What employee role in the body shop has changed the most over the last decade? The painter, who has seen the widespread adoption of waterborne and UV-cured refinish products? The body tech, working with new substrates, joining methods and vehicle electronics? Maybe the shop owner who has seen margins shrink while competition from MSOs increases?
I would argue that while everyone in the shop has seen change, it’s the role of the estimator that has been most dramatically overhauled in recent years.
Think about what your company’s estimators did 10 years ago. They spent the majority of their time in the front office, meeting with customers and adjusters. Having some experience actually repairing cars could be helpful, but it wasn’t required to prepare an acceptable estimate. Their role was as much sales and customer service. Sure, they went out to the vehicle, made notes about the damage, and then came in to write a “visual estimate” based on their best professional judgment of what they saw. But they also sold the customer on choosing your shop, may have ordered the parts for the job, negotiated the claim with the insurer, and kept the customer informed throughout the repair process.
Today, the estimator, whether called a blueprinter or a “epair planner, has a dramatically different job description and required skillset. They may never interact with a customer or adjuster. Their work is primarily in the shop production area, right at the vehicle, not in the office. An ability to research and locate needed information is among the chief requirements for success in the position, and if they are not personally conducting the first phases of the repair process – tear-down, preliminary measurement, scanning – they are likely overseeing those doing these tasks.
A number of factors are driving that change. First, the changes body technicians are seeing – mixed substrates, multiple joining systems, zero millimeter frame tolerances – all need to be understood upfront if the repair process is going to be correct, efficient and profitable. Starting a job without an accurate estimate and complete information is a recipe for costly errors and unnecessary delays.
Technicians can no longer be expected to know how to repair “Car B” based on their experience with “Car A.” They need OEM repair procedures because those can vary dramatically from vehicle to vehicle – and can even change for the same vehicle over time. They need an estimator who can locate and provide that information from the start of the process.
Vehicle repair increasingly has to begin with pre-repair scanning and three-dimensional measuring. I was in a shop recently with a late-model compact vehicle with minor damage. It needed a bumper cover and had a little damage on the fender. The technician said he didn’t think measuring was necessary given the minor damage.