Understanding the Progressive Disease

November 27, 2007 by
Filed under: Collision Repair Industry 

We are under attack from a virus as deadly to your shop’s health as the aids virus is to your physical health. That is not a dramatic overstatement. It is a depressing fact. Our industry’s immune system is in such bad shape that I don’t see how it can fend off this disease. The irony of it all would be hilarious if it was happening to some other industry, but because we are affected by the collateral damage of Progressive’s viral mutation I can find little to laugh about.

As I explained in my recent column about the spread of the “Progressive Disease,” employees are leaving Progressive in herds. Not just low level appraisers, but mid and upper level managers as well. One visit to jobvent.com will clearly illustrate why. Progressive is ranked number two in the “I hate my job” column. Jobvent.com is a website where happy or disgruntled employees can spout off about how great or crappy their job is. Peter Lewis must be so proud.

One side effect of this mass defection is that these unhappy Progressive employees are now working at other insurance companies, making the once happy employees of those companies as miserable as the defectors were at Progressive.

I had a long conversation with one such employee the other day. Many people have the false impression that I hate insurance people and they hate me. Nothing could be further from the truth. I sympathize with most of the appraisers I deal with. And their jobs are only getting worse. So appraisers often confide in me and occasionally I get some good insight into the inner workings of a particular company.

To prevent any negative effects of this conversation I had the other day, I will refrain from naming names. Let me just assure you that this appraiser works for a large company, well known by most of us. This appraiser was at my shop for a supplement on a very minor hit. The supplement was totally unnecessary, but because of the ravaging effects of the Progressive disease, he had omitted many necessary procedures from his estimate.

Now before I go on, let me speak to the many insurance personnel reading this. If you just let your appraisers write a halfway decent estimate, especially on small hits, chances are you won’t hear from the shop for a supplement. But once the appraiser has to come back for a supplement, for something he should have paid for in the beginning, you can bet that he’ll be paying for things that we shop estimators may have ignored or overlooked if the estimate was written correctly in the first place. I’m not going to bother a good appraiser for $20, but if he’s writing a supplement anyway, I’m going to make sure he pays that $20 and then I’m going to look hard for other items to add to the supplement. But, hey, you all know best, right?

So this appraiser started explaining the infestation of his once fine insurance company by the programmed zombies from Progressive. One of the top positions at the company was filled by a stolen Progressive executive. And the self-replication began. This new executive called over some of his favorite upper level managers, who in turn invited some of their favorite middle managers to leave Progressive for the once greener pastures of this new company. Next thing you know, you’ve got a virtual clone of Progressive, with all the same problems, for both this insurance company’s employees, and the shops that have to deal with the newly disgruntled appraisers.

The irony is that Progressive created their own problem. Their mutineers even brought along all of Progressive’s paperwork, programs and gimmicks to their new company. Progressive armed these zombies with everything necessary to destroy Progressive’s position in the insurance market, and then gave these poor bastards the reason and incentive to jump ship and help another insurance company compete with Progressive.

And the irony gets deeper. These ex-employees of Progressive, these brain washed zombies who hated their jobs and the people they worked for, bring along with them to their new home all the structure and mentality of the company they hated. It is Progressive’s culture that everyone hates. Shops hate it, most of Progressive’s employees hate it and many of Progressive’s customers end up hating it too. It is this culture that Progressive’s disgruntled employees abandon, only to bring it with them and spread it throughout their new work place. It makes no sense to those of us who have not been to Progressive’s re-education camps.

The re-education does not stop with the move to a new company. Employees at all levels of this unmentioned insurance company now go through what they call “recalibration.” Nice term! Machines are re-calibrated. Progressive and its defectors have dehumanized the who process of re-education.

The recalibration works like this. One of the top level claims idiots has a wreck towed to the insurance company office, or they go to one of their salvage auction yards to find a wreck. The head cheapskate writes an estimate on the wreck. Keep in mind now that since this fool is an ex Progressive employee, he probably has no repair experience and only knows what he was taught in his two day estimate writing class at Progressive’s re-education camp. A group of middle managers now write their own estimates on the same vehicle. These estimates are then compared with the top fool’s estimate. His is the baseline, or benchmark against which the other estimates are measured. Each estimate is scored based on how close it is to the benchmark. And pity the fool who comes up with a higher estimate.

These middle managers then conduct the same exercise with the people they supervise, and so it goes on down the line. The purpose of this exercise is to use intimidation to “persuade” employees to adjust their thought process to keep costs on the downward move. Positive reinforcement is given to those employees who come up with lower estimates than the benchmark, and…well, do I need to say what happens if the benchmark is exceeded by a significant amount. In one such test the car had a quarter panel that was flattened. It should have been replaced, but some might repair it for 12 or more hours. The benchmark was written at 5 hours repair.

One of the questions asked during a job interview for a management position is something like, “What do you think is your ability to convince an appraiser that something he used to pay $3.00 (hazardous waste removal?) now should only be $2.50?” This is the thought process that is being systematically spread throughout most insurance companies by the infected former employees of Progressive.

Hiring mid level managers can be tricky. Ex Progressive personnel want ex Progressive personnel in those positions. The brainwashing has already been completed. But there are people who have been working at the company for years who apply for these positions. What’s an ex Progressive nincompoop to do? One thing he can do is have his ideal candidate get hired as an appraiser for the company. Then after working for the company for six months, he can promote that person to the management position. It is then “hiring from within” and none of the other appraiser applying for the position can complain, because another appraiser got the job. True story, by the way.

