the adoption of cloud technology offers several benefits to maximize network management. - Photo: Pexels

the adoption of cloud technology offers several benefits to maximize network management.

Photo: Pexels

As a third-party administrator handling auto collision claims on a national scale for both fleets and insurers, balancing thousands of body shops nationwide necessitates an adept, nimble, and responsive system.

The journey to improve network management requires specific strategies and technology to address key factors; such as geography of network coverage, vendor onboarding, shop capabilities, vendor relationships, performance management, and customer service.

Critical for all stakeholders involved in the claim process, identification of such factors along with a cloud-based mobile claims management system allows for greater transparency, improved communication, and quicker resolution.

Start with Onboarding

The process of building a network of vendors, such as auto body shops, begins with a superior onboarding process.

For example, if you’re starting from scratch, there needs to be a process to onboard new service providers.

One important factor is the geographic location of the vendor in connection to the customer/policyholder. Mapping software offers the ability to identify densely populated areas nationwide. It’s a good way to begin searching for repair centers to add to a program. Getting to “critical mass” so the network can service at least 75% of the market is key.

The next step is to drill down to repair shops offering coverage for where most of the client’s customers/policyholders are located. Claim data can be helpful in identifying where most claims occur.

Lastly, it’s important to review the network of auto body shops on a regular basis. For example, we examine our network of service providers on a monthly basis to evaluate how many are located within seven miles of a populated area. For rural areas, we like to ensure there are auto body shops within ten to fifteen miles of a populated area.

Cloud technology assists in collecting data that helps us understand repair needs in order to ensure we identify the repair partner that has the appropriate capabilities. - Photo: Pexels

Cloud technology assists in collecting data that helps us understand repair needs in order to ensure we identify the repair partner that has the appropriate capabilities.

Photo: Pexels

Selecting Providers

To vet service providers, a questionnaire can be useful to evaluate qualifications -- like the equipment used and certifications -- but independent verification is always best. I-CAR, an industry organization that promotes collision repair education, is a useful resource because it identifies auto body repair shops that have achieved Gold status. It's a substantial investment for a repair shop because they must renew their certification annually.

Determining which shops can perform proper services for certain vehicles is equally important.

For example, as of 2014, all the aluminum-bodied Ford-150 pickups need, as you might expect, to go to aluminum-capable repair shops. To this day, there are still companies that don't know which shops are capable of these repairs. This lack of knowledge translates to higher tow costs, delays, and irate customers because damaged vehicles may have to be towed from one repair shop to another.

Some vehicle manufacturers such as Ford and Nissan, require original equipment manufacturer-certified shops to conduct proper OEM repairs. Some won’t even sell parts to a body shop unless they are certified.

Another important factor when vetting auto body shops is the estimating tool used by the shop, since it affects how quickly stakeholders can communicate changes in claim status.

Because maintaining customer service and network relationships is important, we utilize an internal group of shops to evaluate process changes and offer feedback before we implement any new process.  

Additional Benefits of Cloud Tech

In addition, the adoption of cloud technology offers several benefits to maximize network management.

In our case, a cloud platform automates and speeds up certain processes. For example, onboarding a new body shop can typically take up to 30 days; cloud technology enables automation to reduce onboarding time (and time-to-market for everyone) to a matter of hours.

That’s because what might require paper documentation being sent and then uploaded by our employees can now be uploaded directly by the body shop and validated electronically. So instead of receiving updates on workflows once-a-month, network members can view work status as it happens in real time.

Cloud technology assists in collecting data that helps us understand repair needs in order to ensure we identify the repair partner that has the appropriate capabilities. That’s why it’s important to maintain a close relationship with OEMs to find out what they're putting in cars and how to repair them properly.

This technology aids in reviewing network autobody shops’ key performance indicators to evaluate performance. For example, we monitor KPIs of repair shops for the duration they are within our program. Ensuring repairs completed within the network aren't returning with warranty repairs is vital to maintaining best-in-class customer service.

Though the process of improving network management can be daunting, the result – shorter claim duration, improved customer service, greater performance results, and higher efficiency – will reap rewards for all stakeholders involved.

About the Author: Pete Douglas is Chief Operating Officer for Innovation Group North America, which provides comprehensive operational support and a range of expert services to the world's leading insurers, brokers, fleet managers, and automotive manufacturers. For more information, e-mail Pete.Douglas@innovation.group

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