Tag Archive | "communication"

Streamlining the Inspection Process with Technology

There are both positive and negative aspects to performing the same task over and over. By doing so, we develop methods that work best for us, both as individuals and teams, and we build confidence after repeated successes. Countering that are the effects of stagnation and complacency. How many automotive shops still in business use outdated computers, scanners, and paper forms? Inspectors, how many of you are using standalone cameras, maps, and desktop computers? Throughout our industry, technology is not being kept up with. The time to eliminate paper, deliver real-time inspection results, and keep all involved parties simultaneously up to date is here. Having the capability to operate at this level is not in the future, years away, but is available now.

Warranty companies, as do all businesses, want to remain profitable. Typically, this is achieved by providing solid service and/or products in a timely manner. Perhaps our industry’s largest obstacle in providing coverage in a “timely manner” is the claims and inspection process. The generation of a claim requires phone time for service writers and adjusters alike. Some warranty companies offer relatively quick web-based claim generation, while others choose to allow one-hour plus telephone wait times. As an inspector, these differences are often brought to light at repair facilities. Frequently, requests are made for warranty companies to “get a website!” These requests typically come from service writers and management who become perturbed by the lengthy processes. The use of email, private messaging or online chatting could speed up many parts of the claims process, particularly for simple claims.

Inspection services serve the warranty companies, the public, repair facilities, insurance companies and just about anyone who would like a car to be inspected for a fee. Each of the multitude of functions an inspection service performs requires different web forms, access methods, and people to be involved. Timelines for service turnaround are critical for these companies and given the effort and expense involved, technology can help out considerably. Some warranty companies are extraordinarily easy to work with, using web, email, phone, text, voice reporting, and mobile web access. There are other inspection companies that solely reply on the telephone, web, and fax machines.

The people who operate repair facilities bear the largest part of the warranty process burden: customer satisfaction. Collectively, our customers are the path to success. Three-day inspection turnarounds (from the time a repair order is written), coupled with a clouded understanding of policy coverage hinder a repair facility’s ability to deliver the timely service customers demand. This can be assuaged by simple smartphone apps (from the repair facilities and warranty companies) that provide specific policy coverage, and allow for vehicle status tracking and collective communication between all involved parties.

Our industry’s inspectors face concerns juggling warranty companies, inspection services, and repair facilities. While all of these disparate entities are vying for the inspector’s attention, the need for a streamlined inspection approach is not just a matter of convenience, but one of necessity. Between traffic, communication issues and all of the other factors involved in performing an inspection, it is not surprising to find inspectors (and everyone else involved) to be frustrated with obstacles that interfere with getting the job done quickly and accurately. Despite these challenges, inspectors are called upon to be the voice of logic, fact and sound judgment. This becomes easier to achieve when technology is brought to bear and used to its fullest. Should a repair facility challenge inspection results, the immediacy of fast photo delivery and findings onsite allow for a consensus to be reached without relying solely on after-the-fact information. This also improves relations between repair facilities and inspectors.

Current technology can solve many of the challenges of the warranty industry by simply embracing a few new ideas. Chief among these is the use of smartphone cameras instead of standalone digital models. These cameras are more than sufficient for the purposes of an inspection and the screen on a phone is typically larger than a traditional camera’s, thus enabling the inspector to achieve a higher degree of accuracy and clarity in photographs. Many smartphones have editing functions that allow for circling and highlighting portions of a photo to reinforce the content of a report. The Internet is typically accessible via smartphone and could serve as a real-time medium for picture and report uploading to be done onsite. A major benefit to this is less processing time for inspectors at the day’s end, which improves motivation, organization and timeliness. New camera technologies are now available in the form of fiber optics. These cameras are capable of passing through small gaps and around corners allowing the inspector to verify faults that would otherwise remain unseen; particularly when lack of disassembly is a concern. Exploitation of the audio/video capabilities in a smartphone is useful for documenting noise and difficult-to-photograph subjects. The benefits of using a smartphone extend beyond the technology. As phone technology improves, all aspects of the inspection business can benefit from shrinking equipment costs, compactness, and most importantly, less time consumption.

