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Volume 8, Issue 1        January/February 2006

Customer Service
   tips for quality service

tompkins.carl@sika-corp.com

 

The Future Hope of AGR
by Carl Tompkins

September of this year will mark the completion of my 30th year in the industry. Based on this level of experience, I want to discuss what I believe is the future hope of our industry. 

I’ve not run into anyone in the industry who doesn’t share in the same hope of working in an industry that represents the utmost in reliability, responsiveness, assurance, image and empathy. These five subjects represent all the buying factors used by any customer base in making the decision as to who gets the business.

Reliability addresses the number one issue of doing things right the first time. More specifically, does our industry provide products and services that, at minimum, meet customer expectations but, preferably, exceed customers’ needs? The three largest categories of contributors to our industry—the manufacturing, distribution and installation sectors—must work together under the common goal and commitment to reliability in order to be deemed the best that we can be by customers. When we do our jobs right the first time, we not only achieve happy customers but also reduce our liability through a safe auto glass installation.

Responsiveness is the ability to be timely and complete in the delivery of solutions if and when problems or questions arise from our customer base. The danger in any industry in terms of responsiveness is fragmentation. Our industry has a track record of excelling in fragmentation and not doing well in responsiveness. For many years, no one entity could get the same answer twice to any given question. This situation creates confusion in the AGR ranks, dissention and, worse of all, an untrusting customer base. Because of this poor history, the AGR industry has had to search for a mechanism to unite our efforts in being consistent in our responsiveness toward solving problems.

Assurance is proving our ability to always stand strong and close to our customer base, supporting their own efforts through the delivery of AGR products and services. Such alliances have never been more important and the greater our success in delivering this, as an industry, the more we can expect in return. Our history of assurance hasn’t been the best. If one were to be totally honest, we’ve treated a number of our industry’s customers as if they were our enemy. When this occurs, we’ve become our own worse enemy and all parties lose. We have to accept that our AGR customer base has specific needs that must be met for them to be successful as well as opinions as to how effective we are as a supplier in helping them meet those needs. The same can be said about our industry as to our needs and opinions on how we view the return support from our customer base. The larger the gap between these two sides, the larger the misunderstandings and inaccurate judgments. It is the delivery of assurance that closes such gaps and builds better channels of communication. 

While I’ve been very impressed in what I’ve seen over the past few years from many industry participants concerning their improvements on image, we still have a long way to go. How we appear to our customer base is controlled by choice. There is no excuse for looking sloppy and sounding poorly to customers. I’ve heard people say that we’re not a glamorous business and that our pay scales fail to support the type of people we desire to represent our industry. This is simply not true. I see a lot of far less glamorous industries with half our pay scales that look a hundred times better than we do. Looking good and sounding good is a choice. Every industry participant needs to deliver the most professional image possible. 

Finally, empathy, the remaining buying factor that represents our industry’s ability to share sincere concern for our customers’ welfare, does not require our agreement with any complain. As an industry, however, we must create the means for customers to feel welcome to join us and feel secure in being able to openly share their concerns. When this happens, quick and effective solutions can be put into play. How welcome have our customers felt lately in attending trade shows or conferences? Once again, we have a great deal of work to do in order to gain the best possible results.

The Means to Success

There is a means for the AGR industry to achieve excellent ratings and subsequent business success within each category of these five buying factors: AGRSS, the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard.

I strongly feel that our future can and should rely on AGRSS for many reasons. First, and foremost, the AGRSS Council stands for our entire industry and does not represent, show favoritism, discriminate, or belong to any one company or entity of the AGR industry. It represents the entire industry. Every interested party is able to participate on an equal basis. Every training organization, association, manufacturer, wholesaler, publisher, retailer and independent interested party operates as a subcomponent of the AGRSS Standard. All companies provide products and services that support the compliance to our common code of best practices. AGRSS stands for safety, which is not a competitive issue but one that allows a fragmented industry to join together in a common cause that solves each and every one of our buying factor goals. 

Concerning reliability, the AGRSS standard defines the common target of delivering a safe auto glass installation. The goal must be stated before any one industry participant can determine the role and required procedures in order to make a proper contribution to the AGR industry. Our standard defines how manufacturers, distributors and installers are to participate.

The greatest hitter in baseball, Ted Williams, believed that hitting successfully 100 percent of the time was possible and worked as hard as he could to achieve that. We, too, must believe we can deliver 100 percent reliability when delivering safe auto glass installations, and must do everything possible to assure it. A few historical nay-sayers of our AGRSS Standard have wrongly believed that we, through the standard and its registration program, were guaranteeing a perfect auto glass installation every time. This has never been the case because no person or business within any type of industry can guarantee perfection on every job. The only element that can be guaranteed is knowledge of the goals and required procedures to achieve them, and the commitment to do everything possible to accomplish the mission. What AGRSS does for our industry is define the goals and what must be done to achieve a safe auto glass installation while the registration program allows industry participants to stand up and be counted as those who believe they can bat 1.000 and are committing to doing everything possible to achieve such ratings.

