Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Foundational building blocks for the next generation restoration company

Radical changes are coming our way in restoration. It is time to start a dialog about not only the changes that companies can make, but also next-generation characteristics a successful restoration company. 

This requires looking not only into insurance and restoration trends, but also advances in the areas of business and technology. Many dynamic elements are at work, with an endpoint that is unknown. What is known, however, is the fact that things are going to look different than they do today. Throughout the course of this series I will explore some of the root causes of the challenges, as well as the resulting impacts and considerations for excelling in an uncertain environment.

Claims management has become quite confusing with such ongoing issues that need to addressed as internally managed vendor programs, third-party administrators, working with the restoration franchises, specialty vendors, full service restoration contractors and more. The challenge comes with undertaking the challenge of trying to unwrap the contributing factors to these challenges and then set a coarse to succeed in this ever-changing world. Making predictions about claims management will be difficult given the fact that the insurance world appears to be unclear on their own direction. 

Setting the table for uncertainty, as well as a need for insurance companies to adapt their strategy. One of the biggest changes to insurance is the development of new technology. Things like mobile communication, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and cloud computing may seem futuristic, but are actually playing a role in insurance and claims management today. When we understand how these issues impact and drive the claims settlement, we can then be more aware of how we can support this process. 

The insurance world of yesterday was fairly simple. Property owners would drive to their corner agent and purchase needed coverage from the same company that had been writing their policies for years—and perhaps, for that matter, even had their parent’s coverage prior. Today, people can sit at their computer or smart phone and pull up quotes from dozens of companies instantaneously. Analytics allow these companies to quickly determine if this is a desired client for the company and offer a competitive or expensive policy, thus speeding the underwriting process. Most every mainline insurance company allows policy holders to purchase through agents or direct through their website or ‘apps.’  A new wave of virtual insurance companies is hitting the market using analytics to screen clients, A.I. (artificially intelligence) computers to fill the sales channels and even the claims adjusting process. These new companies will offer a different insurance price point and also service level. Many of today’s younger clients are more comfortable communicating with and through computers, which will help facilitate this process of automation. 

The claims side of technology is nearly dramatic as the sales side. Insurance companies realize that there are substantial cost savings through utilizing technology. The first thing to understand is that nearly 80% of an insurance company’s costs are associated with claims fulfillment. When these companies need to make financial adjustments to their business, it is natural to start reviewing settlement costs from first notice of loss through conclusion. Technology will have a huge impact in all areas of this process. Companies realize they need to take action to speed cycle time, reduce fraud, improve service, eliminate redundant processes and cut claims administrative time. These adjustments will have direct impacts on profitability in their business. 

The future of claims relies on tying the communication systems, starting with first notice of loss. The customer could conceivably connect with the insurance company on their smart phone, showing impacted areas and verifying actual damage. This limits fraud and also starts the documentation process. This process will improve the subrogation success as well due to more timely and detailed documentation. The in-house adjuster or even artificial intelligence systems are able to properly dispatch services, adjusters or even administer payments.

Rather than drawing any conclusions, the intention instead is to lay the groundwork for influences in the insurance world that will impact restoration. I hope that you are starting to see trends that are developing that will be pushed through to contractors. In future columns, I will explore such topics as labor issues, program expectations and contractor impacts.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Customer Service is a Choice

Customer service is not an activity or a department rather it is an attitude and series of decisions.  You can take steps in your business to provide exceptional customer service and you may find that this is one of the lowest cost and highest impact changes that you can make in your business. 

Often great service is simply the result of how you do something rather than what you do. When you understand this then you know that great service is all about a decision to speak or act deliberately.

The other day I was at the airport in Chicago getting ready for a flight to Portland.  The captain stepped up to the microphone in the boarding area.  My first thought was that this is not going to be good news.  I have heard pilots in the boarding area only about 2 other times and each was bad news. To my surprise the pilot welcomed us to the flight and thanked us for flying United Airlines.  He continued to tell us about the flight and then said that he looked forward to flying with us that evening.  I was surprised to hear good rather than bad news.  When I stepped on the plane the flight attendant was in her typical place at the door of the airplane and the pilot was standing right next to her welcoming everyone on board and handing out a card that had information about the 757 that we were flying on that evening.  Due to my frequent flyer status I was upgraded to first class on the flight that evening.  During the flight each of the flyers in my cabin was handed a business card from the pilot with a personal thank you note written on the back.  Near the end of the flight there was an announcement from the purser about the cards that were handed out when we entered the plane.  She asked us to look at the cards and if there was a particular mark on the card, those two people should ring there call buttons and the attendant would deliver a bottle of wine to take home, compliments of the captain. 

