Damage Claims - Reducing damage to your business through diplomacy
Damage Claims Reducing damage to your business through diplomacy By Anthony Analetto President - SONNY'S The Car Wash Factory Equipment Division Originally published in Auto Laundry News magazine
The second rule of navigating damage claims is to embrace the principle that most people are reasonable (you'll have to read all the way to the bottom for the first rule). If your mind just filled with the memory of a screaming customer demanding payment on the spot for damage they believed came from your wash, I realize it may be hard to believe, but let me repeat, most people truly are reasonable. In this article I'll cover using cameras and research to reduce liability, along with tips to avoid damage claims in the first place. The real trick is having the diplomacy to lead customers to rational behavior when their adrenaline is pumping. At your car wash, there's an even bigger challenge – which is how to create and train the processes and procedures that turn a good manager into a good diplomat, one that handles each damage claim in a clear, consistent way, every time.
I remember a situation once with a regular customer and his BMW. On this model, BMW had an air deflector on the driver-side wiper, but not on the passenger. One day he comes through in a hurry, looks at his car after the wash, demands to see a manager, and begins yelling that the car wash ripped the air deflector off the passenger side wiper. My first reaction was to tell him that the car never had a deflector on the passenger side, but instead followed my own training, listened, and said nothing until he finished. I then explained that if we damaged his car we would of course pay for any repair and asked him to fill out the damage claim form, at which point he nearly exploded, saying that he didn't have time to fill out papers. Again, my first reaction was to ask him how he expected us to reimburse him for a claim he wouldn't even fill out, but I again followed procedure and moved him to a third-party, in this case, the BMW dealer. After I wrote down the pertinent information, including the VIN number, I simply told him to go to the BMW dealer, get a price for the passenger wiper, and to bring it to us so that we could fill out the damage claim form and resolve the situation. One week later, after the BMW dealer informs him there's no such part – he comes back, apologizes, and thanks me for not calling him a liar. It turns out he was on his way to a friend's funeral service and wasn't in the best frame of mind.
The moral of the story is that most people are reasonable when you have the diplomacy to lead them to rational behavior. Unfortunately, diplomacy requires self-discipline. Regardless if you run a military or a car wash, don't expect your front line people to have self-discipline without rigid procedures, rules, and training in place. So how do you make this happen? Let's take a look.
Step 1: Diffuse the Situation and Document the Claim Most washes have a form with the phrase “Damage Claim Report” in big bold letters at the top. Think about it. Right from the beginning, the title of the form has said that the customer has been damaged, has a claim against your business, and is reporting that fact for compensation. Change it, and change it fast. Call it a “Customer Experience Report” or if you must, a “Customer Unpleasant Experience Report.” Next, state your resolution procedure at the top of the page, right under the title, before asking for contact information. Your policy might have a heading such as “If you ever have an unpleasant experience at our wash”; with five bullets that say something to the effect of: (1) We promise to listen to your experience completely, and will never interrupt you until you have told us everything that occurred. (2) We promise to write an accurate report of the experience and provide you with a copy. (3) We promise to photograph your vehicle before leaving the property and provide you with copies of the pictures for your records. (4) We promise to provide you a list of certified third-party shops that can perform an honest and free-of-charge estimate to repair any damage. (5) We promise to review your experience and if the damage is shown to have been caused by improper action of either our equipment or staff, resolve the claim quickly and professionally. It's important to state your policy in writing on the form first, and then have spaces to write in contact information including vehicle VIN#, manager and customer written descriptions of what occurred, and company legalese. The reason is simple. Even though you've trained your managers to act diplomatically, in the heat of the moment, it's easy for them to forget. By repeating your policy in the one place they're sure to see it, you remind your manager of your expectation for diplomatic self-discipline, the steps they must complete, and assure the customer that they will be attended to in a respectful and orderly manner.
