This is the one! It has been years in the making. Consistent, yet professional follow-ups; small, trial-run projects too numerous to remember; equipment and supplier relationships made ironclad; training upon training upon training; and it has finally happened — we signed that large loss! Our scope is solid. The property owner is confident in us and our relationship is tight. The carrier has given us the green light to start work and our crews are en route. At 4:57 pm, the adjuster calls to let us know the consultant will be onsite tomorrow at 8:00 am and would like to walk through the project with us. Wait. What?!?
Let’s talk about what’s going on in your head right now. It probably sounds a lot like this: “I’m the industry expert. I’ve been doing this work for over 20 years. The adjuster is out of their league. There must be coverage issues. The consultant is probably some hack who couldn’t cut it in our industry. My bill is going to be shredded to justify the consultant’s existence. They just don’t understand that I have margin to maintain.” I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but I probably got at least a couple of them right.
While there might be elements of truth in some of those statements, in my experience I have not found them to ring true as often as we may think.
Let’s see if we can understand some of the reasons behind the decision to engage a consultant and, more importantly, why that may not be as bad as we first feared.
Let’s check in on our emotions and resist the temptation to freak out. A contractor who leads with emotion at the first sign of a third party assigned to a loss lays all their cards out on the table before the game really begins. In business, as in life, it is best to let the game play out before giving away our position.
Easier to Play the Game
In my opinion, a consultant brought in at the beginning of a project can be a good thing for the contractor. How, you ask? I have found that it is easier to play the game when we know the rules from the start.
It is easier to play the game when we know the rules from the start.
Are we going to bill this project by line item or should we prepare a time and material billing package? We plan to bill our equipment on a weekly rate, but would they prefer to see it another way? We will be charging a 5% mobilization fee on the total billing, are there any issues with approval for that? The questions can go on and on but think how much better to have answers up front, before we spend a full day compiling our billing only to be made aware of another thought process or unsaid expectation.
Solidified agreement at the beginning of a project will lead to smoother conversation with the party paying our bill. In turn, this leads to quicker settlement of the claim and then, ultimately, faster payment.
Next, I suggest stepping back and taking a few moments to consider why the carrier would feel the need to bring a third party to the claim. Perhaps the adjuster doesn’t have the requisite expertise to properly determine scope and pricing on a complex loss. Is it reasonable to ask an adjuster to be an expert at policy language and coverage determinations, then to also ask that they be a consummate restorer? If we look back at the years and the training we went through to assemble our breadth of knowledge, we can’t expect that the adjusting party on the claim has the same depth of experience.
Trust is a Tricky, Two-way Street
The assignment of a consultant to the project can be viewed as an admission that the adjuster needs help on a complex loss. I agree that it would be the best of both worlds if they could take us at our word and allow us to work the claim as we see fit, but trust is a tricky, two-way street.
Let’s be honest here, we all know a contractor who has taken advantage of a situation, adding an hour or two or billing for a 5000 CFM unit when a 3000 CFM one would have sufficed. The adjuster on the other side of this claim may have just had a bad experience and their distrust may be less personal than we are making it out to be. The lack of trust may also stem from a recent settlement and now we are left to rebuild what someone else tore down.
Once we have reached agreement, our course is set, and our emotions are in check, the next priority is to get it all in writing. Or stated another way — document, document, document. Keep that receipt, save the daily production notes, take the 100th picture of the source of loss. I know that to many of us this seems elementary, but all too often when pressed for proof or reasoning in the final settlement of the claim, our documentation is found lacking.
The better and more transparent the documentation of a claim, the better the decisions we make as restorers can stand on their own. This not only holds true for our own internal correspondence and tracking but also for the conversations we have with the claim stakeholders.
Our verbal conversations should be followed up with a quick email. It’s likely that the consultant or adjuster will not respond or reciprocate, but the information is there and public. Written communication is good for all parties involved with a claim. It allows for the summarization of the claim’s activities and agreements made.
This communication should also be shared with and involve our mutual client, the insured. This allows them to be in the loop as to the progress of the claim and alert should any questions or delays come up. If we begin this type of communication from the beginning of the claim, then it won’t seem like we involve the client only when things get weird or when we encounter some type of disagreement.
Communication that is clear, consistent, and concise is the easiest method to build trust with the policy holder and make an advocate of them, rather than an adversary. A customer who is an advocate will go out of their way to work with us on the claim, sign our required paperwork, and help us to get paid. All too often I see us cut out the client and leave them in the dark on the negotiations we are having behind the scenes on their behalf. Ultimately, it is the policy holder who signed our paperwork, so our obligation and standard of care lies primarily with them as the party paying the premium.
In truth, the consultant has no legal standing in the claims settlement and can only provide recommendations to the carrier. But I have found that having that type of thinking as our go-to strategy leads to an us-versus-them mentality. I would rather our documentation and communication tell the same story to everyone involved.
Remember that saying our moms used to have about sticks and stones? In truth, I’ve found that sometimes words can really hurt. I understand there are times in our business relationships where conversations get heated and both parties cross the line. But I would suggest that in our claims negotiations, we find ways to play nice in the sandbox. We should stay professional, no matter what comes our way.
We are going to run across the consultant who wants to prove their worth and only knows how to do so by tearing others down. We must rise above the temptation to enter into that type of negotiation. We should state our position, clearly, and let our documentation be our defense. Our client, our co-workers and even the person staring back at us in the mirror will thank us for maintaining a level head through this type of conversation. We do not need to lower ourselves and reduce our professionalism just because the other party takes that approach.
Then there’s this. What about when the carrier brings in a consultant at the end of the project? Nothing is more unsettling than someone being thrown into our claim having not been involved from the get-go. It means we must retell the entire story, explain the decisions we made along the way, and feel second guessed by someone who didn’t even have the opportunity to see the work site before or during the process.
If we begin to feel ourselves getting wound up, let’s flip the perspective and imagine being in their shoes. I’m confident the process is no kinder from the consultant’s point of view. There is a theme here, but we mustn’t allow our emotions to get the best of us. We need to stick with allowing our clear and thorough documentation to tell the story.
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All in all, even though working alongside a consultant can at times bring out negative thoughts and emotions, I don’t think it needs to be that way. Instead, we should do the work on our end to know the game we’re playing; understand why the consultant is onsite in the first place; document, document (did I mention to document?); keep the customer as our advocate; and keep our emotions in check. If we perform each job consistently and professionally, it will allow us to change our outlook on the involvement of a consultant and reduce the fear of a second opinion.