Building a Better Inspection System
Building a Better Inspection System

Van Cooper is the vice president of MCI Inspections – but he is the president of MCI Training. In fact, it was Cooper who created the training program MCI uses today, and he remains the driving force behind it.

Cooper’s training program was born out of his own observations about the inspection industry. He spent 18 years as a technician and helped found and run several iterations of inspection companies, honing both his skills and knowledge about what made a good inspector. After some time, Cooper found that the physical demands of being an inspector were becoming too much. So instead of moving into another industry, he turned his attention to how he could improve things. As a technician, Cooper said he had always enjoyed the challenge of determining the cause of a mechanical problem and figuring out how to fix it. The same problem-solving approach led him to ask why there has never been an official standard for training inspectors. He saw it is as an issue in the industry and in 2010, he began to work on developing a solution that would become the MCI Training program in use today.

“As a claims manager, when I would use an adjuster, they would do the inspection, and then they would ask what I wanted to do with the claim,” said Cooper. “I would look at the inspection report and have questions; it wouldn’t’t have all the information I needed. So the training program is my attempt to get inspectors to understand what the administrators need in reports, and why it’s so important to get it right the first time.”

His goal was not to educate inspectors, per se; Cooper noted that there are many very good inspectors out there who know how to do their jobs. The problem, he found, was that they included the items they thought were important, and then everyone got frustrated when the administrators would come back with questions, or had requests that did not make sense to the inspectors in the field. So his goal is to educate them about the “whys” of the reports – why do administrators ask for certain items, why do they ask for them in specific ways and why does it matter that the inspector gets it right on the first try.

As he was writing the program, Cooper said he was constantly reviewing his own writing and improving upon it.“I did 12 complete re-writes of the program from the time I started until it was done. I spent about two years examining even the smallest details that make up the process and over this time, I broke it down to the point of being ridiculously simple. There is a lot of information explaining exactly what administrators need in a report and why each item is needed. Different types of service contracts are explained to give the inspector a better understanding of how they are written.. Basically, the whole premise of the program is to help inspectors understand the process from the first phone call to when they mark the report complete, with every step in between covered.”

Cooper noted that for most inspectors, the process is to check to see if something is working or not, and whether they recommend that part be repaired or replaced. However, what they don’t realize, he said, is how much other information could go along with it, which the administrator needs to make their decision. And, Cooper said, he found inspectors didn’t realize that it did not matter if they actually checked all the boxes or not, if they weren’t including everything relevant in the final report. To keep the process running smoothly, inspectors needed a better understanding not only of the types of things administrators need, but why they need them. He believes that without that understanding, inspectors will revert back to their former way of doing things as soon as the training is done. That is why he spent so much energy focusing on those “whys” rather than the “hows”.

“We teach them to look at all of the items excluded from service contracts, whether damage exists in that area or not,” said Cooper. “They should acknowledge checking each item in the report, and whether or not they believe it is related to the failure at hand. Those things, along with the technical aspects of what failed complete the report. So the training program is more of a procedural thing, not teaching anyone to be a technician and diagnose cars.”

The end result, he believes, is not only better inspectors in the field today, but a more professional and defined industry that will attract the best and most talented technicians into the inspection side of the business. “We take their technical knowledge and this training program, and tell them that if they combine the two, they’ll be a great inspector,” he noted.

Creating a Structure

Cooper created his training program with chapters and sections – there is a quiz at the end of each section, and then a test at the end of each chapter. When the program first launched, he allowed users to see their quiz scores as they went, so they would have a good idea of where they were strong, and where they needed to go back and study a bit more. However, he found that some users were instead going back to the missed questions and guessing until they scored 100% and could move on. He has since tweaked the system, so users now do not see any of their scores as they go along.

Each section contains both written and video segments, and explores each topic in depth. Users must take the quiz in every section to advance to the next one, forcing them to review what they have learned. Cooper reviews every single user who goes through the training program personally; if he has the time, he provides feedback while they are working their way through the program to help them better understand areas they might have struggled with. If he has not worked with them during the process, then at the end, he reviews the entire program, and lets them know which sections they passed, and which ones they didn’t. A certificate of completion isn’t awarded until they have earned a passing score in every section and chapter.

“I look at the results of every person who goes through the program. It is all me, and no one else,” said Cooper, who works a full time job in addition. .”I’m very hands-on with everything I do, and I am extremely passionate about this program. It has been my baby since the start, and I keep a very tight leash on it for that reason.” Cooper describes the training program as a powerful tool worth a lot of money yet he doesn’t charge for it. The training is available at no cost for inspectors who enroll. “I think having the inspectors get this information is important to the industry itself, way beyond financial gain for me personally. I know I don’t fit the mold for a 2014 American, but I am truly not in this to make a profit. My passion is about making it better out there for everybody and recruiting really good inspectors to take the place of the ones who are leaving the industry. It is a reality that many good inspectors are aging out of the business.”

To date, since it went live in 2012, Cooper’s training program has had about 367 people enroll, with about 200 completing the course and gaining their certificate. At a given time, there might be a hundred enrolled in the course. While he said it was slow starting, word about the program is getting out there now. The program has been built entirely by word-of-mouth, with no marketing or hype. Most users will complete the program in a week; it is about eight continuous hours of information and quizzes. There have been a few who tried to “cheat the system” so to speak, by going straight through the program in a single day, without taking the time to study the material as it is presented and Cooper said this can only be attributed to their character - or lack there of. Fortunately, he reports, there are not many who do that.

The Big Picture

Cooper reiterated that his goal is to help raise the bar for the entire inspection industry. In some areas, the inspection market is hurting right now. Cooper said that most major metro areas only have 5-6 inspectors with some areas having less.. So attracting top talent, and giving them the tools to succeed, is critical for the future of the inspection industry.