Step 2: Be Prepared This step is rather straightforward, so here it is. Every car wash should have surveillance cameras that record the condition of a car before it enters the wash. Every car wash should have a written policy of what they are, and are not responsible for, clearly posted for customers to read. Every car wash should have negotiated discounts, or reciprocal service agreements, with local body shops. Every car wash should have a camera and printer onsite with managers trained to photograph all vehicle damage before the car leaves the property. Every car wash should maintain an updated laminated card with a picture of any vehicle with a history of problems and any special handling procedures. Every car wash must have a “Customer Experience Report” to document claims. Every car wash should collect the VIN# of any vehicle that has an incident at the wash to research pre-existing damage. And, whenever possible, every car wash should visually inspect all vehicles before they enter the wash. To accommodate this practice without slowing production, many washes, especially express-exteriors, will simply train drive-on attendants to touch any scratches or blemishes they see and then point up to the camera. This recognition of damage by an attendant before the car enters the wash makes a powerful statement to a customer watching the video who may not have noticed the damage before.
Step 3: Research Your Liability Although cameras that record vehicles entering the wash are a solid first line of defense, often you'll have to dig deeper. With the VIN# of the vehicle, you'll first want to look up any recalls that may be related to the damage that occurred. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.nhtsa.gov, is a good place to start. If that doesn't help, turn to a paid reporting service such as CARFAX or AutoCheck. These services not only let a car buyer research a vehicle's history, they can also alert a car wash operator to check if the damage to a vehicle occurred from an earlier accident that was improperly repaired. Imagine you discover that a car, whose bumper fell off in the wash, was previously in a front-end collision. You're able to alert the body shop to check if an improper repair caused the damage, remind the customer of the accident, or if they're the second owner, inform them that the car was previously damaged.
Step 4: Resolve to Your Advantage Your business is about delivering value to the customer. If your research concludes that you are responsible for the damage claimed, fix it fast with a sincere apology. On the other hand, if it turns out that you are clearly not liable, diplomatically inform the customer, in person if possible, show them whatever videos, reports, or other information that demonstrate why you're unable to pay for their claim, and again sincerely apologize. In either case, you'll want to provide them with vouchers for free services on the spot, wait a week, and mail them a letter with another coupon for free or discounted services. Some operators will give nothing – which they justify by saying they've lost the customer anyway. Personally I prefer to shower any customer with a damage claim, whether paid or not, with vouchers for free services. If they're so angry that they refuse to use my wash again, they'll either throw the vouchers away, or give them to friends. This dissuades them from speaking negatively about my business in the community I serve. And if they use the vouchers, I've managed to maintain a customer, and potentially turn them into a raving fan.
The First Rule to Preventing Damage Claims Although you can't guarantee that every car enters your wash undamaged, you can absolutely ensure that your wash doesn't damage a good car. Proper equipment and wash materials, correctly maintained, with appropriate use of lubricating soap, will nearly eliminate any potential for vehicle damage. Combine that with continuous staff training and coaching, and you're on your way to reducing the impact of damage claims on your business.
Good luck and good washing. Anthony Analetto
Anthony Analetto has over 26 years experience in the car wash business and is the President of SONNY'S The Car Wash Factory's Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY'S Anthony was the Director of Operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at 800-327-8723 x 104 or atAAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com
How to Protect Your Antenna from an Express Car Wash
January 19, 2010
One of the few major problems with using an express car wash to clean your car is that it may damage your antenna. Antennas are sometimes damaged when you use a car wash service because they can be bent by the rotating brushes. If you have a car with a long radio antenna, and you want to take it to the car wash instead of washing it by hand, there may be something you can do to protect your antenna from the car washing process. This is only the case for certain types of cars though, and if your vehicle is the wrong kind then unfortunately you will have to wash by hand or risk your antenna.
Ways to Protect Your Antenna
In some of the more modern cars, the radio antenna automatically goes down into the car when the radio is turned off, and in some older models it is possible to push it down manually. If you don't drive a car with a collapsible antenna, then chances are that you can unscrew it and remove it from the exterior of the car before you go through the car wash. In some cases, you have to use a small wrench or pliers to loosen and remove the antenna. These methods help to protect it from the rotating brushes. If your car doesn't have a collapsible or removable antenna, you can always go to a car wash that doesn't use the brushes. Some car wash services use only water pressure to clean, and at those places you do not have to worry about your antenna.
