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Just Sayin’ Blog – Hopes for the New Year (Fall Update)

We are now in the last quarter of the year; so how has 2012 been for you so far? In the first month of this year I posted a blog titled ‘Hopes for the New Year’ and then wrote a spring and summer update to that posting. When you take a look back over the past 9 months pretty much all the hopes for 2012 I had have fallen short.

The first hope was that:

“Our industry is affected by three key business drivers:  weather, the economy and miles driven. Sadly we have no control or influence over any of these so I’m hoping for some luck for 2012.”

The weather this year hasn’t been very cooperative for the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. We started with a snowless winter in most of the northern states and as reported by HailReporter.com we’ve experienced about 2/3 of the hail storms that we had in 2011. You know that snow, ice and hail all are big influencers to auto glass breakage and all were busts (pun intended) this year.

Early in the year many experts forecasted the economy would be anemic. Most of those forecasts were accurate. Kiplinger.com provides a variety of information on financial advice and business forecasts via its Economic Outlook section of the website which they regularly update with current outlooks. As of September 27, 2012 Kiplinger reported that:

“The stubbornly tepid economy will persist for the rest of this year and next.”

“It’s clear now that job creation will continue at a sluggish pace in the second half of 2012.”

“The U.S. is likely to add fewer jobs this year than last — about 1.6 million, compared with 1.8 million in 2011.”

“Instead of lending, banks remain wary.”

“Higher gasoline prices pushed inflation in August to an annualized rate of over 7%.”

“Business managers will remain very cautious about expansion at least into the early half of 2013.”

Expect the recent roller coaster in oil prices to keep on going a while longer.”

“Rising prices of fuel and other goods pose a risk to the increased growth rate, even as consumers shrug off anemic job growth and continue to spend.

Not very positive views from Kiplinger’s relating to another key influencer – the economy – to the AGRR industry.

Miles driven had been trending upward this year, but with rising gasoline prices the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Commission reports that as of July 2012 miles driven starting heading lower again. Earlier this year many forecasted that 2012 would not be a good year for gasoline prices and it appears that the forecasts were fairly accurate. This is the time of year when historically prices decline, but even though the price of oil has moderated; issues with a number of gasoline refineries across the country has caused prices to go higher as reported by a GasBuddy.com blog. The AGRR industry would like to see miles driven go back to the peak levels of seen in 2007 – 2008 for this key influencer.

The second hope was that someone becomes a market leader for the AGRR industry. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m still hoping for that one. My third hope was for fewer imported (non OEM) auto glass parts in 2012 so that prices might be able to stabilize. There may be fewer imports this year, but that’s only because the overall market size is down. The fourth hope was that every windshield be installed according to the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard – AGRSS®. It’s the right thing to do for your customers.

 

The fifth and final hope was that somebody would step up and compete against Safelite® at the both the retail and network level. It was a tall order considering the extremely envious dominant position that it enjoys with its strong retail and network. It’s not as though there aren’t individuals or companies at all levels of the AGRR industry with the unrelenting goal (and hope) of providing consumers with an alternative. At some point you have to believe that insurers and fleets might become wary of the tremendous influence the market leader has achieved with its dominant market position. It’s hard for me to see how Safelite® could maintain its market position or really grow its market share larger long-term. Unless they are willing to restart its acquisition program or maintain the onslaught of media advertising over the long-haul it’s going to be tough for Safelite® to move its sales upward in a meaningful way. Time is running out this year, but who knows what the New Year will bring.

 

Here’s hoping that in the last three months of 2012 you’re seeing positive signs pointing to improvement in your business or at the place that you’re working.

Just sayin’……….

 

 

Cartoon courtesy of Tom Fishburne

 

 

 

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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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Just Sayin’ Blog – Decisions

A couple of weeks ago my mother experienced shortness of breath along with chest pains. Two hours later she called her sister who lives close by and told my aunt she was thinking that she should go to the emergency room. They could’ve called 9-1-1, but instead together they made the decision to have my aunt drive my mother to the closest emergency room in a hospital about 30 miles away.

My aunt is 91 and my mother is 90……

They made it to the E.R. and after a few days in hospital my mother was released and is doing fine. I talked with them about whether they thought they really made the best decisions to drive down themselves based on the symptom’s my mom was experiencing, the fact that ambulance service was readily available and that it was snowing that day. I hesitated to mention their age to them.

They both are very independent women who have great genes. I’m very happy that they both are very independent and it’s great that they rely on each other, but they reluctantly agreed that they probably made a bad decision even though it turned out okay so it wasn’t that bad of a decision. I suggested that perhaps they should’ve called 9-1-1 and they said that next time they would. I’m not so sure they will though.