When I returned home I decided to send a thank you email to Captain Flannigan, since I was holding his business card.  I was surprised that not only did he return a message, but he also visited our company website and made some personal comments about the business that my father and I had built.  I was struck by this attention by someone that comes into contact with so many customers, every day.  Once again I sent a follow up note to express my surprise at his attention and to say thank you.  I received another letter with his thoughts and philosophy on customer service. 

This is an interesting story and when you look at the details, there are a couple of really salient points to be taken from this series of events.  The first thing that comes to mind is that if the pilots on every plane took the same time and effort to appreciate their clients it could make a huge difference to the company.  Another thing that I noticed was that this set of events cost very little if any money or time.  This pilot did not spend any more time to deliver exceptional customer service, rather he made deliberate decisions on how to spend his time.  At this point you should realize that this example of great service was simply a personal decision to deliver great service. 

Since my flight I have seen Captain Flannigan featured in the Wall Street Journal, several email updates and a book.  What would be the impact if the airline could harness this effort and embark on a companywide campaign to deliver exceptional service on every flight?  I suspect that this would be an incredible undertaking but perhaps might be worth the effort – this low cost, high impact campaign could transform an airline.  At the same time this engagement would need to be genuine rather than scripted.

What can you do in your business that empowers and challenges your front line staff to dramatically exceed your customer’s expectations?  You may be lucky and have a couple of motivated people that will perform exceptionally well, but that will not often happen without your guidance.  Your challenge is to create a company culture that causes your employees to make a decision and take steps to deliver their service in a deliberate and exceptional manner – it could transform your business.

I had a great employee working for me about 15 years ago.  I knew that he had a desire to create cheerleader clients on every project.  I would challenge him in the morning before going to a new job to come back with a letter of recommendation.  He came back one day and told me that we would definitely get a letter from this client.  Several days later we received a glowing recommendation.  After the letter arrived I started to wonder what he had done to get the letter.  Brian explained that the customer took a lot of interest in what he was doing and would watch his work and talk. She mentioned that she was having a problem with her interior doors sticking.  He said that he adjusted the doors so they would all shut properly.  After congratulating him for the great work it crossed my mind that this must have taken a lot of time and perhaps I had to do a better job of defining boundaries in serving our customers.  He told me that it was a quick fix and took about fifteen minutes and since he usually only takes a fifteen minute lunch he took care of the doors during his break.  Brian and the crew that we had working with us at that time consistently delivered exceptional customer service.  Our company was recognized for consistently delivering great service.  This become a competitive advantage for our company and helped us excel in our market. 

Both of the situations outlined above were similar since it was a decision to exceed the customer’s expectation rather than a program, campaign or department.  In some cases you may be lucky to have great employees that are driven to excel.  In most situations you have great staff members that will take the extra step when challenged or directed.  As a leader in your business, it is your job to provide an environment where your employees will flourish and take initiative.  Customer service is a decision not a department.  Provide a foundation with training on customer service, define the client’s baseline expectations and then create an environment where your staff is motivated, encouraged and rewarded to exceed these expectations.  When you take these steps, you are well on your way to transforming your business and creating a sustainable competitive advantage for your business.

Below is a copy of the email correspondence from Captain Flannigan that he has given me permission to reprint.  There are several great customer service ideas here and it provides a great example of how exceptional service can be delivered with an attention to detail and changing the way in which you approach a job, not the time or money spent to exceed expectations. 

I was given permission to use his thoughts in exchange for posting Captain Flannigan’s email address - captdennyflanagan@gmail.com.  Please reply to him if you have any thoughts or questions regarding great customer service.

In the service business the recipe for success is quite easy. Choose your attitude for the day, anticipate your customer’s needs and exceed their expectations. I have a few work philosophies and they have proved effective over the years;

-- I believe that each customer deserves a good travel experience whether on United, American, Continental.........train, bus, taxi or with your best friend in his car. You deserve a safe and comfortable ride.

--Treat each customer as if it is their first flight and have no expectations. ....I lead by example and this helps motivate the crew to do a better job. When they see me stow bags, assist moms with strollers and answer questions as if it is the first time I heard it, they are brought back to their new hire days.

