Tag Archive | "Trinidad Linares"

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 How many automotive shops still in business use outdated computers, scanners, and paper forms?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.

Posted in InspectionComments (6)

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.

Posted in InspectionComments (0)