Our responsiveness to customers has leaped light years ahead due to what our AGRSS standard provides. We have a united AGRSS Council, made up of over 40 companies that have worked for seven years to establish and maintain our code of best practices. To date that code has been perfect in answering any and all questions concerning proper AGR practices. Having one code of best practices, approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), supported by a Council, assures timely, accurate, and undeniable responses to the problems, concerns and questions of any interested party. To date, our most notable response to our customer base has been our interpretation concerning the permissibility of using used glass. Because of this interpretation, every insurance company I’ve spoken with has stated that they will not endorse the use of used glass. This is a great example of the power and timeliness of AGRSS in terms of being responsive to customers’ need for information.

Meeting the Needs

For assurance, our Standard provides a rock-solid, long-term source to fulfill one of our largest customer’s most dire needs which is defining the right job. In the past, the insurance industry could not get any two AGR parties to provide the same definition which created havoc for insurers to make good decisions as to what requirements to set for their subcontracting glass shops. This havoc disappeared when the AGRSS Standard was approved because it represents the single code and language for everyone to follow, including our customers.

The AGRSS marketing program provides an additional source of assurance for the insurance industry by meeting with them on a regular basis to, as a united industry, define how to achieve safe auto glass installations and to help them realize the value they achieve by supporting our standard. In terms of loss prevention, the insurance industry is on a rapid growth curve in learning how meaningful our standard is in lessening their risk and, as a result, will want to do everything possible to make sure their auto glass claims are processed by glass companies which operate in accordance to the standard. Proof of this is the new language of State Farm’s Offer and Acceptance agreement which states that auto glass replacement must be done in accordance with the AGRSS Standard. Do not underestimate the value of this first step; many other insurance companies are bound to follow this example. 

This same type of activity extends into other facets of our customer base such as body repair and automotive dealerships. For years, body shops and dealerships have shopped price alone as they weave in and out of relationships with multiple installers, never thinking that anything but a low price was at stake. But dealerships and body shops which subcontract out their auto glass installations are deemed the “principal” within that glass replacement while the glass installer is the “agent.” If damages occur and litigation results, the body shop or dealership would be just as accountable for the delivery of a safe auto glass installation as the actual installer who was working on behalf of the principal. AGRSS provides the assurance of defining the right job and now our customers must do everything possible to deliver this. 

The AGRSS registration program is a second level of assurance. We provide to the insurance industry, as well as other customers, the list of companies registered with AGRSS, so that with less work they can determine who follows the rules. Registered companies must conduct their own internal assessment that they comply with each facet of the standard. The teeth of this assessment are the eight deliverables that need to be submitted in the registration packet for the application to be approved. Such deliverables include documents to show that the registrant conducts pre-inspections and notifies customers if any condition exists in their vehicles that could jeopardize the retention system, proof that their retention system is produced under quality assurance guidelines, that their retention system is either OEM approved or an equivalent, a copy of their current training manual cover supplied by their retention system provider to show the delivery of training, a copy of their safe drive-away time chart used in selecting the proper adhesive system to meet the weather conditions and required time of delivery by the customer, the form used to inform customers of their drive-away time, the form used to record lot numbers and DOT numbers of products used and, finally, a copy of the certificate used to demonstrate completion of technician training. These deliverables are proof of knowledge concerning critical aspects of activity that relate to the delivery of a safe auto glass installation. 

What do we gain as an industry through the delivery of this level of assurance? I feel confident that within the next couple of years, following the continued expansion of registered companies, the insurance industry will move its requirements from the current follow the standard, to “provide proof of compliance,” because they too want to associate only with those that provide the greatest chance of safe auto glass installation. My prediction is that when the insurance industry moves to this level of requirement, a current approved AGRSS registration will suffice in validating a glass shop’s conformance to the AGRSS Standard. If a glass company chooses not to join the AGRSS registration program, it then will be required to deliver another insurance industry approved format validating its conformance.

Understanding and following all aspects of the standard affects the way we think and operate as an industry. Safety, quality and service become more relevant so when the standard is fully incorporated as a business theme, it affects much more than just the installation of auto glass. How people feel, look, prepare their place of business and operate improves. 

Finally, AGRSS is the common resource for our industry to once again create an avenue of empathy that will be realized by our customer base. The first-ever AGRSS conference in October created a new and positive arena for some of our customers to attend, such as Bob Bischoff of State Farm. 

The success of every business is based on what each individual accomplishes, on his or her own, through the choices that are made, the attitudes and actions taken. When combined, the corporate team wins and when all corporate teams combine, the industry wins.

Carl Tompkins is the Western states area manager for Sika Corp., Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash.


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