The Current State of Affairs of the Inspection Industry: The Claims Monster
October 15, 2007
At their woven symposium, the learned and wise ones, David and Charlene Hunt stated at the beginning of the training, “An inspection should be an opportunity to educate and learn, not a negative experience.” Unfortunately, in today’s world of inspections the inspection experience can be negative. I will try to give a perspective of over 20 years experience (just over 15 certified) in the inspection industry of how much has changed and how inspections have development, in many cases, into negative experiences for the installers and contractors. Then, a discussion how installers and contractors can turn these worse case scenarios into positive educational experiences.
Negative and Positive
First, I will describe a negative and positive experience to convey what can happen good and bad during an inspection. I was asked to inspect “bubbles” in a unitary carpet. The contractor, installer and an inspector were present when I arrived. The inspector attempted to take charge immediately stating (lecturing me after informing me of his superior training for 20 minutes) the carpet was delaminated. Later he informed me the mill had forgotten to attach the secondary backing. I remained mute. I question the installer how many times they had rolled the carpet after it was laid, the adhesive and open time. After a few minutes conversing with him, we went to my car where I gave him a copy of the installation instructions and discussed with him a method to “save” the job. He was positive and grateful for the help, and, it made me feel the entire inspection had been a positive experienced. However, we returned to the library. The contractor and the inspector had thought of an additional theory. They told me the adhesive was “a bad batch.” I asked which part of the buckets, the top, middle or bottom. They stated, after conferring, the middle. I remained mute.
Can you see the positive and negative of this inspection? The installer, inexperienced, learned how to install and possibly save this job and money. A positive experience. The contractor and the other inspector were the negative experience in that no attempt was made to learn the truth of the failure. They were more concerned with a negative confrontational approach attempting to pass blame onto others not accepting responsibility and learning from the inspection.
The Past and Learning
When I started inspecting many years ago, I was, admittedly, not the most informed inspector but with each inspection, I learned and realized I needed more and more training from industry classes such as The National Oak Flooring Manufacturing Association, Mohawk University installation classes, the National Wood Flooring Association, The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, Shaw Commercial Training and CFI. After each class, I realized how little I knew, and how much I needed to learn. I still have a long way to go. Into this mixed, I also learned something else. After attending each class, when I had interaction with other inspectors, many questioned why I was attending installation classes? I quickly learned there were two groups of inspectors. The first, those with little to no installation background who had a false superior attitude that installation skill was an industry myth, that anyone could read a book to know all that is needed to know about installation procedures; and how to inspect installation complaints without first hand installation experience. Then, there are the winners. Those with installation backgrounds who know the value of installation knowledge and training.
Blame the Installer
Let me recount another “event.” At a symposium, three of the non-installation type inspectors stated installers were responsible for misspecification of floor covering. Yes, they were stating that. I was sitting behind the Honorable James Walker who colorfully confirmed my comment that, “Don’t enough inspectors wrongfully blame the installers already?” When pressed as to how they could possibly blame the installer, the inspectors confessed that to blame the specifier, i.e. the salesperson or retailer who sold the job, would get them in trouble with the manufacturers and they would not receive any future work from the manufacturers. Yes, they actually said that. I will not make any comments further upon that except to say, it is a “lead in” into the “guts” of my article, or, rant and rave.
Because many inspectors lack the necessary installation knowledge, installers can be wrongly blamed for failures. The sad old inspector’s saying, “If in doubt, blame the installer,” is unfortunately more true today by those inspectors and may be more evident than years ago when the majority of the “working” inspectors had either contractors or installation backgrounds. When I started inspecting, it was not unusual to have “rush” jobs where I would meet with installers to measure bow/skew or pattern problems to help the installers. I have not had such a request in many, many, many years. I have not heard of other inspectors having such requests (but they may). Fifteen or more years ago, yes, it was part of an inspector’s job. The grizzled old inspector with 25 to 30 years installation experience who could pin point exactly the problem helping the installers save the job are long gone. In some ways, years ago an inspector was also a “field tech.” Today, there are legal liabilities by both the commissioning party and the inspector, plus, the commissioning party today will not have the first hand personal knowledge of the inspectors experience and knowledge as in past years. There are too many inspectors and too many who lack the knowledge and skill. Manufacturers cannot take the “chance”. They will not want to take a chance the inspector may not have the knowledge and experience to help on the job resulting in a loss of confidence, maybe a sales account or worse problems. It is safer to (only) have the inspector “inspect for manufacturing concerns” (PC HERE). In today’s world, they are no longer called manufacturing defects. Defects are called “concerns”. Call me old fashioned, but, a person or company should take responsibility for their actions. A defect is a defect and it is true it is a concern but the concern is a concern because it is, defective!