The purpose of the N-SPEX System is to document the condition of every vehicle that enters and leaves your facility. Busy Tunnels that have the N-SPEX system have reported that the system has paid for itself in less than 6 months. In fact, one Operator says that 2 claims in the same month that were avoided with solid evidence from theN-SPEX system, more than paid for the entire N- SPEX equipment costs.
Vehicle Condition Documentation System
Made for ALL Tunnels and Automatics!
The N-SPEX vehicle condition documentation system Entry and Exit Arches and Tunnel cameras document the condition of every vehicle that enters and exits your car wash as well as monitoring the wash process. It’s easy for customers to blame your Car Wash for damage, but most of the time the damage is either pre-existing, (but not discovered until an after-wash inspection), or the damage occurred after the vehicle left your facility.
Without proof of when the damage was present, you can ultimately be held liable for almost any claim presented.
Tunnel Operators need the very best tools to avoid baseless claims and stay profitable.
The N-SPEX Vehicle Condition Documentation System gives you the High Resolution tools you need to avoid most damage claims, and can save you thousands of dollars per year.
Each pair of N-SPEXSTIX contains a total of 6High-Resolution, Pre-Assembled, Pre-Focused and Pre-Mounted
550 TV Line Cameras!
N-SPEX Cameras at the Tunnel entrance and exit are so small as to go unnoticed, yet are rugged and completely vandal-proof. Sealed, watertight housings are weatherproof and high-pressure wash-down resistant (NEMA IP-66 rated).
These High-Resolution cameras are made from rugged metal and feature a ¼” thick Lexan viewing dome with adjustable camera angle depending on how far away from the entrance you wish to start seeing the vehicle.
These High-Resolution cameras are pre-adjusted and pre-focused to provide the perfect solution to the viewing angles and distances you need to adequately document the condition of vehicles entering and leaving your facility. This makes installation a snap!
(We can recommend installers for most areas of the United States)
The Inside of Your Tunnel
Inside the tunnel, we use vandal-proof Bay Cameras that are even more water-resistant than the outside cameras. After all, they have to endure mist, overspray and constant high humidity.
N-SPEX Tunnel Cams are completely water proof and resistant to condensation and fogging. In addition, our exclusive dome coating is applied to resist etching by common car wash chemicals such as high and low PH pre-soaks. The Tunnel Cams come complete with wall mount brackets and extra conduit bases included in case you need to run conduit to them instead of going through the wall at the mounting point.
Most Tunnels will use two Tunnel Cams, but more may be needed according to how long your tunnel is and how your equipment is laid out.
WIRING INSTRUCTIONS -
THE STIX ARE ONE OF THE ONLY PRODUCTS THAT WE HAVE PREWIRED FOR EACH CUSTOMER IN SERIES FOR THE POWER CONNECTION.
EACH LEG OF THE STIX WILL REQUIRE 3 PIECES OF RG59U COAX (ONE FOR EACH CAMERA) AND ONE PIECE OF 18/2 POWER WIRE.
Documentation - Not Surveillance
Since the purpose of the N-SPEX System is to document the condition of every vehicle that enters and leaves your facility, Tunnel Operators use this evidence differently than they do for their surveillance cameras. Typically the N-SPEX Video footage will not be reviewed unless there is a claim, whereas the surveillance cameras are used constantly to monitor processes, traffic and people on your entire property.
For this reason, we recommend our dedicated N-SPEX DVR be used with these cameras. This also allows the vehicle data to be stored longer since the archive space does not include footage from your regular surveillance cameras.
Make sure to read our REAL LIFE Scenarios at the bottom of the page
Here is a video from one of our Carwash customers showing the N-SPEX STIX at the entrance of one of his washes. He has even added a incridi-bullet camera to the right leg to allow viewing of he staging area.
"We don't open our doors unless our N-SPEXSTIX are fired up and ready to go!" Since we opened we've been able to disprove 100% of our damage claims!! - M. Emmons (TX)
SPECIAL BUILD ITEM - CALL TO ORDER
Overhead view of a typical tunnel system
TheN-SPEXSTIX will give you a view of: Left Hand Side STIX: Driver's Top of Vehicle, Driver's Side, Front of Vehicle & License Plate Right Hand Side STIX:Passenger's Top of Vehicle, Passenger's Side, Rear of Vehicle & License Plate
TheN-SPEXTunnel Cams will give you a view of: The vehicle inside your bay from both sides.
