Get The Customer Involved!

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Peter Sziklai has been a collision shop owner in British Columbia since 1983 and has owned Tsawwassen Collision Ltd. since 1995. He has been active in the BC ARA, serving on the board of the Collision Repair Division including a term as Chair. Sziklai has a website, Ready For Its Next Accident, rfina.ca. You can reach him at [email protected]. Photo Peter Sziklai

Communication is the key.

Drivers have always been slightly neglectful of keeping in touch with their vehicles. There was always a potential issue with people remembering their vehicles before the crash differently from what they actually were, but with few options and very little vehicle input into the driving, these issues were a manageable part of customer relations.

But now with vehicles being very active with warnings, or even participatory (active cruise as an easy example), these real or imagined memories of what the car was like before the repair becomes much more important.  

Drivers often don’t have a clue and pay no attention until they receive the vehicle back after a collision repair. By then, there isn’t a lot to compare to. 

There may be nothing wrong with the performance of an ADAS system–but if the owner is not familiar with the system or has not been paying attention before the repair you can use up a lot of unpaid time and possibly a trip to the dealership verifying that it is working correctly and then explaining this.

Ahead of the repair

This is now an opportunity–or a challenge–to involve your customers and assign some responsibility to them ahead of the repair. This will require some real thought and sophistication. Some shops may hesitate, because it may feel like you’re raising a red flag, that you’re setting them up for a flawed repair and making excuses ahead of time. 

Neither you nor your customer can see electronics like ADAS. And you don’t know if a system was malfunctioning before, or if the customer had it deliberately disabled. Now that vehicles must be repaired to manufacturers’ specifications, when the vehicle is returned, the customer may be surprised to notice beeps and vibrations that weren’t there before.

You may have to deal with a customer who is distressed to find their car is not behaving as they remember. Was one of the systems not working? The customer may not remember. What if it was out of alignment and feels different after the repair?

The time to find out is before the repair. 

Here’s the problem–if you don’t have that conversation, if you don’t check with the customer to see what systems are working, have been disabled or otherwise not functioning, it can come back to haunt you. 

Communications obligation

This is not anyone’s fault, and can’t be solved with better technician training or new equipment, or by being extra diligent in our repair. It’s quite simply a communications obligation.

You owe it to your customers to develop a method of communication to let them know, that vehicles now have multiple alerts, warnings and other safety features that must be restored to manufacturer specifications. Is it something you include in your estimate? Is it a conversation? Maybe it’s both.

It’s a level of communication that you haven’t needed before. You have to ask serious, slightly awkward questions. These are skills you need to learn before it becomes a problem. If you wait until the problem arises, then you’re trying to solve it in a crisis situation. Whereas, if you can work towards it, then you can be fairly gentle in your questioning. 

As you go forward, you’ll get better at it–and be that much further ahead of those around you who have lacked the foresight to be proactive.


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