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Getting Your Windshield Replaced: One Editor's Story

by Deb Levy

About once every eight years, it happens. The glass in one of my family cars breaks. Such was the case a few weeks ago when the windshield in the family van cracked. Never wanting to miss the opportunity to do a little fieldwork for™/AGRR magazine, I made the call with an eye toward listening carefully to see if my work would be directed (some say steered) to a particular auto glass repair provider.

Years ago, my car had been rear-ended in a relatively minor fender bender. I had been so impressed with how I was treated by the insurance company of the lady who had run into me that I changed our own insurance to her company shortly after we settled the claim.

That company was Erie Insurance. On my Erie Insurance card it clearly says that if you have glass damage exclusively, you should call Erie's Glass Central. Since I work in the industry, I know that Erie's glass claims are administered by Safelite Solutions, the claims administration arm of Safelite Auto Glass.

I called the shop I intended to use, which I knew to have an agreement with Erie, and told them I'd be sending them the work. My plan was to ask for a shop that I knew did not have a contract agreement with neither Safelite nor Erie and see what happened. Then I would ultimately choose the closest AGRSS-registered company, Glass America in nearby Fredericksburg. (Glass America knew nothing of my experiment, by the way.)

I called Erie Insurance and was put on hold. I was told in a recording that Erie's glass claims were administered by Safelite Solutions, and that Safelite Solutions was a company that had a financial interest in Safelite Auto Glass.

Then a pleasant, very efficient CSR came on the line and took my information. She told me at least twice that I had the right to choose my auto glass service provider. I gave her the name of one I thought not to be "on the network." "Good news," she said, "They are one of our preferred providers."

I tried another company that I believed was not on the network. They were. I tried three times in total and struck out each time-each of the companies I suggested was on Erie's preferred provider list. So I then asked for Glass America and thought I'd call it a day.

Now, at this point, I was really kicking myself. I had thought the shops I mentioned prior to Glass America were non-network shops, but conditions must have changed so much in the glass industry that this was no longer the case. I should have updated my records before I called.

As I went through my list, the CSR did nothing to suggest a particular shop and she repeated twice that I could pick whomever I wanted, which I did. I did not in any way feel directed and she did not in any way try to "steer" me. I can't tell if that would have changed if I had requested a non-network shop.

Thinking the experiment was over, I mentioned the company I intended to use and the CSR completed my information. Then a funny thing happened. She asked me for my e-mail. I put myself in the place of a normal consumer, and asked why she wanted it and what would happen with it.

By the end of our exchange, which you can hear by clicking on the video box to the right, she had told me that Erie Insurance would not be keeping my e-mail address or would be using it in anyway. And the shop I chose, she said, would not get access to the e-mail. Who ended up with it? Safelite Solutions. But, she said, other than sending out a scheduling notice, Safelite wouldn't use it for anything either.

That didn't turn out to be exactly accurate. I did receive the scheduling notice she mentioned later that day. I have to admit that if I was an average consumer it might look to me like Safelite is "assigning" the work to Glass America. It also told me if I needed to make any scheduling changes I should call Safelite Solutions. At the bottom, it thanked me for using a Belron US company.

A few days after the work was completed, I got another e-mail. This one asked me to rate the service I received. It asked me a whole bunch of questions about the shop that did my installations and not so many questions about Safelite Solutions' role the transaction. I conclude from this that Safelite Solutions is able to gather customer satisfaction information, including strengths and weaknesses, about companies that did the installation work whether or not they are owned by Safelite or one of its competitors.

Perhaps this is part of the agreement(s) among Erie, Safelite Solutions and the shops with whom they have signed agreements. I would be interested (and surprised) if this practice was used after work done by shops that do not have any contracts with either party. Perhaps our readers can enlighten me further.

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