Promote by any means necessary – unethical or immoral is acceptable
With more inspectors, the competition increased. Promotion by inspectors has become intense. Many use any means necessary to obtain the claims. I have heard of inspectors who will use religion with the claim ladies from the Bible Belt in Georgia. Others will use their children or families telling the claims analyst, “I have children to support so send me the work!” Some will debase their competition. But, I ask you good installers, don’t you also have families to support? Make your objections known! Promotion should be the knowledge, experience and skill of the inspector as the only criteria.
Let’s Dumb Down the Process
Today, many manufacturers have a form with a list of “conditions” the inspector “checks” as yes and no. The inspector may no longer even be asked to think by many manufacturers. No installation knowledge, no experience, no understanding of the product is required. Why a checkbox inspection? Inspectors make too many mistakes. There have been too many harsh feelings by consumers, installers, retailers, distributors and some manufacturers created by those inspectors. If the inspector cannot find the cause of the problem, and many cannot, the safe course of action by manufacturers is to limit the parameters to only, “Is it our concern? That is all we want to know.” This approach only “enables” the inadequate inspector to survive. But at what price is the question and the answer is, many times it is the installer. Who learns from such an approach to a problem? No one.
Independent Inspector or an Employee of the Manufacturer
The inspector today may be viewed more as a member of the sales/promotional team than a true, self-employed independent inspector. Sales departments, that is, sales representatives, today may have great influence as to which inspector may be used to inspect in their territory to help them with their sales. Many inspectors have learned to “make friends” with the sales representatives and retailers to “adjust” claims reports. Promoting one self is not wrong but not at the price of honesty. Some inspectors will keep track of new sales representatives taking them to lunch and promising to “work with” them on claims. Many manufacturers are more concerned with how we look and present ourselves than the knowledge from experience. Granted, all inspectors, and installers should dress and behave professionally, but some present themselves more as ‘sales representatives’ than independent inspectors. These inspectors cannot help the contractors and installers correct their problems. They can only report a check box form back to the commissioning party. Add into this mix many smaller or foreign manufacturers use ‘brokerage services’ that ‘review’ the check box reports before the reports are submitted. No comment. This type of inspector is-
The Hired Gun and the Claims Scam Artist and How Inspections Increased
So, the inspector has a form he checks off the conditions he sees. However, what is Worse, some inspectors sell their reports. The worse that can happen to a lawyer is to arrive in court to find out his “Inspector” lied or used faulty reasoning in his report. They don’t like to lose. For every inspector who is a hired gun, there is one who is honest who will use truth and industry standards. Lawyers need the truth to determine a course of action to help their clients. Many times, lawyers will say to me, “Go find out if my client has a case or not so I can determine the best course of action.” Many inspectors will “find” for whoever is paying his fee. The job of the inspector is to find the truth, report the truth, and should not be concerned if the truth is not in the favor of the commissioning party. Believe this! Lawyers want that kind of information. The truth, and only the truth, is the goal of all honest inspectors. Hired Guns are a threat to honest manufacturers, retailers, and installers. Sadly, if the retailer or consumer rejects the report because it is not in their favor, there are the “Hired Gun” inspectors who will write exactly what they are told to put in the report, and truth be damned. So, who would use such an inspector? When the manufactures started using computers and databases, they started tracing and keeping records of claims by retailers. What they found was the “Scam Claims Artist”, that is, a retailer who has learned to play the “claims” game turning in multiple claims on non-existence defects. So, the mills started sending out more inspection request and the Inspection Industry started growing, which lead to more inspectors without an installation background who could not understand what they were inspecting. Blame the installer was the easy safe “call.”
The Self-Proclaimed Expert
In our industry, there are the self -proclaimed experts. They promote themselves as the expert. Now, please, think of this, in all other fields of “experts” there is training by educational schools such as technical colleges, colleges and universities. After rigorous years of study, the person earns a degree stating he has past a course of study. Heating and Air, Plumbing, Electrical, and more trades have technical degree training programs. However, in floor covering, we have training schools but we also have people who suddenly, with no formal education in a field or vocation, become experts in such fields as wood science, concrete, construction, construction materials, textile engineering, and mold/mildew issues as self proclaimed experts who charge huge amounts of money for training. The self-proclaimed expert, many times, may not be an expert with any technical training other than by other self-proclaimed experts. The circle is this; one self- proclaimed expert certifies the other person is now a self-proclaimed expert. Today, there are true experts with technical, college and university degrees entering into our profession as more and more ‘bad’ information and misleading training has resulted in the other trades being blamed for flooring failure. The most common example is the Heating and Air trades being blamed for wood failures when it is not their fault. The engineers are coming and the true trained experts are wondering how and why this “strange flooring inspection services” has come into existence. Inspectors are not textile engineers, concrete scientist or engineers, or wood scientist for example but when it comes to blaming the installer, many inspectors will use partial information from these Self Proclaimed Experts expecting installers to be wood scientist, concrete engineers or textile engineers. Let’s be honest, if the inspector and installer were any of the above, they would not be reading this article! This is totally unrealistic and a method to shift blame from the people who specified the carpet, concrete or type of wood.