Cooper maintains many close relationships with inspectors out in the field. He described how he genuinely cares about them and believes the majority of them are really good guys. He described his relationship with them as one where they know he is genuine and sincere and he is viewed as “one of them” so they relate to him. “They are going out to do the job to the best of their ability. But they are also trying to rush through each day to a certain extent. They have a lot of variables to deal with daily, like traffic delays, shop delays, shops not being cooperative, too many inspections in too little time, etc. All of these things tug at the inspector. They know they have 5, 6, 7, 8, however many inspections for the day that they need to complete, so later in the afternoon, they rush a little more. It isn’t ideal, but the reality is the reality. You can see a difference in the reports from early morning to later in the day.” Cooper says he understands this and doesn’t fault them for it. “It is just the reality of the industry and the things they have to deal with on a daily basis.”

The pay for inspectors has not increased in a long time, according to Cooper, but he said the true issue is not how much the inspector is getting paid, but how much time they are being asked to spend on each an inspection, which seems to be unnecessarily increasing. When this is the case, an inspector is getting far fewer inspections done in a given amount of time and this weighs heavily on their bottom line.

Cooper doesn’t just think this is an inspection problem, either. Administrators sometimes have unrealistic expectations of what is going to happen during the inspection process. “If the inspector has to spend two hours in a shop because the administrator wants a pre-delivery for the inspection fee, that hurts all of us. That inspector loses two other jobs that could have been done in the time it took to provide one report. Another example is that there is no reason to take 50 to 60 photos during an inspection if we are only inspecting a single item. – taking all those photos is not relevant to the claim. There are some administrators who request this in order to get an overall picture of the vehicle, but when you require things like this on every inspection and ask the inspector to look at things that aren’t relevant, it is too time consuming. Most of us won’t take time out of an inspector’s day to do things that are not relevant to a claim, but it is these type of requests that hurt the inspection industry as a whole - especially the inspectors.”

He wants administrators to understand the process too, and realize that what they are requesting is not always easy. If an administrator or adjustor does not have the technical knowledge to understand how involved the process can be, he noted, then sometimes they ask for things without realizing how time consuming it might be to fulfill that request. While his does not happen frequently, on the occasions it does, it can be very frustrating. Cooper explained that sometimes inspectors have to wait 30 minutes or more for the technicians to free up a lift, only to find that the items they were asked to check that required the use of the lift aren’t even relevant to the claim at hand. This frustrates inspectors; they’re losing jobs from other companies and their reputation can be affected because these situations make it impossible to finish everything on time. They will call at the end of the day and say they couldn’t fit the last one in.”

Cooper said not having enough time is the most common excuse he hears from inspectors. “To address that problem, we need to get the most value out of every inspection. We need to get them in and have them focus on the right things, so they can provide a quality report about what they’re there to inspect. We don’t need to have inspectors focusing on a lot of extra photos and providing all sorts of information that isn’t relevant to the claim. Sometimes, he said inspectors, even those working for another agency will call to talk through what they describe as strange requests – like being asked to take photos of a shop parking lot or parts that have nothing to do with a problem. On these occasions, it seems the administrator does not trust the inspector.”

He also wants to see administrators cultivating more patience when it comes to inspectors not being experts on every part of every vehicle. Inspectors, he noted, are like doctors going in to diagnose a patient; but unlike doctors, who only have two “models”, male and female, Cooper noted that inspectors have 100 or more models, each with hundreds of parts “A lot of administrators expect inspectors to be experts on every component out there. And they would love to, but to be a wizard on everything is tough.” Cooper went on to say he would like to see a little more understanding from administrators when this type of situation arises. A good inspector’s reputation could be quickly damaged by a single encounter involving something that the inspector was not well versed in handling if the situation results in complaints from administrators.

Cooper also wants to see administrators being much more clear and concise in their inspection requests. This will help both the agency and the individual inspector ensure the right work is done and included in the report the first time around. For example, he said, some administrators will list a wide range of items that are standard checks, and the inspector is left trying to decipher what the root problem really is.

“Administrators don’t need to list items such as check for commercial use, modifications, etc. in the request – those are givens and will be checked,” said Cooper. “If it is a transmission problem, for example, get to the transmission concern, and just state that it failed and ask for the cause. Then we can provide exactly what they want. Too often, there are a lot of crystal balls in play – inspectors need one to know what they’re looking for. Administrators could help themselves a lot by being more specific in their requests.”

Finally, Cooper believes that better communication across the board is necessary to make the inspections process run smoother for all parties involved. Too often, he noted, agencies get requests that state a part is out of the vehicle, only to arrive and find that not only is the part not out of the vehicle, but that the shop was not even aware they were coming. And then, Cooper noted, the inspector is seen as the bad guy. If administrators would let the shop know up front that they have ordered an inspection, why they have ordered it, and what the inspector will be looking for, then everyone would be much happier. Too often, he said, it comes down to the adjuster and the shop disagreeing, and the inspector is called in and put in the middle, which leaves him in the hot seat, trying to diffuse a situation.

“I would love to see more communication between the administrator and the shop; the administrator and the agency; and the administrator and inspector,” said Cooper. “The majority of the issues we have today would go away with more open conversation. If the administrator is going to inspect a vehicle, tell the shop. If they are going to send an inspector, state exactly what they need from them. Be very specific. Don’t write out a whole list of things to check without notifying the shop, because then the inspector becomes the problem; if an inspector arrives at the shop and tries to deliver what the administrator asked for, the shop wants to know why he needs all of that information. Then they call the administrator and say the inspector is a problem and they don’t want him back - all for trying to give the administrator what they asked for. Call the shop and say ‘we’re sending an inspector and we require this information’; then the inspector isn’t perceived as the problem. It should all be quick, easy and painless.”