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.