***All systems can be infinitely customized to fit your unique situation, or we can design and build a system to fit any number of conveyors or bundled automatics (3, 4 or more at one site). * This is a Special Build Item and not eligible for return for credit for any reason. Still backed by our warranty and unlimited tech support. Just call us at 1-866-301-CCTV to speak to an engineer.
Real Life Scenarios
Some operators report that they see a lot of the same type of claims over and over again.
Here are a couple of examples:
A Full Service Tunnel in California reports that for the first time they have evidence refuting claims that their equipment scratched or dented a customers’ vehicle. They knew that the damage was probably pre-existing, but without detailed vehicle condition documentation showing the dent as the car entered, or showing that the vehicle didn’t have damage when it left the tunnel, it was impossible to convince a customer that they were not to blame. The Operator says that after viewing the evidence, customers were no longer “100% sure that your wash damaged my car”.
An Express Tunnel in Georgia has experienced a spike in collisions in the tunnel during the past year. N-Spex Video has shown in most of the cases that the driver applied the brakes for some reason. Brake lights in the tunnel are seen time after time. The Operator reports that in a lot of those claims, the driver is plainly seen talking on their cell phone as they entered the tunnel. Most of the drivers simply weren’t aware that they applied the brakes, but viewing the evidence convinced them.
Real Life Testimonials
"The cameras are great, had to use the N-SPEX stix yesterday, customer claimed we broke something on his car. Guess what! Stix showed it was already broke, before entering the wash. WOW!" - D. Walker - Expressway Car Wash (KY)
“The N-SPEX system has turned out to be our best tool for avoiding claims, as well as unraveling what really happened in the tunnel. We have found that the evidence rarely matches what the customer claimed.” -D. Bell – Texas Express Wash Owner
"My installer had doubts that the N-SPEX cameras would do what you guys said they would do. He put them up and they show exactly what you said they would on the vehicles driving past. Even my installer is impressed." -S. Garrett - Bobcat Car Wash (CO)
If you would like to submit a testimonials about your system from us please email it to email@example.com
Eliminate unscheduled maintenance and provide a safer environment for both your workers and your vehicles with Intralox conveyor belts
When used in auto assembly plants, car wash tunnels, and express vehicle detailing, Intralox conveyor belts save time and money without compromising work quality. And, they improve worker safety.
Intralox Non Skid Belts Excel in Auto Assembly Plants
In a North American assembly plant, skid-related ankle and foot injuries were eliminated after installing Intralox’s Non Skid belts along the trim line. The installation of Intralox’s ergonomic belt solution also addressed concerns of contact stress, lower back biomechanical strain, and awkward joint postures. Following the installation, a survey of 48 line workers indicated 100% satisfaction.
Equally important are the quality and durability of Intralox’s Non Skid belts installed on moving platforms. When compared to the Intralox solution, low-profile (5 ft. / 127 mm) moving platforms equipped with rubber flat top belts in the assembly area of a North American plant were 50% more expensive annually. For this plant, retrofitting their existing conveyors to Intralox enabled them to significantly reduce the costs of conveyor belt ownership.
Car Wash Tunnels
By replacing troublesome components like entrance correlators, guide rails, and chains with a flat, smooth, continuous Intralox belt, car washes are achieving improved human safety and less incidence of vehicle damage. Intralox belts also help car wash owners save time and money by standardizing their workflow and improving quality. By reducing risks and improving employee safety, insurance expenditures may also be reduced.
Protect Automobiles from Unnecessary Damage—Car washes equipped with Intralox conveyor belts protect customers’ cars from damage as they are driven directly onto the conveyor belt, rather than aligned on a troublesome correlator. Because guide rails and chains are eliminated, damage to rims, tires, and brake assemblies as well as custom exhausts and bodywork is averted.
Improve Human Safety—Your car wash can be designed with an Intralox-equipped conveyor that is flush with the concrete, allowing car wash employees to work directly on the belt rather than moving from surface to surface.
In express detail locations, vehicles are driven directly onto the Intralox-equipped conveyor, where the detail crew can safely complete each task before the vehicle reaches the end of the conveyor. As a result of the automated process, owners experience an increase in throughput and a reduction in customer complaints. Customers benefit from the improved consistency of the automated process while still receiving the high quality of a full-service operation.