If you look up the definition of decision in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary you will find:

“a determination arrived at after consideration”.

We make countless decisions every day just like my mom and aunt did. There are good decisions and bad ones, and all are based on a myriad of bits and pieces of information that we take into consideration. Most decisions we make are uneventful, but some carry great consequence for those who can be affected by them. Consequential decisions are often forks in the road and generally require more information and greater evaluation of the right or wrong road to follow. Those consequential decisions will most likely be based on the values or principals you hold. They therefore provide a clear view of who you are and what is truly important in your personal and business life.

You can be decisive in your decision making or you can hesitate and be indecisive.  Indecision makes all decisions more difficult because when you’re uncertain, unsure of your decision, it will often lead to less-than-positive results. Even after giving great thought and consideration to a decision it can turn out badly, but with careful consideration and a look at all the information available, those difficult decisions you make tend ultimately to be the right ones.

If you’re an auto glass shop owner or manager you make decisions relating to whom you hire to work for your company. You decide what kind of on-going training you provide to your employees. You decide the quality of the auto glass you buy for them to install and you make a really big decision on the urethane adhesives that you buy for your auto glass technician (AGT) to use when they install windshields for your customers.

Does the urethane you buy cure in 1 to 4 hours and provide a safe drive away time for your customers and their passengers? Do you tell your customers when their vehicle is safe to drive? Is it really safe for them to drive? As the shop owner it’s your decision. You make a decision on whether your company will join the Auto Glass Safety Council and follow the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard – AGRSS® as a registered company or not. If you become an AGRSS Registered Company you open your doors to an independent 3rd party validation process proving that you adhere to AGRSS®. That decision is important to all consumers who expect that their auto glass replacement is installed safely. I strongly feel that supporting the Auto Glass Safety Council is an easy decision for anyone who provides auto glass replacements to consumers. What do you think?

Your AGTs are responsible for making decisions when they are installing auto glass too. An AGT could make the decision to take a short-cut during the installation, or he could go forward and complete an installation of a windshield where a rust issue exists which could cause an adhesion problem effecting the safe installation of the glass. Or he could contaminate the surface of the pinch-weld or glass, he could use an outdated urethane which could affect the adhesion of the glass installed, etc. Whether your company is a small one or the largest, you have AGTs making decisions that affect safety with each install. Are they making the right decisions for your customers?

When an insurance company makes decisions regarding which company it chooses to replace auto glass for policyholders, what information do you think it uses to make those decisions?  What information do you think is important for agents or brokers who are in a position to recommend auto glass service providers to policyholders? 

What are the key drivers for these decisions?  Quality should certainly be the key driver. Price is also certainly a factor as is the importance of an efficient claim handling process for the insurance company, agent and/or broker.  The service and convenience provided to the policyholder should also be a factor in the decision making of those who are in a position of influencing where a policyholder has their glass replaced. Neither the steering of a customer to a particular AGRR company that also happens to be answering the call for the insurance company nor the practice of handing a gratuity to the agent/broker should be a part of the decision-making process. Sadly it is. What do you think the key factors for those making these important decisions should include?

We all have had to make many consequential personal and/or business decisions over the years. When we make those consequential decisions they often affect not only you and your family, but they also often have an unintended effect on others too. They aren’t easy, but they say a lot about your character.

The last stanza of the poem “The Road Not Taken”, penned by the great America poet Robert Frost says:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Just sayin’…….

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ZIP Code based pricing

About a month ago on November 14, 2011, Nydia Han (link), a television news reporter for the local ABC Channel 6 Television affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia, reported on that station’s nightly news program about the auto glass replacement pricing by zip code strategy that, according to the station, Safelite® Auto Glass was utilizing in the local market.  It was certainly interesting and entertaining to watch the 4+ minute “Action News Investigation” segment that Ms. Han presented on the television stations ABC News Channel 6 “Special Report” (link).  During the segment she asked this question:

“Is it fair for a company to charge you more for its services based on where you live?” 

ABC Channel 6 visited a Safelite® store location in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, asking about replacing a windshield and reported that they were told – “So book it online” – by the store.  She did just that by getting on a computer and going to the Safelite® “Get a quote” web page. It was there that she found that she first had to put in a zip code as required by Safelite® in addition to other required fields detailing the make, model and year of the car; along with the piece of glass she wanted quoted.  Based on her report she then started to put in a number of different zip codes in the area serviced by Safelite®.  Ms. Han reported that what she found was that “for the SAME windshield replacement on the SAME car at the SAME Safelite® shop” she got a number of different prices, depending upon the zip code used for the quote.  She reported that the prices varied about $ 80 for the same windshield replacement on the same car and the question she asked was does that pricing strategy model seem fair to consumers?