The culture of fear is used at all levels. Every estimate is reviewed three times at this unmentioned insurance company. The appraiser writes the estimate, takes the photos and uploads everything onto the company computer system. The appraiser’s direct supervisor then “scores” the estimate on a scale of 1 to 3. Subjectivity is the key to the culture of fear. Using photos and notes only, the appraiser’s direct supervisor critiques the estimate and audits it for items that should not be on the estimate, too many repair hours, painting partial panels, etc. That score is recorded and the average is used in decisions for pay raises and company advancement.

Once the appraiser’s direct supervisor has scored the estimate, the supervisor’s supervisor scores the estimate, paying close attention to how the direct supervisor scored it. The supervisor’s supervisor is scoring the scoring job. No one is without the pressure of subjective and oppressive scrutiny. With this chain of oversight there is a constant downward pressure on the average estimate dollar amount. It’s a fantastically effective system if you are a share holder in the company, or a brown nosing executive wannabe.

If you are just a poor sap in the field trying to do your job without pissing off everyone you come into contact with, it’s a nightmare.

Progressive insurance, a company built on supposedly “progressive” ideals is the North Korea of the insurance industry. There is nothing Progressive about the way they do business or treat their employees. More irony. They hire young college grads—who in reality are some of the most ignorant and naive people in our society—indoctrinate them (one of the reasons they hire young college grads is because they have just been through four years of mind numbing indoctrination and will believe anything they are told) and put them to work. Unfortunately for Progressive, many of the dumb college kids evolve into adults with some common sense and realize they are being treated like crap, and/or are being forced to treat others like crap. They wake up from their college induced stupor and look for a better job.

They then spread the disease to their new job. Because, after all, the Progressive way of doing things is all they know. They’re not smart enough to realize that the “program” is the problem, not the company or people they work for or with. They bring the program like a dormant virus to their new place of employment and infect everyone and everything.

Progressive should be furious that their ex employees are bringing with them to their new jobs Progressive’s trade secrets, documents (some of the documents are just copied and the Progressive name and logo are blacked out with magic marker), systems and programs.

When the appraiser finished his stories, I asked him how he manages the resistance from shops when he refuses to pay full paint time, R&I’s, color tinting, blending, buffing, etc. He laughed. He’s gotten little resistance. In fact, he commented about the surprised reactions he is getting from his bosses when they hear how little resistance we repairers give to these disastrous changes. With little resistance, they are only emboldened to turn up the pressure to cut costs and steal money from us.

That’s the only part of our conversation that got me pissed off. I can understand an insurance company trying to save money and using any tactic they can to do it. But I expect those being hurt by these tactics to fight back. You people are doomed, and you more than deserve your fate. Maybe I should go to work for the insurance companies and help them fleece the ignorant fools in this industry. It would be child’s play. Indeed, those who refuse to help themselves deserve no help from others. If I could only get rid of this conscious.

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4 Comments on Understanding the Progressive Disease

  1. mike sorel on Wed, 28th Nov 2007 6:52 am
  2. great article, you must be talking about travelers or the hartford, i had the same conversation the other day with an appraiser

  3. Bob Isham on Wed, 28th Nov 2007 8:22 am
  4. John has once again brought to our attention a serious problem in our industry. Sadly our so called industry leaders are sleeping, mostly with the insurers, and really don’t care about the fleecing of our industry.

    The good news is that Progressive is losing market share and its only sales gain has been in big commerical lines (mostly heavy trucks). It would seem obvious that when the disease spreads it will cause a similar flattening of sales in the companies these people have migrated into. Maybe a light will get turned on an insurance companies will realize that fairness in claims is not only a virture but a sure fire way to grow their business? State Farm (far from being a choir boy) realized that the use of imitation and CRAPA parts was hurting sales and they changed and have a current reputation for being fair. State Farm has grown, Progressive has shrunk.
    Shops need to capitalize on their power to persuade customers to seek better insurance companies.

    I see no hope for the “average” sadly stupid collision shop owner who will not fight back. They are all hoping the rates will go up and things will get better. In the meantime a lot of them will shift to doing restorations, building “totals” and fraud.

    I liken the insurer fraud to the way, over a hundred years ago, that some people cheated the immigrants who could not speak or understand English. It is almost like a lot of shops are not literate enough to know they are being cheated.

    Keep up the great work John.

    Bob Isham
    New Image Paint and Body
    Tempe, Arizona

  5. Skitch Davis on Wed, 28th Nov 2007 12:17 pm
  6. I have my customers contact their agents of whom sold them the nearly worthless coverage. Then the agents are made aware of the defective product they are selling to his customer ‘victims’.

  7. K Wise on Thu, 14th Feb 2008 6:06 pm
  8. Ok, granted Progressive is one of the harder carriers to deal with, but let’s look at some of our practices. I have been in the business a very long time. When I started in the late 70’s, we didn’t scrutinize every little operation or minor omission that an adjuster had on his estimate. We looked at the big picture – that is, could we make a decent profit on the job, etc. If we could, we repaired the car -we didn’t nickel and dime the insurance company with environmental fees, seam sealer marked up 400% etc. Now most of us spend more time having the shop estimator screw with minor supplements than we do repairing the car! With volume comes profit – that is as old as business and as true today as it was 35 years ago. I won’t see it, but I can guarantee you that the days of metal work are numbered. Our industry is going to go the way of the horse and buggy within 15 years. How many of you all are dealing with composites, carbon fibre panels, etc? I have no lost love for insurance carriers, but there is going to come a day when we will be begging for SOMEONE, ANYONE to drop their car off for repairs…

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