"The Intralox Detailing Belt gives us the WOW factor that we have been looking for. People have always been fascinated by moving belts. I think this belt has given us a new spark in the customers' eyes, and I think that we are just beginning with new ideas and ways that the Intralox conveyor belt can be used in the car washing industry."
Justin Alford, Co-Owner, Benny's Car Wash, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Terms and Conditions of Service
The following sets forth the terms and conditions under which SPA Car Wash Systems, LLC will perform services on your vehicle:
1. Best Efforts Basis: Our services are provided on a best efforts basis – we will not be held responsible in the event that we are unable to clean, remove stains, or otherwise restore any surface, fabric, or condition on your vehicle. All services listed in our marketing material are for reference only, and do necessarily represent a guarantee that the service was performed depending upon the condition of your vehicle or upon a special extenuating circumstance.
2. Incidental Damage: We are not responsible for any incidental damage that may occur while your vehicle is in our possession, including but not limited to any damage related to pre‐existing conditions (tears, scratches, dents, stains, odors, etc.) damage to automated windshield wiper systems, wiper blades, rear window wipers, loose interior trim or exterior moldings, exterior mirrors, trailer hitch caps, roof racks, power antennas, insignias, aftermarket accessories (bug shields, sun visors), magnetic signage, running boards, hood ornaments, or alloy, chrome or mag wheels, headlights, rear lamps, or reflectors. We are responsible for any damage we cause while driving your vehicle and for anything we break or damage in the course of providing our service, so long as the damage did not involve a prior condition.
3. Additional Charges: In the course of rendering services on your vehicle, we may uncover conditions or circumstances that require additional effort or time, and therefore you may incur additional cost, to properly complete your vehicle service. We will make every reasonable effort to notify you in advance of completing the service, however in the event we are unable to contact you for any reason out of our control, we reserve the right to charge our published hourly rate to complete the work and maintain circulation of our work in process inventory.
4. Possessions Left in the Vehicle: Our policy is to gather all of the vehicle owners’ belongings that are left in the vehicle and place them in a bag to be provided to the customer when their vehicle service is complete. Our staff is also trained to remove any loose change from the console area and place it in a plastic bag to facilitate cleaning. We are not responsible for any belongings that may be lost or otherwise disposed of in the course of cleaning your vehicle. We strongly recommend that each customer remove any belongings they consider to be of value before leaving the vehicle with us.
5. Engine Damage Disclaimer: Certain detailing services include cleaning of the engine compartment and components. SPA is not responsible for any damage resulting from this service, temporary or otherwise, that may as a result from water interfering with engine function.
6. Wet Sanding: Certain detailing services include wet sanding to remove deep scratches in the vehicle’s clear coat finish. SPA is not responsible or any damage that may result to the painted surface should the sanding process penetrate the clear coat and damage the paint finish.
7. Limit of Liability: SPA’s entire liability for providing services is limited to the invoice amount for the service we provide, except for any damages that result from collisions that take place while the vehicle is in our possession.
8. Coupons, Discounts and Gift Certificates: SPA will only honor coupons, discounts, and gift certificates that are presented prior to performing services.
9. Gratuities: Our staff keeps a tip box outside the facility adjacent to the area where cars final dried and hand toweled. This box is for tips for car wash services. For customers whose cars receive detail services, we encourage our generous customers to consider offering a gratuity directly to the staff member who serviced their vehicle.
No carwash is totally immune to customer damage claims, but with proper planning and a program in place, those claims can be kept to a minimum. Brad Hooper, a California tunnel operator and owner of Rossmoor Car Wash and Detail Center, says there are several ways to stop damage claims in their tracks.
1. The Theory
When a customer says his vehicle was damaged by your carwash, take him into the tunnel and ask him to come up with a theory as to how it happened. Show him how the equipment works. Hooper says most of the damage claims stop at this point, once the customer realizes the equipment could not have done the damage.
