I filed my first auto-insurance claim the other day.

Because I was so new to the experience, I could view the claims process with a fresh eye. And two things struck me:

1. I cannot believe how inefficient it is (although everyone was hopelessly pleasant).

2. If you took a new look at your business, you would probably find countless places where you could do things better, faster, and less expensively. (That, of course, would boost margins and customer satisfaction.)

I want to explore that point in detail. But to do that, it is helpful for me to talk, briefly, about what happened to my car, so you can see the kinds of places where you might improve efficiency.

What's That Noise?

I assumed the "thumping" I heard was a flat tire. But when I pulled over, I found that the piece of plastic that wraps the back wheel well and attaches to the bumper was at a right angle to the car.

I hammered it into place with my fist, and then attached duct tape when I got home--it looked as awful as it sounds--and called up the dealership. I was due for routine maintenance anyway, so I figured I could give the service people a (jokingly) hard time about the quality of their expensive car. I figured it was a manufacturing defect that they could fix in a couple of hours.

I was in the middle of my riff about how the quality of the brand was going downhill when the service manager stopped me.

"Oh, no," he said. "You got hit." And he showed me the place on the rear bumper where someone backed into me with their trailer hitch while I must have been shopping.

"OK," I said. "Can you fix it now?"

The answer was no. I needed to call my insurance agent, who told me to call my insurance company. The insurance company said it would send out an adjuster in a day or so to take some pictures and work up an estimate.

"Well, right now the car is at the place that is going to fix it. Could the adjuster come here now?" (No.)

"Could we take the pictures now and send them to you?" (No.)

I drove my duct-taped car home, and two days later the adjuster showed up, spent five minutes taking pictures, and, before she left, said, "I will email the estimate in a couple of days. Take it to the dealer and they can start the repairs."

"Great," I said. "But what happens when they get it up on the lift and they find other stuff that's wrong?"

"It happens all the time," she said. "We just send another adjuster to the dealer."

Really.

And that is, of course, what happened. At the end of Week One, while the car was in the shop, I got a check to cover the initial estimate. The next day, the sixth workday since I was there originally, the dealer notified me that it had found another $1,000 worth of damage, and the second adjuster would be by in a couple of days.

I received the second insurance check before the repairs were complete, on Day 11 of the saga.

What to Do

You hear all this and say, "We are not that bad." And maybe you're not. But:

  • Are you sending an employee out to give an estimate, having him or her come back to the office to work it up, only to email it out and follow up with a phone call? Couldn't someone do the estimate on the spot? (Mobile computing and printers make it technologically possible.)
  • Is your cycle time filled with starts and stops? Odds are, it doesn't have to be, and that is also true if you are in a service business.
  • Are you building in all kinds of quality checks? Your heart is in the right place, but why can't you trust employees to do the right thing the first time, every time?

And so it goes.

Here's my suggestion: Do your best to walk through how people do business with you. (It's harder than you think.)

I guarantee you will find at least three things that could be eliminated or improved.

Published on: May 21, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.