGRR retailer?

That’s a pretty straightforward metric relating to service levels and customer care.

  1. What is the percentage of dealer or original equipment manufactured parts (OEM) used in a replacement versus non-OEM parts priced via NAGS® (National Auto Glass Specifications®)? Why is this important?

If an AGRR retailer has a higher percentage of OEM glass versus non-OEM it is costing the network and/or the client a whole lot more money.

Now back to TPAs versus networks. There are certainly other important metrics that networks track and report to current clients and tout to potential clients that use other networks and TPAs. Every network presumably wants its clients customers serviced by the best AGRR retailers that provide the highest level of customer service, but let’s face it, price versus service unquestionably creeps into the decision-making process of what AGRR retailer is referred a glass loss or not by a network.

That can be especially true if the network is using a “buy/sell” or “spread” pricing model for its clients. The network “buys” the glass repair or replacement from an AGRR retailer and then “sells” the repair or replacement to its customer at a higher price or “spread” that covers the networks cost to operate plus its profit. Do you ever get those calls from a network asking, “If you just give me another point or two on the NAGS discount I can keep sending you jobs” with the implied message if you don’t……? Probably you have.

In my last blog titled “Network Participation Agreement – Special Update” I wrote:

From the view of this blog, transparency only serves to benefit consumers in making informed claim decisions, making their policy dollars work to their fullest, and identifying safe auto glass replacement services.

 How much transparency is there in how networks or TPAs report metrics? Well, last Friday glassBYTEs™ reported in a press release titled Lynx Services Amends Contract Services Agreement” that thePittsburgh-based Lynx Services will amend its contract services agreement effective September 12. The most notable addition to the agreement is the availability of online scorecard access for shops. These scorecards will provide auto glass shops with performance records based on a variety of factors called Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).” This is definitely a big step in the right direction that allows AGRR retailers to see metrics (KPI’s) showing their performance. Perhaps other networks and TPAs will follow in a similar fashion? That should certainly be a welcomed change.

As I also suggested in my last blog, as an AGRR retailer you might want, “continue to focus on the customer and provide exceptional value with outstanding transparency.In the long run exception value and outstanding transparency will pay off.

Just sayin’.

 

 Today marks the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

Never forget.

 

 

 

 

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