Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Path Less Traveled

Over the past several months our family has been wresting with the decision of where our oldest daughter will attend high school this next year.  I started to think about the words of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken.  In the summary of the poem he states that he took “the one less traveled by and that made all the difference.”  I suppose the only way to know for sure is if he could have followed someone else taking the other path.  Perhaps the other path would have lead to a better destination. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Life is a series of decisions and the person that you become is the result of the choices you make and the impacts of the paths that you take.  The subject of the poem discusses the potential of returning and taking the other path at a later time.  In reality, the sigh of the author expresses an understanding that paths not taken are rarely, if ever, explored.  I guess this leaves the need to fully accept the rewards and consequences of the paths you take.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

The introspection for you individually and in your business is to first realize that there may be more than one path to take and secondly to make good decisions along the way.  My father has told me that life is something that is lived forward and understood backward.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to understand forward and then live the predictable results of the paths that you take?  It sure would be easier to have full confidence in our daily decisions.  In reality this would come with another set of challenges as we try and cope with a predictable life.  I would opine that we would also become less of a complete person by avoiding the inevitable challenges that create the character of the person we will become.  I look back on my life and realize that true growth has come through the challenges and setbacks, more than success.

Your opportunity is to make choices and walk a path to find the joys, challenges and enjoy the journey.  I think the best you can ask for is to have wisdom in your decisions and where necessary to have good advice that makes decisions easier and help you overcome challenges that inevitably will arise. 

You will create the ending to your own poem that states, “I took responsibility for the path that I chose, and I own the results of those decisions.”  You will become the result of the decisions you make and also the paths that you realized you should have taken.  It is important to occasionally think about your previous decisions to learn the impact of those decisions and to avoid similar mistakes in the future.  It is also critical to realize that your current reality is the result of your previous decisions.  Taking responsibility for where you are in life is an important step in accessing opportunities in the future.

Consider embracing the attitude of those that practice Zen and live fully in your day, today.  If you practice Zen then you understand that there is no tomorrow and no yesterday – you only have today.  I like to take bits and pieces of this practice for my own use and enjoy the memories of yesterday and also learn from the failures, so I can prevent them in the future.  I also will make decisions today that will benefit my family, my business, my community and me, for tomorrow.  I endeavor to do all of this while embracing the simple joys of today. 

Wishing you much joy and success in your decisions today and delight in the uncertainty of tomorrow.

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 -  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, 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 - -  if you would like more information on our planning service.