Improved mobile web applications are easily developed, and can improve expediency for both inspection services and warranty companies. Imagine an inspector receiving notification, accepting, performing, and submitting an inspection with a single, highly portable tool. This would improve efficiency and have the major benefit of near real-time review of reports and findings. If fast enough, it has the potential to allow same-day claim approval/resolution.

The single biggest hurdle to streamlining our industry is cooperation. All involved parties have their own particular economic interests, including the customer. While all the parties in the warranty industry need each other, they are at odds economically. This tends to breed a bit of shortsightedness, stunting people’s ability to cooperate. Business tactics and trade policies do not allow for much sharing of private business practices, but reaching a consensus on technological standards would benefit everyone involved; much the way OBD-II diagnostic standards improved diagnostics and general levels of understanding. A case in point would be this: one inspection company requires a warranty company’s verbal report, followed by the inspection company’s verbal report; A competing inspection company (working for the same warranty company) only requires a single report with photos uploaded at night. This disparity in processes frustrates many who are involved, particularly the repair facilities and inspectors. A simple standard, even if de facto, would make our industry more predictable and profitable.

The uses for modern technology in our business are varied and widespread. The difference in usage can make or break a warranty company, inspection service, inspector, or repair facility. We would all prove wise to start talking and cooperating to improve our industry, lest our differences prevail and we continue dealing with individual processes instead of working towards improving our industry as a whole.

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Good Communications Result in Thorough Inspections

For the inspection process to be thorough and completed speedily and efficiently, effective communication is of utmost importance to all parties involved – the vehicle owner, the warranty company, the repair facility, the technician and the inspector. I started my inspection business in 2000, after working for 20 years as a line technician in independent shops and a GM dealership, ten years as shop foreman at the same GM dealer, then ten years as a service manager in two different GM dealers. During these last 14 years, I have performed too many inspections to remember and have experienced all the communication breakdowns that occur in this business.

These communication breakdowns cost the vehicle owner frustrations and expenses because their vehicle is not repaired speedily. The warranty company experiences frustrations and incurs expenses from delays or inspections that have to be repeated. The repair facility experiences frustrations and incurs expenses because they have bays or lifts tied up waiting on claim approval. The technician experiences frustration and a loss of income because his stall or rack is tied up, or he has to spend his time repeating the testing to demonstrate the failure. The inspector experiences delays in the daily scheduling of his workload, and often has to juggle appointments because an inspection is delayed.

Take this real life example: I received an inspection request from the warranty administrator to check a vehicle’s seat heater grids. I called the dealer to confirm that the vehicle was present at the shop, and the technician was present to demonstrate the failure. The service advisor assured me they were both there, so we set the inspection time at 10 am. I arrived on time at the dealer for the inspection. The service advisor paged the technician to come to the service drive. When the technician arrived at the service drive and retrieved the keys, he said, “Let’s go out to the vehicle.” Once in the vehicle, the technician turned the right and left seat heater controls on. The LED lights illuminated, but only stayed on for approximately 45 seconds. The technician stated this as failure. I asked what part in the system was the failure; he replied that it was the heated seat grids. I then asked what the resistance value of each grid was. The technician said he had not checked them, but thought that must be the problem. I explained to the technician that I was tasked to verify the failure to the seat grids, and to document that failure with photos and videos. He said he would have to remove the front seats to gain access to the connectors. I informed the service manager of the situation, and told him to call me when the technician was ready to demonstrate the failure, and I would return to the dealership to document it.

That was on a Monday morning. Finally, I received a call from the dealership the next Friday at 4:30 p.m., stating they had the seats out and were ready for me. I informed the dealer I was already on another inspection and could not get back to the dealer by the close of business. The service advisor said she had to put the car back together because the customer wanted the vehicle for a trip. I told her to call me when they were ready to demonstrate the failure to the heater grids. The warranty administrator then cancelled the inspection.

The next week, on Thursday, I received a re-inspection request from the warranty administrator. I called the dealer again to confirm the vehicle was present and they were ready to demonstrate the failure. I arrived on Friday morning at 9 am. The technician was upset because he had to remove the seats again. I asked him to check the resistance of the seat heater grids with a digital volt ohm meter. When he tested the seat heater grids they were both within the GM’s specification. The failure was in the memory seat module, not the heater grids.

