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CIC committee looks at AI use possibilities for collision repair shops

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Business Practices
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As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to enter the market from online chatbots to answering phone calls and assisting in parts and services, a Collision Industry Conference (CIC) committee recently explored practical uses for the technology in collision repair shops.

The Future Disruptions Committee brought Bodyshop Booster Founder Ryan Taylor and Tractable Head of Automotive and Property Jimmy Spears on stage during the April 17 meeting to talk about their findings.

Moderator Gabriel Morley, who is a committee co-chair and Dekra North America associate vice president, shared how AI platforms specializing in legal, customer experience, marketing, or grammar can be used in shops.

“I’ve used a platform called Synthesis that creates training videos,” he said. “It’s in 40 different languages. You type your training script and you can have a web-based training session within a few minutes.”

Spears emphasized the importance of learning AI use sooner rather than later.

“It’s better to get into it in some way and get that mastery built throughout your organization and then figure out how you can best use the tools,” he said.

Ryan Taylor

Taylor said he’s used AI to help provide exceptional customer experience at scale. After trying to sort through 13,000 hail damage claims brought to his staff in one day, he decided to research customer service options using AI to supplement his staff.

“AI is really fulfilling a strong need for us to help our people and to improve that customer experience as a focal point,” Taylor said.

The first step, he added, is figuring out how to use AI so that the shop is always there for its customers, even on a Friday night at 6:30.

“AI can be a really good co-pilot that can ride along and do first point of contact; maybe it’s things like they go to your website and they use a chatbot that’s AI-enabled or maybe they call your shop and there’s AI that can now answer the phone,” Taylor said. “It could be things like texting. There’s now AI platforms out there that can text and answer the questions just like your CSR or one of your estimators would, and it can be trained off of those people that work for you.”

Spears believes AI can help shops advocate for their customers.

“It used to be that there was a number of people that would be your advocate; people that would help you,” he said, adding that’s not the case now with insurance carriers and agents. “Once we start to take a look at this production mindset, it doesn’t really fit in. We do need to be the advocate, and I do believe that it’s the shops.

Jimmy Spears

“It’s the other vendors that are in process [that] can be a much better advocate for the consumer than what we’re seeing with the digital experience that some carriers are providing. Now, they’re just not answering questions. If you call them, they start the claim process rather than the people process. You really want to be able to give them guidance.”

Taylor added that the speed of answering questions is a benefit of AI for customer experiences as well.

“It’s Friday night. I want to know what my next step is,” he said. “‘Oh, hey, I’ve got a decision that my vehicle is repairable… Maybe they go into a holding pattern and then on Saturday, I could actually do the follow-up and say, ”Have you had a chance to think about it? Are you ready to book the repair?”

AI can handle booking rental vehicles and upsell to customers as well, he said.

Taylor added that AI can be trained to handle other things for shops such as photo assessments, answering phone calls, and helping translate conversations with customers who speak other languages.

“AI can kind of fill the void of, ‘Hey, I don’t have to feel rushed to pick up the second line and can take my time and deal with the customer,'” he said.

Questions Spears said shops should consider when picking a vendor are: should it be able to determine if the vehicle is repairable? Can it write an appraisal? Does the shop want to know what parts are in jeopardy?

“You’re really buying different decisions so when you pick a vendor,” he said. “When a job first begins, be able to educate the customer. Those type of solutions are out there… you’re crafting a great experience for the customer.”

Taylor said shops have also used AI to successfully save time and money on marketing campaigns.

Spears recommends shops that use AI develop a process map so everyone knows when and how humans are still in the loop for varying decisions.

“Have a QR code outside the shop so at night [if] somebody comes by and they’re in distress, you can start them off with this type of journey,” he said. “It puts you back in the role as an advocate for the consumer… You’re able to call up a carrier and say, ‘We have your claim over here. We’ve already started it. Your customer is being taken care of right here in my store.'”

Taylor called an AI chatbot while on stage to demonstrate how it works. He told the AI assistant that he had been in an accident and needed his vehicle repaired. He was asked for the best phone number to reach him, his first and last name, vehicle make, model, and model year, if the vehicle is drivable, details about the damage, if he would be working with an insurance company, and if he already has had an estimate done or needs the shop to complete one.

He was then asked if he would like to use an online damage assessment tool or visit the shop for an estimate. When he said online, he received a text with the link to the tool to take photos of the damage for an estimate.

“These don’t have to be big grandiose expensive platforms,” Morley said. “It’s not just about technology and vehicles coming out and how it’s going to change society. AI is being used in simple ways such as writing, scheduling, taking phone calls, helping with visuals, and putting creative ads together. There’s all these little basic day-to-day tasks that AI can help out with.”


Featured image: Ryan Taylor (left) and Jimmy Spears speak during the Collision Industry Conference’s April 17, 2024 meeting in Seattle. (Lurah Lowery/Repairer Driven News)

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