New Trends

December 31, 2009 Comments Off on New Trends

It’s that time of the year again: the twilight days between one year and the next; the easy commute to work while others are on holiday; the perfunctory shuffle of papers from desktop to filing cabinet or dustbin in preparation for a new year; the anticipation of a job bonus (likely spent in advance), and a sense of new things to come in the near future.

It is also a time to reflect on what was or could have been. It’s been an odd year in some ways. We have watched and listened to news about the financial state of our southern neighbour and waited for the inevitable to happen here. One hundred plus bank failures, plummeting house values, soaring unemployment, and a decimated auto industry in the US had to translate into something bad for Canadians. It didn’t for the most part. But it made us nervous and being on edge for the better part of a year is uncomfortable.

So, did you chew your nails and fret in 2009 or did you leverage the benefits of being in a well-regulated economy? Chances are you had a reasonably good year but did you do anything new or did you play safe? Here’s a roundup of some of the best developments of the year:

Marketing

Many contractors continue with old school marketing as a way to secure new business or hold on to existing clients. In some circles there’s still nothing wrong in showing up at a customer’s workplace with nothing but a hail-fellow-well-met attitude for a cursory look at a few service issues. So, if you’re in this camp, you have lots of company and there are still many people who will welcome you into their offices to while away an hour or two. Some of them are happy to continue the conversation through a round of golf, as well. Just keep an eye on the future. These people will eventually be replaced by very different professionals who value their time and who want specifics. You will very quickly find you’re seen as a nuisance.

Then there are the contractors who have realised that showing up with a smile and a box of donuts doesn’t translate into a secure customer base. They have taken steps to develop their value proposition from a customer’s perspective and have learned to focus on results, not actions. They’re ready for the small but growing number of insurers who take an active and intelligent interest in their supply chains.

Training

Training is always a hot topic. Most contractors have trained and certified their teams to a creditable extent and it’s paying off in better work standards. A certified technician also attracts a higher price-point on estimating software so the investment pays for itself.

A few contractors have taken a step further and turned their attention to helping their customers – the insurers – develop their adjusting standards. Although there’s still a high dependence on half-day lunch-and-learn type training, there are a few contractors who have geared up for something better and more valuable to insurers. There are some exceptionally innovative training programs out there that provide in-depth learning and true understanding of the scoping and estimating process. Their owners are a credit to the industry. Nothing breeds sustainable customer loyalty better than meaningful collaboration.

Smart Hiring

A small number of contractors, mostly the larger networks, have reached into the insurance industry and hired ex-insurance professionals to manage key relationships. This approach has worked the other way, too, as insurers have started to hire ex-contractors to help with job cost transparency. It’s early stages yet but this is definitely one of the best developments in the industry in years. The benefits of this strategy will start to be felt very soon.

Supply Chain Management

Contractors

A truly forward-thinking move made by a major contractor is to review their upstream and downstream suppliers (all the recruiters, building materials suppliers, equipment vendors, and sub-trades that the firm relies on) and to start applying rigorous supply chain principles to them. This will make a huge difference to their final costs and overall service standards. This is not about getting a good deal or best prices – many contractors have done that. It’s about identifying and developing an end-to-end value chain that achieves lowest total costs and highest customer service.

Insurers

A positive development in the insurance industry is the ever-widening professionalism being brought to bear on vendor programs. The task is often difficult because it always involves introducing change and overcoming resistance. However, identifying quality, insisting on measurable service standards, and containing costs will eventually bring value to the ultimate recipient of the combined services of insurers and contractors – the policyholder. That’s long overdue.

Yes, all the positive things mentioned above have been done before but never on the scale now occurring. We will report further on this as we make our way through 2010. Credit is due to the market leaders for taking bold steps in tough times. They have earned their success and all of us will benefit from their actions.

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