The 3 Phases of Documentation

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When it comes to running a successful restoration business, taking unnecessary risks can lead to devastating consequences. In fact, it’s like playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette where one wrong move can be catastrophic for your bottom line. Like Russian Roulette, you have a 16.67% chance of catching a live bullet, ending your game of life. Interestingly enough, 10 & 10 (overhead and profit) gives you a 16.67% margin – which will also end your restoration game pretty quickly. And what’s even worse, many in the industry are taking another risk by not documenting their jobs properly. But it’s not for the reasons you might think.

Documenting your work may seem like a mundane task, but it’s an essential part of the process that can save you from future headaches and losses. 

In my experience, those who fail to document their work are playing the game of roulette without realizing it. They may think they are prepared, but when they don’t have the information needed to back up their work, they end up losing money in multiple ways. 

Almost all of them fail to realize there are three phases of field documentation: the Initial Site Inspection Phase, the Inspections and Monitoring Phase, and the Closing Documentation Phase.

By focusing on these three phases, you can decrease your risk of losing money, reduce the chances of ending up in a legal battle (where you lose), and increase your profitability on every job. It’s not enough to simply do the work and move on to the next job, but do the work and make money on every job. You need to document every step of the process to ensure that you’re prepared to win.

When it comes to settling disputes, rarely is there a chance to present new evidence. Therefore, everything that is reviewed is the historical account of the process. That’s why it’s critical to have a history of real-time documented information that can be reviewed months or even years later. The saying “If it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen” is especially true.

Phase 1: The Initial Site Inspection

The first phase is the Initial Site Inspection Phase, which I consider to be the most important phase of the job – it’s the foundation you are building off. This is where the big decisions are made early on, and it sets the expectations for the customer. During this phase, there are 7 critical steps that must be taken to ensure the job is documented properly:

  1. Get all contracts signed.
  2. Document all conversations with all parties involved.
  3. Perform a site safety assessment.
  4. Visually document the source/cause of loss, overview photos, pre-existing conditions, resulting damage to the structure, resulting damage to the contents, initial readings and observations, scope of work, and floor plan.
  5. Write a bid price for the job (if applicable).
  6. Create a detailed 5W’s plus H report with the customer (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How).
  7. Ensure that someone who knows the process is present to protect your company and get the job started properly.

By following these steps, we create a basis for our initial report, which we call the Basic 24-Hour Report. In today’s competitive restoration world, aim to complete this report in less than six hours to stay ahead of the game.

Phase 2: The Inspections and Monitoring 

The Inspections and Monitoring Phase is a crucial component in moving the job to closure. As a restoration professional, your primary focus during this phase is to document any and all changes in the plan to justify your actions and protect your company’s interests. To ensure success, you must be vigilant in documenting and telling the story of what happened on the job.

Your field documentation should compare your initial assessment to the actual results you’re experiencing in the field. Communicating your success or challenges early and often with all parties can help prevent conflict and increase your chances of prevailing.

A valuable lesson I learned from experienced project managers is the importance of constantly updating customers on the job’s progress and any necessary changes, especially changes that may require additional payment. During a job when an adjuster failed to respond, those project managers would ask me to send an email to their manager asking for a status update. We escalated matters internally and communicated at a higher level with all parties involved. This strategy has proven effective in escalating files internally to keep moving the job forward and preventing hard conversations that could result in delayed payments, price reductions, or legal action.

It’s crucial to note here that adjusters and reviewers are not going to follow up with you to ensure restoration standards are met. It’s your responsibility to do the job right, and they are better off when they can hold you accountable at the end of the job rather than during. The reality is they don’t have the technical knowledge, education, or experience to make the right call. 

Phase 3: Closing the Documentation

Closing the Documentation Phase may seem like a tedious task, but it is also the most manageable phase to implement standardized procedures. I have discovered that this phase is ideal for identifying problematic files that could potentially lead to reduced or disputed funds.

Once the completion certificate is signed by the customer, the legal clock starts ticking, and it is imperative to take action to ensure that you receive your payment. The timeline for lien rights varies from state to state and province to province, but it is critical to adhere to legal guidelines to ensure you are paid in full.

What most restorers fail to realize is that there are actually three workflows happening simultaneously during this phase. Firstly, you need to address any deficiencies or concerns raised by the customer to ensure the completion certificate can be signed. Secondly, you must begin the legal process of starting the lien clock and notifying the customer when payment is due. Lastly, you must address any concerns or questions the adjuster may have to ensure your invoice is paid.

Now, I understand that some may argue that dealing with the adjuster is the homeowner’s responsibility, but I believe in taking a more proactive approach. As someone who has worked extensively with vendor programs in Canada, I firmly believe that it is possible to work for your own interests while simultaneously justifying the carrier’s payment and providing excellent customer service by removing the stress from the customer. My goal is to get a check in hand for the services rendered. 

It is essential that you approach the adjuster in good faith and work towards the mutual goal of closing the file. However, if the adjuster is not acting in good faith, you must move the file through a firm legal process, and you should do it without emotion. Build your “Closing the Documentation Phase” so that it doesn’t become a last resort but merely a part of a well-structured documentation framework that can be used to resolve disputes.

Make Your Business Easier to Run 

When you focus on these three phases to standardize your documentation processes, you will drive consistency into your business. Doing this will decrease your risk of losing money, reduce the chances of ending up in a legal battle, and start increasing your profitability. By building a framework that works for your company, you can operate an efficient business that allows you to focus on what really matters. And remember, every dollar counts.

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Kris Rzesnoski

Kris Rzesnoski, CR, WLS, is the vice president of business development at Encircle. Kris guides the technical development of Encircle’s solutions to ensure they exceed industry expectations. With over 15 of years of experience in the restoration industry, Kris is committed to driving Encircle’s delivery of intuitive, easy-to-use solutions that allow contractors to improve productivity and profitability. Kris sits on RIA’s Restoration Council, Canadian Education Committee and is the chairman of the Estimating Committee.

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