My contention is this: If the warranty administrator had effectively communicated to the dealer to be prepared to measure the resistance of the seat heater grids on the first inspection request, we would have solved the owners concern two weeks earlier.

Good communication in this instance would have saved the dealer the expense of two dis-assemblies, the owners untold frustration, the technician from double work for the same pay, the warranty administrator extra expense on rental car, huge customer dissatisfaction, and the inspector two trips, two weeks apart, to the dealer while only getting paid for one. If this were a one-time situation it would be different. However in my experience, I have seen vehicles repaired and returned to the owner and have arrived at the the shop only to be provided with a box of used parts. I have also arrived to find a vehicle diagnosed and reassembled, and even had a shop say a vehicle was ready for inspection, only to find no dis-assembly at all when I arrived. I have arrived at repair facilities where the shop was anticipating that I was there to tell them what the failure was. I have arrived at the dealer to find extensive modifications to the vehicle, obvious abuse by the owner, that if the dealer had disclosed, the warranty administrator might have reconsidered the expense of an inspection. All of the cases above are the result of poor communications in the inspection process.

Good Communication between the dealership and the warranty company

The service personnel must give full disclosure and detailed information concerning all failures that they expect the warranty company to pay for. For example: abuse, neglect, modifications, ball joint measurements, DTCs and any tests that have been run. Also, they should let them know if the vehicle has already been repaired.

Warranty adjusters must give the dealer full disclosure of their expectations during the upcoming inspection. For example: their need for ball joint measurement and specifications, their need to know the point of failure, any and all dis-assembly required to get to the point of failure, or any testing which the shop will need to demonstrate to the inspector, thereby demonstrating the failure, any fluid sampling they will require, and notify them that for road testing, the dealer personnel are required to drive the vehicle.

Good Communication between the warranty company and the inspector

Warranty companies have the responsibility to communicate their needs to the inspector in a detailed manner. For example: what they are looking for, if they need fluid samples, the time line for the completion of the inspection, how the warranty company is to receive the inspection information, required measurements, and if they prefer video. Most warranty companies no longer work directly with inspectors, which means that the same good communication needs to occur between the third party broker and the inspector. Inspectors cannot read minds!

Good Communication between the inspector and the dealer to schedule the inspection

The inspector must promptly contact the dealer to schedule an inspection, confirm that the vehicle is at the facility, has the required dis-assembly, that the technician who diagnosed the failure is present to demonstrate the failure, and if a rack is required, confirm the dealer will have one available. It is good to inquire if the dealer has dial indicator equipment if measuring ball joints, and equipment to check the codes! Ask the service advisor for the full service history, as well as the used car inspection repair order and check-over sheet. Be sure to view the technician’s notes on all documents, as these items often reveal preexisting conditions.

Good Communication between the inspector and the technician during the inspection

In the experience of this inspector, good communications between the inspector and the technician is the most critical aspect in a thorough inspection result. The inspector must be familiar with the systems or items that he is requested to inspect, in order to ask the proper questions. If he is not familiar, a little time reading the service manual on the vehicle prior to arriving for the inspection would be a huge asset. There are a lot of services online that can be used to access the data as well.

Asking the proper questions assures the technician that your not the “hatchet man” and are truly interested in helping get the claim paid. The proper questions will reveal if the technician did in fact follow the proper diagnostic procedure to come to his conclusion of the failure. Asking the proper questions also reveals if a technician has the skills to properly diagnose the failure. Being friendly, helpful and asking the right question often times leads to information from the technician that: a.) he may have forgotten from his initial diagnosis, b.) he failed to provide the service advisor, or c.) he intentionally left out of the shop request for an inspection. Communicating that the inspector is willing to “go the extra mile” in allowing the shop to duplicate or demonstrate the failure builds confidence in the inspector’s value to the technician as well.

Good Communication between the inspector and the service advisor/manager after the inspection

Communicating with the service advisor or service manager about what you were able and unable to verify, and the reasons why, builds confidence between the inspector and the service personnel. This also communicates what will be reported to the warranty company. In simpler terms, “no surprises” that will leave the advisor or manager feeling the inspector tried to pull one over on him.

