In recent years, the restoration industry has seen some impressive technological advancements that have fostered development of truly significant innovations in the way business is done. Specifically, software integration, Internet connectivity, storage and security capabilities, as well as some very impressive mobile and tablet device advancements, have flooded the market.
For some in the industry, it may not seem that long ago that restoration professionals and insurers communicated primarily via phone and fax. Claims, files and reports were paper-based and stored in filing cabinets - sometimes under lock and key.
As with almost any business, restoration companies have replaced the fax machine with email, and electronic servers have replaced the filing cabinets. But have business operations truly entered the new century? As service providers, are we taking full advantage of the technological advancements and tools currently available at our fingertips? Not as much as we could be, certainly.
The ability to send messages, documents and photos electronically - while useful for communicating with adjusters - has not drastically improved the claims-processing cycle. Restoration project managers still need to physically visit a site where details of a job are manually recorded and a site report provided.
Whether the information is recorded on paper or electronically, it may not be until day's end before it makes its way back to an office. The package could then sit in an inbox tray until it is manually entered into claims systems, increasing both the length of time since it was generated during the site visit and the margin for human error. In addition, some jobs then need to be re-entered into different systems for submission to different insurers, thereby creating duplication and inefficiency.
At the same time, insurers are implementing claims management systems that allow them to measure major milestones within the claim cycle, including how long it takes to receive a site report. Manual, paper-based processes create challenges for getting data into these systems, whether for restoration contractors or for insurers.
STRESS ADDS TO CHALLENGE
Consider if this system is then put under some stress - the Goderich tornado, for example. The event resulted in restoration companies receiving hundreds of calls from insurance companies and individual property owners.
Anyone who has worked in a catastrophe (Cat) response situation understands the massive scope of work that these large-scale disasters create for everyone involved, including insurance and restoration professionals. It is further understood that the objective of all parties is the same: to mitigate damage and to get restoration projects moving forward, and ultimately completed, as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, natural inefficiencies in the paper-based claims process can create delays, making it challenging to gather information, manage timelines and facilitate communication throughout the job. Once the dust has finally settled, insurance adjusters can be presented with stacks of estimates, work orders and invoices for all of the work that was completed.
Now imagine if all job information was entered into a claims system directly from the restoration project manager's first visit to a claim, then wirelessly transmitted directly to the adjuster, who could receive updates as the job progressed. No duplicate entry, no paper piling up in an inbox, and no major gap in time between an initial site visit and an initial site report.
CAPITALIZING ON TECHNOLOGY
This is the next step that the restoration industry needs to take. As the industry explores new ways to improve service, decrease inefficiencies and save time and money, it is necessary to capitalize on technology in order to satisfy the needs of insurers and property owners by standardizing and streamlining the claim process, which, ultimately, should help to shorten the claim cycle.
For instance, tablet and mobile technology can be used to gather claims information from the field and complete numerous tasks: draw up floor plans; identify issues and needs; take photos; and capture all required data at the site of the claim. That data, in turn, can be pulled to standardized reports and forms, and transmitted directly to insurers. This would facilitate communication, speeding up the decision-making process, and consolidate the complete claim file into an electronic file for easy auditing and review.
Further, it would allow for measuring and monitoring major job milestones, enabling restoration companies to improve against key performance indicators (KPIs) established by each insurance company. Once data capture is consolidated, technology can facilitate the implementation of standard scoping utilities and standardized documentation.
Of course, things can be taken even further through use of moisture-reading technology, roof-mapping software and remote monitoring capabilities in conjunction with mobile and tablet hardware. All of these technologies already exist individually - the opportunity exists to integrate them into systems and standard processes.
In general, there are three main benefits of increased technological integration:
• Shorter claims cycles: Using technology to integrate contractor and adjuster systems would mean less tedious administration for each party, resulting in shorter claims cycles. In addition to the resulting cost savings, it is anticipated there would be more timely and complete information for decision-making by the adjuster, and decreased chances of delays, thereby mitigating future problem claims.
• Improved customer satisfaction: Shorter claims cycles mean that insured clients will get back on their feet more quickly, contributing to improved customer satisfaction and retention. The improved communication between contractor and insurer will help to properly manage customer expectations and project scheduling.
• Building trust: Increased communication and transparency between contractors and insurers will not only allow each party to better understand the other's challenges, but it will provide the means to work together to develop solutions. The exchange of information would be improved, resulting in reduced misinterpretations and increased accuracy of communications. Working closely together with a collective focus on customer needs can also improve the perception by the end client, the insured.
Technological tools give restoration contractors the ability to offer a superior level of service to both insurance companies and the insured - and to remain ahead of the competition. Insurers will be able to do the same by choosing contractors who allow them to meet their own service expectations.
Armed with measurable performance indicators, insurers can then fine tune their claims services ahead of the competition.
Over the years, restoration service providers have embraced a great number of innovations that have allowed the companies to dry up after floods, remove mould, clean materials and property, and restore documents more quickly and more effectively. It is now time to look at how these providers can integrate data, technology and systems in support of a standard claim service process, and deliver continually increased value to customers.