Maintaining healthy partnerships is the ballet of bodywork
By ALLISON ROGERS
The overarching theme of this issue is relations; I’ll kick off my column with a cliche: if you’ve ever had any sort of relationship with another human being, you’ll know any relationship is a dance. The bonds in the collision repair space, however, present a complex tango of paperwork, estimates and some pretty heated discussions.
At the end of the day, all corners of the industry work toward the same goal—a grand culmination of a recital or repair, rather—but there are plenty of factors that can turn a Swan Lake situation into a TikTok dance trend. On one hand, we have the insurers, tasked with safeguarding wallets and making moves to keep repair costs reasonable. On the other hand, we have our repair pros, the unsung heroes who work tirelessly to get our beloved vehicles back on the road. It’s in each side’s nature to protect its interests. The most recent Collision Repair Open Dialogue webinar session featured Jessica Hill-Flaman and Ryan Smith of Saskatchewan Government Insurance, who sat down alongside Tom Bissonette, the head of Saskatchewan’s association of body repairers, to discuss one of the industry’s hottest topics—insurer relations. During the broadcast, Tom admitted that, when he took over as the director of the Saskatchewan Association of Automotive Repairers, some individuals were concerned about the future of the association’s relations with SGI. Known to the industry as someone willing to speak his mind, Tom said some feared he’d come into the role a little too strongly. Those worries have long been dismissed, however, and SGI tied for the position of top-performing insurer in our 2022 Insurer Report Card.
Our annual survey is distributed to collision repair facilities across Canada, who submit grades in the areas of dispute management, bodyshop relations and payment timeliness for each insurer operating in Canada. In 2020, SGI received a C- grade. The crown insurer received a B+ in 2021, following the implementation of the Safe and Quality Auto Repair Project (SQARP), which required all bodyshops to obtain I-CAR Gold Class or equivalent certification, among other requirements. In 2022, SGI was the only insurer in our survey to score As across the board, for a final overall grade of A. The Co-Operators were the only other insurer to score an A-grade (sidenote: the Co-Operators have been in the number-one survey spot since we started the Insurer Report Card in 2019).
SGI and SAAR each take steps to understand the other side. The insurer hosts regular town hall meetings, handing the mic to collision repairers across the province to hear their headaches and suggestions for improvements. Things can get heated, each side passionate about their goal, but at the end of the day, each conversation opens a new door. Industry parties have two choices: walk through the door and move toward a solution with an open mind, taking considerations from the previous conversations and perspectives from the other side, or simply slam it shut. Saskatchewan’s industry chose the first one.
When both sides approach the negotiation table with respect and an earnest understanding of each other’s motives, magical things can happen. The insurers may discover that the repair pros aren’t out to make a “quick buck”—they are genuinely concerned about restoring our vehicles to their former condition. Likewise, the repair pros may come to appreciate the insurers’ efforts to keep premiums affordable.
In this complex relationship, communication is key. Insurers and repair pros need to have an open dialogue, like a driver talking to their car mechanic about that strange noise in the engine. By fostering transparency and understanding, both parties can work toward common ground. In the end, we’re all part of this automotive ecosystem.