Good Communications between the inspector and the warranty company adjuster after the inspection is completed 

The inspector should communicate the failure and the cause of that failure, as well as all tests that were used in determining the cause of the failure with the warranty company adjuster. Communicating observations, denoting any subtle signs of abuse, such as constant curbing, which would contribute to premature ball joint failure. This includes communicating in both your verbal and written reports the measurements of any suspension modifications. In my opinion, photos and videos are an excellent means of communicating what you have seen. I take multiple photos in varying light conditions, as well as varying positions of an item, to give the adjuster multiple views of the failure. My reports average 40 or more photos, and I have reported as many as 160 photos for one inspection.

I encourage everyone in the inspection process to apply good communication skills to each and every level of the inspection process. The result will be thorough, quality inspections that will result in the satisfaction of all parties.

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Communication for Peoples’ Sake

The automotive industry has seemingly endless avenues for ideas, jobs, and business opportunities. I have walked many of the typical paths in our industry: technician, writer, teacher and now, inspector. Day in and out, I watch people struggle against the challenges that come along with getting their respective jobs done. The most prevalent factor that we all struggle with is interpersonal communication. Modern technology, despite its great advantages, has actually hampered communication. Sure, the messages get sent, the jobs posted, and the repair orders dispatched. But how often do we all run into concerns where human-to-human communication could have solved a problem? The concern is growing and it is affecting our industry negatively, particularly with inspections and compliance consultations.

Our industry is one of people, not just machines. Each and every inspection or consultation affects someone else’s life. The tech works, the parts get sold and the customer drives again. That is food on the table for everyone. A bill gets paid. A long deserved vacation gets traveled. As an inspector, I see this ignored daily. It seems most people worry about their piece of the job, not the overall outcome. When we don’t know each other’s faces, or even voices, folks on the other end of the Internet or phone become a “they”. It becomes “the warranty company” instead of Bob at The Warranty Company. I am “the inspector,” not Trinidad. It is “the car,” not Ms. Smith’s family wagon. It is difficult to maintain this level of consideration when we are all so busy.

Daily, inspectors and consultants around the nation juggle multiple work streams, traffic and critically, the phone. Often we travel almost an hour to get to a job, take the time to get our pictures and call in our reports/status. On a perfect day, there is no traffic, the shop is ready and there is no waiting around for an adjuster to answer the phone. Usually, however, there are traffic jams, shops with resistant staff and phone tag games to play. As an example, I had to travel recently through a major metro area, during rush hour to perform an inspection for a major warranty company. Following multiple voice messages to the writer and manager (with requests for a call back), I decided to risk traveling to the repair shop, even though I did not receive positive confirmation the car was ready. I arrived and was greeted by the writer. I asked if my message was received and was told it had been. I chose to ignore the slight, as I had work to do and needed cooperation. The technician was already highly disturbed I was interrupting his day, and I made it worse by telling him I needed reasonable proof of fault, not anecdotes and pattern fault diagnoses. At last, I completed the information gathering and photos. Then came the dreaded report call. A half hour goes by on hold, devastating the profitability of the job. All of this could have been avoided by spending the time to communicate. No harsh feelings, no rush, only a customer well served and a car well repaired.

It is typically unwise to offer complaint without suggesting a course of resolution. The resolution does not cost much, only patience and a few precious bits of time here and there. If some sort of standard existed, even de facto, we could all have a much better time working together. The four parts of the inspection/consultation business all have a common goal: serve the person who bought and signed the policy that is being put into use. This goal is plainly lost when the people involved are only looking as far as their own involvement. The inspectors are concerned with performing the job efficiently enough to make it worthwhile. The inspection companies are concerned with completion and accuracy to satisfy the warranty company. The warranty company is concerned with making sure their policy is not being taken advantage of. The repair shops/techs want clear information and minimal interruptions to their workflow. Keeping sight of the policyholder and how best to serve them is the missing factor. Ultimately, the entire industry is dependent upon customer satisfaction. The easiest, least expensive and most logical way to achieve that is to collectively work on our communication and simply do what must be done.

Warranty companies state instructions for handling an inspection. It is not too much trouble to have instructions clearly state that communication must take place. Clear instructions from a warranty company help greatly. Simple research into terminology, component location and reduction of information duplication are all common areas that would start improving inspection instruction clarity. Inspection agencies could also help by proofreading and giving feedback to warranty companies when instructions are not clear. Advising repair shops that communicating with the inspector is key to a satisfactory inspection would also assist the inspectors greatly.

