Accident management has rarely been top of the agenda for dealers, let alone a subject worthy of national media attention.
That all changed in October when former Home Secretary Jack Straw railed against the lawyers, claims firms, garages and credit hire firms engaged in the referral fee ‘racket’.
“Motorists fleeced of £2 billion a year”, screamed the Daily Mail, reporting on evidence presented to a House of Commons Transport Committee.
Straw described claims management companies as ‘parasitic’, while Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly reiterated the Government’s intention to outlaw referral fees.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, getting an on-the-record comment from a major dealer group proved tricky.
One told us: “There are certainly some excessive referral fees being passed down, but in many cases referral fees are fair enough.
"They have become an income stream for dealers.”
Steve Evans, chief executive at Accident Exchange, was more forthcoming.
He confirms that these comments have been the hot topic in the industry, but believes they might not have been as damaging as first feared.
“Everybody has read the Daily Mail, but awareness of the regulatory issue remains relatively low among the motoring public,” he said.
“It is not until someone actually has an accident that they consider whether they are getting good value for money.
“That aside, the biggest issue facing the accident management industry is the volume of activity – there is oversupply and too many people trying to make a quick buck.
"Business is still hard because of the recession – traffic volume has reduced so the accident rate is low.
“We work with several hundred dealer groups and get them to focus on the relationship with the customer before they have an accident.
“All customer-facing staff must tie the bodyshop into the dealership.
"Whether you are selling a car, a service or just engaging with the customer, let them know you have a bodyshop and a 24/7 telephone number to call in the event of an accident.
“If you don’t make it clear that your scheme is relevant, with a product for both fault and non-fault, within a couple of hours of an accident someone else will have intervened and taken the customer away.
“We use mystery shoppers to compare the performance of our dealers and provide feedback as to whether they are creating revenue consistently and at the right level.
"Marketing has to be much more than just a leaflet on the desk and those dealer groups that have invested over the last couple of years have been more successful.”
Martin Dowding, of MSX International, used to work for Ford and helped to design its bodyshop programme.