Based on the television stations investigation and report, the director of Philadelphia’s Consumer Affairs Lance Haver believes that it is not.  As Mr. Haver said in the report:

“It’s just wrong.  There is no two ways about it.  This is just wrong.  It should be one price for everyone; it shouldn’t depend upon where you live and how much they can gouge out of you.”

So why did Safelite® use zip code pricing?  Their spokesperson Melina Metzger was quoted in a glassBYTEs® article¹ as offering the following in response to WPVI’s investigative report saying:

“Pricing strategies are confidential.  This is a case of an investigative journalist attempting to create scandal where there is none.

Like all businesses, Safelite uses a dynamic consumer pricing model that fluctuates based on many variables, such as what other competitors the customer might choose to repair or replace your vehicle glass, the availability of a technician in [an] area, and the availability of the right part in [an] area. At Safelite, we believe our consumer pricing model to be fair and offer value.”

Okay, Safelite® certainly has the right to use any pricing model it would like to achieve its goals as does any other company.  It is an interesting model when someone on one side of a street who has the same car as someone on the other side of the street can be charged different amounts for the same item quoted and installed by the same store.  But in Safelite’s® defense, doesn’t every company have the right to price its products and services anyway it wants?  Even if the same store location actually does the work and/or those two different people in two different zip codes who might live across the street are sent the same installer to do the work on the same year, make and model of car?

I looked at a number of other auto glass repair and replacement retailers operating in a variety of markets as Safelite® and each of the retailer web sites I visited asked for a variety of customer information along with details of the car and what glass was needed to be replaced.  The web sites I looked at asked for zip codes only to determine what store was closest to the customer.  None offered quotes online.  Each of those web sites also said that a customer service representative would be in touch via email or the telephone to follow up on the quote request from the customer.

Then I visited a number of other web based auto glass replacement quoting sites.  Each of the web sites I visited requested zip code information (In all fairness to them it appeared that none of the ones I looked at actually operated auto glass shops themselves and were aggregators selling customer replacement opportunities to others who would do the replacements).  Those sites require the zip code in order to know where the customer asking for a quote for auto glass replacement service is located. This is so that the web site can make contact with the appropriate retailer(s) who will actually be doing the work for their price quote.

I’m not sure what other businesses use zip codes in pricing models, but since I had some spare time I did a little unscientific survey of local Chicago area businesses where I live by walking around to a number of Walgreens Drug Store locations in different zip codes in the downtown Chicago area where I did a store-by-store price comparison on a variety of non auto glass products.  For my very unscientific survey I chose three different products

  1. a 7.8 ounce tube of Crest® Pro Health Fluoride Toothpaste Clean Mint ($ 4.99),
  2. a 6 ounce box of my personal favorite GOOD & PLENTY® Licorice Candy ($ 1.59),
  3. and a 100 count bottle of Genuine Bayer® Aspirin 325 mg Pain Reliever ($ 6.79).

Granted those retail items aren’t even remotely close to windshields, but I did say my survey was unscientific so I took some latitude.  Anyway, I found that with all of the Walgreen stores that I visited in my survey area, the prices were actually the same for each of the products surveyed.  I also checked their online web site where I found prices were the same. 

I then extended my survey to a few other online web sites.  I visited two very popular retail web sites called Amazon® and the iTunes® Store.  Neither asked for my zip code to determine pricing for the products I checked.

One last observation I made when visiting the Safelite® “Get a quote” web page.  I found it interesting and wondered why they asked the question:

“Are you thinking of filing an insurance claim?” 

If you respond – yes – you’re then asked to provide the name of your auto insurance company from a long alphabetized drop down listing.  Under that drop-down box there is a statement:

Asking your insurance provider about your policy coverage and deductible is not considered filing a claim in most cases. We can help you with information regarding your insurance coverage. (You can always change your mind before your appointment.)”.

It was easy getting a quote when I didn’t say that it was an insurance claim.  It wasn’t as easy when I answered that I was filing an insurance claim.  Do you think that the price would be the same if you said it was for insurance versus if it wasn’t for insurance?  I was just wondering and I’m…..

Just sayin’………

 

1  Articles reporting on Ms. Han’s ABC Television affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia’s report that appeared in glassBYTEs® Auto Glass and Insurance Industry News on November 15, 2011, and on November 16, 2011.

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