Inspection agencies’ assistance as an intermediary between warranty company and inspector is crucial to an inspection being carried out satisfactorily. Ensuring the most suitable inspectors are chosen and held to standard matters when it comes to a dependable flow of information. Often, a warranty company may ask for something that seems illogical or for something that oversteps the typical requirements for an inspection. Prior to assignment, these sort of matters could be ironed out by the inspection agency. For example, requiring underside photos at all four corners, under dash, scan data, and checking for emissions software updates on a window regulator inspection does not makes sense, aside from it being a simple data gathering job. Clarifying the rationale behind this sort of thing will ease tensions and smooth the path for clear information flow.

The inspectors are the “boots on the ground” in the warranty business. They usually take jobs on the fly, during the course of the workday. There is not much time to review each inspection request prior to accepting the job. Organizing time and travel is a challenge, further exacerbated in metro areas. Given the multiple inspection agencies an inspector may work with, clarity of communication is key. Reporting workflow slowdowns, shop difficulties, and complications to all the parties involved ensure everyone can adjust their workflows in turn.

The repair shops must call in the claim initially; that provides a chance for clear instructions to be shared with the repair facility. At that time, the repair facility should simply be told the inspector will not arrive until a call is made and inspection requirements clarified. The writer would be wise at that point to review the requirements with the tech, and arrange the time and compensation if need be. If all this were a perfect scenario, the inspector would be in and out quickly, with minimum interruption to the shop. If we could improve communication, it would go a long way in improving the whole process. Doing this, however, seems to be the highest hurdle.

The variations in communication seem endless. Different warranty companies deal with different inspection agencies that, in turn, deal with different inspectors and consultants. The potential for miscommunication is high with all the variables in place. Everyone in our industry relies on solid information. Inspectors and consultants, however, are only an intermittent occurrence in a repair shop’s day-to-day business. This sets us apart from their normal communication scheme during the workday. All too frequently, I encounter rushed indifference from repair shops when I call for an appointment and detail what I need to satisfy the warranty company’s requirements. This results in unprepared vehicles, upset technicians, and lengthy inspection time due to things such as waiting for car warm-ups, open vehicle lifts, available scanners, etc. As a result, the inspector’s timeline takes a turn for the worse.

Inspectors would be wise to get involved in the process of improving communication in our industry, as they are uniquely positioned to do. The balance between asserting the warranty company’s demands and alienating the shop staff can be challenging. Most inspectors are self-employed to one degree or another. It is easy for an inspector to feel they are taking a risk by asserting what they need. This is symptomatic of what hampers communication as a whole.

Maintaining dependable, clear communication is the key to our mutual success as a warranty and inspection industry. We will all benefit by serving our collective customers, the policyholders, in a manner that promotes free flow of information, encourages trust and hampers fraud. We are a service industry – a collective of individuals who have individual concerns. Some are in it for a living, others because it is their passion. Our goals as individuals do not have to be to the exclusion of others, so long as everyone understands that they will all be met by doing one simple thing: Keep the flow of communication moving so we can work together to serve the policy holder in a professional, responsible and timely manner.

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The More Things Change …

I’m a firm believer in that old cliché, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Over four decades of sales and management, I have seen remarkable advances in the technology that we use to move information around between customers, prospects and providers. Those changes have dramatically impacted the speed of communication which, in turn, has only increased the importance of process and accountability.

The pace of business today has been completely transformed from just a decade ago, let alone 20 or 30 years back.

Economies of scale still matter and the big can still beat the small, but more and more I am witnessing the fast beating the slow and the smartest beating the smart.

The rules have changed in many areas of our competitive arena and they will continue to.

The principles of sales however, have not. The process of thorough fact finding to identify needs and problems that can be solved with provider solutions has not been replaced by computers, it has simply been accelerated. The importance of follow-up in the sales process has not been replaced by a computer, it has been elevated. The value of fulfillment on deliverables has not been replaced, it has increased. The importance of response time has not been reduced, it has been shortened. And the value of closing the sale by addressing every objection is timeless.