Every carwash should have a digital camera system in place. If a customer claims your carwash damaged his car, a camera can show that the damage was there before the carwash. Cameras won’t show everything, but they can stop some ridiculous damage claims in their tracks. Hooper also suggests that operators come up with a form of “sign language” so employees who see scratches or small dents when a car arrives can point to the damage in full view of the cameras — indicating there is some type of damage on a particular part of the car. If an issue comes up later, that might help the carwash prevent a phony damage claim.
Operators should also decide if the cameras will be focused to show detail or to show the big picture. Hooper suggests focusing on the big picture, since a lot can be missed if the camera is focused too tightly. Hooper adds that just the existence of cameras can stop people from making damage claims in the first place.
In addition to carwash signage, make sure there are disclaimers regarding vehicle damage on your customer receipts. Let them know that automatic antennas can break in the wash, etc. This can’t shield you from all claims, but it can offer some protection.
Operators need to have the right people in place to handle damage claims when they do occur. While this person may be your general manager, it doesn’t have to be. Whoever handles customers in this situation must be good in dealing with people.
“I had a general manager who was great at everything except talking with customers about damage claims,” says Hooper. “It turned out my assistant manager was great with people, so I made him the point man on damage claims.”
5. Role Playing
Hooper suggests that operators use rainy days to have role-playing sessions with employees. Have one employee pretend to be an irate customer, and have someone else handle that customer. Make sure they know what to say and what not to say.
6. Listen to the Customer
It sounds simple, but this is crucial to keeping the customer calm. Watch your nonverbal signals, too. One word of advice: Never tell a customer to “calm down.” This phrase will only anger him more, Hooper says. Instead, say something like, “I understand you are angry, Mr. Kelly.” That way the customer knows you are listening to him.
The customer also needs to be treated with respect. While some people are “out to get” a carwash, the majority of customers who make damage claims honestly believe their cars were damaged at your wash. After all, many of them have probably not looked closely at their vehicles in months. Other cars arrive at the carwash so dirty that any scratches or dents that were already there don’t become visible until after it’s clean.
7. Move the Angry Customer
Some customers will begin yelling and discrediting the carwash after finding damage. Remove that customer from the area immediately so other customers don’t hear what he’s saying. Removing him will not only calm him
Do any of you have experiences with customers complaining about damaged wheel covers from the track. This is one of the things that irks me the most with our touchless car wash having a track. I have had several customers who complain that our car wash damaged their wheel covers (or even their vehicle) because they didn't get their car into the track correctly as evident from the position of their vehicle or the cameras we have. In their defense it is a very tight turn they have to make to maneuver their car in, but I have done it even with a full size vehicle like an Escalade. Should car washes be liable for this type of damage? What if someone brakes halfway through the wash, has the roller roll under them, and then proceeds to drive out on their own? Should we be liable then? This type of complaint drives me crazy! Has anyone found a good way to curb these types of complaints? What has worked for you? What hasn't?
Our disclaimer sign states that customers are responsible for rims, tires, and valve stems. If you have UHMW covering the entrance guide on, then the scratches were probably not from the car wash.
BTW...watch out for vehicles with TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) sensors where the customer has added an extension on to the TPMS. The TPMS is part of the valve stem and is rigid metal. When the customers add on the extensions that stick out beyond the tire, you now have the possibility of the TPMS breaking if it rubs against a rail or a curb. We have seen several of these, and it is purely the fault of the extension. A new TPMS requires a new part, installation, and programming...probably $150 - $200 per tire.
Recently installed the 3 foot mirror at the entrance of each tunnel about 18" to the side of the track. They show a perfect reflection of the tire entering the track. I like it better than the overhead mirror. The reflection is much closer to the driver.
AFAIAC I am not responsible if the driver drives into anything.
Had a guy with aftermarket wheels that stuck out past the edge of the rubber and were scratched. Customers are responsible for any non factory original equipment.
If a person hits the brakes they have Violated the "No Brakes" instruction. Same if they Drive Thru. Video helps a lot to prove this.
TPMS are an issue. The net reveals problems with them breaking for no apparent reason. Had one break on the passenger / non track side and we don't have a tire Brush. Noted lots of white corrosion. This is an issue if someone "Dresses up the Stems" with metal caps. The dissimilar metal promotes corrosion. I denied this one as wekll providing copies of the numerous internet reports.