Windscreen replacement and repair firm insists customer service will not be affected

To read Insurance Times’s talking points on this story, click here.

UK insurers have said they will continue to support Autoglass after its decision to shut some of its branches and make staff redundant.

The windscreen replacement company will close its 36-staff call centre and an estimated 16 out of its 101 branches nationwide, with jobs also set to go at its head office, as reported in Insurance Times last week.

But most insurers have said it will have no impact on customer service levels.

The company, which has been hit by the mild weather and fall in vehicle use by hard-pressed motorists, is a big supplier of most of the major insurers, including Allianz, Aviva, AXA, Direct Line Group and RSA.

AXA personal lines chief claims officer Robin Reames said: “We are currently reviewing our glass supplier arrangements across both personal and commercial lines as part of a re-tendering process and it would therefore not be right for us to comment on one particular supplier or what our specific plans are at this stage.

“The uncommonly mild weather has seen a decline in the usual glass claims volumes that we would expect to see in the winter time and this is undoubtedly a key factor.

“These seasonal variations are a challenge to all glass suppliers, not just Autoglass, as they have to be manned and prepared for spikes in activity due to adverse weather that may not come.

“This is not a particularly unusual reaction by a large glass supplier seeking to control costs.”

Other companies have said that the changes made at Autoglass would have no impact on the level of service provided to their policyholders, but they would continue to monitor the situation.

Allianz, Aviva and Direct Line Group all said they had been assured there would be no adverse impact on customers, with Allianz’s spokesman adding: “We will be monitoring the situation very closely to make sure the experience of our customers remains in line with our service level agreement.”

A spokesman for RSA, for whom Autoglass undertakes most of the company’s vehicle window repairs, said: “We have a strong relationship with Autoglass and their recent announcement will not affect this, our partnership will continue as usual.”

A source told Insurance Times that 500 jobs could go with the closure of around 16 of its offices, but a spokesman for Autoglass said that less than half that figure was under consideration.

The shake-up will result in the closure of the company’s Bardon-based call centre in Leicestershire, job cuts at its head office in Bedford where 230 employees work and the closure of some of its 101 branches.

The spokesman said that staff were being consulted and Autoglass would work closely with those affected to find them new roles within the company where possible, redeploying personnel from branches being closed to those with excess capacity.

The company said that the closure of the call centre came at a time when people were increasingly using the internet for service.

The spokesman said: “As a result of the recent mild winters and tough economic environment, the vehicle glass repair and replacement industry as a whole is experiencing a lower demand, and this move will ensure Autoglass continues to operate a robust business model and offer the same high standard of customer service to its 1.5 million customers.”

One of Autoglass’s main rivals is Auto Windscreens, which ran into trouble last year. In February 2011, Auto Windscreens announced that 1,042 jobs would go after it went into administration. Some assets, jobs and the brand name were saved by Markerstudy.

This week, Auto Windscreens announced it had introduced a regional sales team to support its national force, recruited extra technicians across the country, and boosted employee numbers in the call centre at its Chesterfield headquarters.

Talking points …

● Windscreen replacement firms have felt the squeeze over the past year due in part to milder weather and a drop in vehicle use. What steps can companies take to mitigate the impact of such adverse conditions?

● Some insurers, including Aviva and Admiral, switched providers from Auto Windscreens after it went into administration last year. But insurers largely have stuck by Autoglass despite its recent travails. Will they continue to show their support or chop and change between providers to get the best deal and service level?

● Auto Windscreens was rescued by Markerstudy and has since expanded steadily. Is it putting pressure on Autoglass as a competitor?