So, let’s look back and take a look at a few examples of how “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Looking back to the ’70s, when I started my sales career, I can remember pulling up to a pay phone and making calls from my window for an hour. There were no cell phones, so our daily sales activity included the time we spent calling a message service and returning calls. Suddenly, the cell phone appeared on the scene. We could now call from the car and, Presto! Another hour of productive time.

Unfortunately, our competitors soon had a cell phone too, and the advantage was gone. What did not change, however, was the process of deciding who to call and how to call. If we avoided returning that call to an irate customer before the cell phone, we still did it with the cell phone. If we avoided that follow-up sales call before the cell phone, we still had call reluctance with the cell phone. Cell phones made some of us more efficient but once we all had one, only those that followed disciplined processes took advantage of the tool.

At about the same time, the fax machine came along. We were one of the first to get one at a price of something like $3,000 (ouch!) and I remember how excited we were to use it. We soon learned that hardly any of the dealers or suppliers also had a fax machine so we couldn’t use it until everyone caught up. But once they did, the pace of communication accelerated again and suddenly our efficiency jumped a notch. What did not change, again, was the way we used the new technology. If we were remiss in our follow up before the fax machine, we continued to be after we had one. If we didn’t take the time to keep a contact directory before, we probably didn’t have one after. “The more things change …”

Then the PC came along and everything really changed. Add a dose of Internet, and suddenly the one-man operation had parity with his competitor giants. Mix in some e-mail, add a Blackberry and smartphone, and we are all in the same game, in the same race, in the same gate.

What I continue to marvel at, however, is how the same people keep making the same mistakes, at the same pace, the same way, for the same reasons.

My primary business activity is the direct delivery of income development services to auto dealers in Michigan, but we also own a wholesale and brokerage division that acts as an administrator, insurer and claim center. We touch every aspect of the process that makes up our industry and we have to communicate directly with consumers, dealers, insurers and regulators.

I see the same patterns regardless of the level of technology involved. Certain insurance company contacts respond in a timely and efficient manner and some do not. The speed of their network and e-mail has no effect on their business etiquette. If they were remiss and slow before they had e-mail on their phones, they still are with it.

It’s the same at the dealer level. There is a culture in every organization that drives the behavior of its staff. Before all the bells and whistles I have listed in this article, I can remember which dealerships answered the phone promptly and routed you to the person and/or department you were looking for and can remember the ones that did not. The advent of the auto attendant allowed some dealers to accelerate their excellent service and it allowed others to hide behind it and simply add to the delay in seeking remedy. At the top, one dealer used technology to enhance customer satisfaction, and one used it to get away with doing less. “The more things change …”

And then there’s the issue of cell phone etiquette. I have a pet peeve when it comes to cell phones. I did just fine when I didn’t have to deal with the distraction of making and receiving calls during other conversations and activities and I still do. I recently read a book that included a section on cell phones and driving. It cited research that showed that using a cell phone while driving had the same effect as being intoxicated when reaction times were measured in collision situations.

Sure, you can reduce the calls you have to return by taking them while you are with someone else in a meeting or at lunch but I have learned long ago that I gain a measurable advantage by avoiding the use of my phone when I am in a negotiation or in a meeting. I am always encouraged during a delicate negotiation when my opponent is taking calls and allowing other technology-related distractions to take his mind away from the task at hand. Knowing that he has to refocus his mind repeatedly, and that he often misses details from the process before the call he just took, while often an inconvenience, it is often profitable for me.

At seminars, I see many in the audience combing through their e-mail on their phones during presentations. In an effort to be “more efficient,” they may miss a key takeaway or an item that could have been used to make a difference in their sales efforts. We trade one advantage for another. “The more things change …”

In summary, the innovations of our time have only magnified the strengths and weaknesses of our planning and structure. The exponential acceleration of business tools and their related provisions serve only to separate those who have superior processes from those who do not. Fifty years ago, those of who had disciplined business plans and the ability and desire to execute them would separate themselves from those who did not over a long period of time. Today, it happens quickly.

I encourage my associates to remember that process and accountability are the secrets to success, not the machines that we use. A better mousetrap in the barn is of little use when the mice are in the kitchen of your house having a meal.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Planning, execution, and disciplined work patterns led the way to success in the past and they still do today.

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