Mark Devaney peers into the windshields made and installed by Safelite Glass Corporation — and sees a clear industry winner.
Most people don’t think about their windshields until something bad happens to them. Luckily for those driving vehicles with Safelite windshields, bad things rarely happen because there’s not a safer product on the road today. And if something does happen, Safelite offers superior replacement services, claims processing and practically seamless cooperation with many of the nation’s leading insurance companies.Based in Columbus, Ohio, Safelite is one of the leaders in the $3.2 billion auto glass service market, holding approximately 20 percent of the nation’s market share. Safelite offers auto glass service to 85 percent of the nation’s population through its network of service centers, warehouses and more than 3,000 mobile service vehicles. The company serves 2.3 million auto glass customers every year, which means that one out of every five windshields replaced in the United States is a Safelite product. The company also owns two ISO 9002-certified manufacturing facilities, one in Wichita, Kan., and the other in Enfield, N.C. The facility in Enfield is also ISO 9001-certified.
“Not only do we make windshields, but we sell them wholesale and we supply our own stores,” says John Barlow, Safelite’s president and chief executive officer. “We install windshields and other auto glass, and we also act as a third-party administrator for dozens of national and regional insurance and fleet companies. We wholesale our own line of windshield repair supplies and shop supplies as well. Basically, Safelite is the only company in the industry that touches every part of the auto glass service experience, from fabrication of the glass to installation, from the customer’s first call to the insurance company to the electronic payment for the insurance claim.”
Job One: Safety
Safelite uses the highest quality techniques and materials available to ensure the safest and most effective replacement and repair services. Its technicians are certified by the National Glass Association, the only multilevel certification program explicitly designed for auto glass installers. In addition, each technician takes part in ongoing training to keep current with advances in automobile design.
“Safety is our No. 1 product, whether we are fabricating windshields at our plants in Wichita or Enfield, or installing a windshield at a home in Boston or in an office in Los Angeles,” says Steve Micheli, vice president of manufacturing and distribution operations. “In fact, ‘safe’ is part of our name. It hearkens back to the ’40s, when Safelite was founded. Back then, a window was called a ‘lite,’ so the car windows built and installed by our company were ‘Safelites.'”
Every Safelite-manufactured windshield must meet the exacting standards of quality and safety put forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation, based on the American National Standard Z26.1. Safelite’s windshields are fabricated with industry-standard materials, including flat glass, polybutyl vinyl and biodegradable lead-free paint. The company’s nationwide warranty on materials and workmanship protects customers as long as they own or lease their vehicles.
Just as important as the safety inherent in the manufacture of the glass, however, is the safety of the installation. An unsafe installation can result in a windshield that pops out in a rollover accident or flies free when hit by an airbag, causing serious injury to those in the car. A properly installed windshield is actually an important structural component of the vehicle, supporting the car’s roof and acting as a deflector to the airbag, as well as keeping occupants safely within the vehicle.
Safelite uses a variety of state-of-the-art urethanes designed to cure quickly and safely in different climatic conditions. Designed in concert with its urethane supplier, the company’s proprietary Pro-Cut installation method takes advantage of these urethanes’ strength to provide maximum adhesion and a fast, convenient cure time. In addition, Safelite was the first company in the auto glass industry to publish a cure-time caution on invoices, which informs customers of the safe drive-away time for their vehicles.
“We train, retrain, test and enforce our installation standards,” says Glen Moses, director of technical quality programs. “Our national team of trainers travels to Safelite stores and rides with installers, demonstrating new techniques and then training and coaching. Safelite installers are kept abreast of new installation techniques as well as updates from the vehicle manufacturers that can affect installation practices. Safelite also enforces our installation standards with a zero-tolerance compliance policy.”
Service on the Road
“Safelite also helps our customers save money with high-quality windshield repair,” says Dee Uttermohlen, manager of retail marketing. “These repairs can safely stop cracks and chips from spreading, and most insurance companies will pay the deductible for repairs, so it’s free to customers. In addition, windshield repair helps insurance companies hold down glass services costs – and those savings may be passed on to consumers through lower premiums.”
The most popular method of auto glass service is mobile service – and, of course, Safelite is an industry leader in this category, too. Nearly 75 percent of Safelite’s business is done mobile. In some markets, the technicians provide “virtual delivery,” working from their vans with support from a nearby warehouse and centralized scheduling facility. “Auto glass is often an unexpected repair, and we try to make it as easy as possible for our customers with fast, convenient appointment times and mobile service that comes to their home or office,” says Uttermohlen.
Mobile service has led the auto glass industry to significant advancements in adhesive technology. When a replacement is done in the shop today, the installer can control the environmental conditions and can hold the car as long as needed to ensure a safe cure. With mobile installations, urethanes need to be more forgiving of heat, cold and humidity. In the interests of safety and customer service, Safelite has invested in a high-tech group of urethanes that can accommodate temperatures from 5 degrees Fahrenheit to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with cure times as short as two hours for a car with an airbag.
Claims to Fame
More than 11 million auto glass service incidents take place every year, and 70 percent of these are influenced by the insurance industry. That is why Safelite concentrates on working with insurance companies to find ways to lower claims costs and increase service to auto policyholders. Today, Safelite processes claims for more than 200 local, regional and national auto insurance providers, including a majority of the 20 largest carriers.
Outsourcing auto glass claims processing used to be an option a few insurance companies exercised to cut costs and reduce administrative expenses on high-frequency, low-cost claims. But because of improved technologies, auto glass is no longer an inexpensive claim. Also, increased competition within the insurance industry is continuing to squeeze profitability.
Safelite has developed programs that allow insurers to save on administrative expenses through outsourcing billing, auditing and call-center functions. Because Safelite professionals specialize in auto glass claims, the company’s accuracy and efficiency in these areas lead the industry. The investments Safelite has made in programming, hardware and software have resulted in claims-outsource solutions that benefit clients of all sizes.
Safelite provides savings to insurers through volume pricing and its Network Affiliate program, which connects clients to its more than 8,000 network affiliate shops and audits shop invoices to uncover errors and overcharges. Safelite also offers SmartPay, a feature that captures any lost savings by administering to the insurance company’s reasonable and customary market rates.
With more than 900 professionally trained associates in three national call centers, Safelite offers industry-leading first notice of loss capabilities and performance. Its fully integrated internal communication network schedules drivers for Safelite service without even transferring the customer to a store or separate scheduling facility, meaning shorter call times and happier customers. According to a recent survey, 98 percent of consumers would recommend Safelite to a friend; Safelite’s call centers consistently enjoy satisfaction ratings above 99 percent.
The claims processing program designs vary based on each client’s needs and goals. But their common denominator is the commitment, capabilities and accountability Safelite gives to every client – and the relationship Safelite builds based on mutual respect, trust and integrity.
That is true partnership.