Sales are What Pays the Bills
The force behind floor covering success is sales. Without sales, no one works, no one buys the new car, no one sees his children go to college or retire. If the inspector can not adequately investigate the claim, what some manufacturers will request in the report is, “is it our problem or not” but, if not, do not say more than, “This is not a manufacturing concern.” They are “protecting” their dealers from those inspectors as a source of sales revenue. Who can blame them? How can anyone blame them? Think back to the inspector at the library? Then ask yourself, who can blame them? They have made The Claims Monster that grows nurtured by this protection by the manufacturers of the retailers and the failure to learn from their mistakes. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them and the claims cycle grows and grows. This process enables the inadequate inspector since he only needs a form to check off the “conditions.” The sales departments want to sale more which means coddling the people who makes the mistakes to keep them buying and selling their flooring. As the mistakes multiply, and the protections of the retailers continue, no one learns and the Misinformation this promotes grows until the falsehoods become reality in the minds of many. It is a cycle that only truth and dealing with the actual problems will kill the Claims Monster.
Promotion or Knowledge and Experience
If the wood was not acclimated correctly, if the ceramic tile was installed over 24oc 3/4osb, how can parties at fault learn from the mistake if the inspector cannot explain the problem? If the problem is not explained in the report, how can the NEGATIVE experience be turned into a POSITIVE learning experience? It was a long way to get here. We have negative experiences: The consumer is unhappy, the retailer is unhappy, and he does not understand or does not want to understand the problem. He is not required today to learn the products. He simply wants the manufacturer to “take care” of him and the problem since he sells their product. The installer had a negative experience in that he may have not known how to do the job or it may not even be his fault resulting with being threatened with a lawsuit. Negative events after the installation beyond the control of the sales/installs persons can happen. The product may be defective but the inspector is too frightened to “call it” against the manufacturer who hired him. The installer may have to reinstall for free and that is money taken from his family and it may not be his fault!! The manufacturer is having a negative experience in that he has to have expensive claims departments and pay an inspector, who may or may not know the answers to the problems. Profits are less; stockholders are not happy leading to yet another negative event. The Claims Monster preys upon this process.
Turn Negative Into Positive
How can any Positive experience come from such events? Simple, training, training and more training is the only Positive Event to change these Negative Events. Once past the basic training by our inspection schools, advance training by our industry manufacturing and installation associations. Each inspector should be required to attend installation classes in the products he inspects no matter how many years experience he may claim. Wood, NOFMA & NWFA. Ceramic Tile, CTEF. Carpet, the training classes by the mills, WFCA and CFI. Every inspector should be required to take one to two installation classes for every one inspection course. Now, I know this will never happen. Many of you are saying that is a nice dream or idea that will never happen. But, at some point, something has to happen. Each time an inexperience inspector with no knowledge of the required installation knowledge, skills and understanding of the product says, “When in doubt, blame the installer” the end of the long line is the installer who has a family to support. Whose family is more important? The inspector whose uses religion and his children (selling his religion and his children for work) to promote for more work or the installers’ family? No one has told the claims analyst because the installers are never heard in their offices. This is no longer acceptable and such inspectors must be exposed. To this end I say, we must inform the installers of how to prepare and document events and conditions to protect themselves from such “wannabe inspectors.” Inspectors who use family and religion to obtain work without the knowledge and experience, and whose reports falsely condemn the “installation family” must be stopped. I am putting this into personal terms because when blamed falsely, it becomes intensely personal and what affects a man or woman’s family is nothing but personal. IN today’s world, it has become the experienced certified installers’ job to educate some of the inspectors and contractors!
Hopefully, we can work together to make life better for all by education.
In all other trades, the weak or inadequate workers are not used after repeated failures or mistakes but in the inspection trade, the “checkbox” inspectors and the request by some manufacturers to only report if it is manufacturing or not, has enabled the inadequate inspector to survive but at what price? No one learns from them, the industry does not advance and the problems just keep repeating and repeating with the offenders never learning from their mistakes. The Claims Monster will continue to eat manufacturing profits and hurt the installers.
Promotion should be the knowledge, experience and skill of the inspector as the only criteria. An inspection should be an opportunity to educate and learn, not a negative experience.
Installers, become involved!
Inspectors have too much power over the lives of the installers, many with no installation background who incorrectly blame the installers, not to be challenged and the challenge is to the industry at large to accept the challenge to protect an inertial member of the process. The installer is the finial production artist to complete the manufacturing process and is the last representative of the manufacturers in the homes and businesses; and if not consulted, advised, and involved in the inspection process will only feed to the Claims Monster every segment of the industry’s profits.