--It is easier to keep the customers you have than to find new ones....United has a devoted sales team to find new customers and it is time consuming and expensive but necessary. My job is somewhat easier and less expensive and that is to provide a safe and customer-oriented service. If I do my job then the folks in the sales department will have less pressure on themselves.

Phillip, I Googled your name and business and was quite impressed what you and your dad have put together. I practice one customer at a time but would love to make a bigger impact. I was on the front page of the WSJ and on the morning shows of CBS, ABC and NBC. If you can use me as an example in your business feel free to do so. It would be nice to know that I have a hand in making this world a better place to live.

Phillip, thanks for flying "The Friendly Skies" of United Airlines. Your business is greatly appreciated. If you are ever on one of my flights again stop up to the cockpit and say hello. If we have time I will go out and buy us a ( cup of coffee).

Phillip Rosebrook JR., CR is a business consultant specializing in helping restoration companies create and achieve a vision for their company.  He has been active in the restoration business since 1988 and is nearing 1 million miles flying with United Airlines. He can be reached at Phillip@businessmentors.net, twitter@busnsmntors or by calling 541 359 4117.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning

After nearly 30 years working in the restoration industry with near 20 years as an advisor to restoration businesses one of the biggest challenges facing companies is a lack of a proactive plan.  We operate in an on-demand emergency business that often leads to justification for reactionary management.  Companies feel that they cannot make plans because they don't know what will happen next week, next month or next year in their business.  I understand this feeling but in reality this is an abdication of responsibility as a leader. When you fail to create a deliberate plan for your business then you are allowing others to determine your priorities and perhaps even direction in your business.  Don’t get me wrong; I understand that many of these companies may have a solid business and perform great work.  That being said they often find that they are living the same day over and over.  If you want to move your business forward and take control of your future then you need a solid, written plan. 

Your strategic plan should consist of the following:
·      Core values/Mission/vision
·      Financial goals and expectations both revenue and profitability
·      Marketing action plan to achieve goals
·      Desired mix of work and desire marketing referral sources
·      Personnel action plan as well as roles and responsibilities
·      Budgeting for the following:
o   Marketing
o   Capital expenses for asset purchases and facilities
o   Training
o   Operations
·      Address limiting factors that will prevent achievement of the plan

Business Mentors has a program where we will help facilitate the development of YOUR strategic plan.  This is a custom plan that is created for your business and includes a three day visit to your company.  We have been providing this service for nearly twenty years and have helped hundreds of companies develop an actionable plan that has been instrumental in creating many successful restoration businesses across North America. 

Please send an email - Phillip@businessmentors.net -  if you would like more information on our planning service. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Growth is optional

Welcome to 2017!  Every year I look at that number for the new year and it surprises me – actually doesn’t look right.  This is a great time for looking forward AND it is a great time to look back to gain perspective.  I four children and as hard as I try, I cannot keep them from growing up.  Perhaps if I used the same development plan as my business I could finally keep my children the same age.  My oldest daughter is now fourteen and will start high school next year.  If I look at my business in 2002 I do not see that radical transformation that I have observed in the growth of my daughter.  Don’t get me wrong, our business is not the same as it was at the time but perhaps much of that can be attributed to simply getting older.  My plan for my business over the next twelve months is to create real development – not just aging.  We started in December by holding a strategic planning meeting and challenging our business assumptions and also looking at how the market is changing.  We want to change with the market and take leaps in our development. 

The interesting thing about business development is that you are not constrained simply by a calendar or typical time. As much as my children want to be older than they are it simply cannot happen.  They may want to drive, but they do not get to drive.  On the other hand if your business has been stuck in time, you are not limited by the calendar for growth.  Napolian Hill said that whatever your mind can conceive and believe, you can achieve.  The same is true for your business.  If you aspire to radically change your business then it can be achieved.  In reality business change is not as easy to accomplish as simply believing – it requires a detailed plan and hard work.

The first step in changing your reality is acknowledgement - recognition of your desire to change and then the status quo.  After recognizing the desire to change then you need to assemble a solid strategic plan.  The details of a plan should be covered in another article.  The point of this article is to get you to understand and think about the reality that you are responsible and ultimately accountable for your business development. 

One of the new programs being offered by Business Mentors in 2017 is a strategic planning program.  Previously we only offered our planning service as a part of our ongoing consulting programs.  We now offer a standalone program where we will be present at your location for three days to provide a detailed and actionable strategic plan for your business.  Please contact me if you have any interest or would like more information.