7/22/2013

Above the Fray

How claims professionals can avoid the pitfalls of textile restoration.

By Wayne M. Wudyka

The images of devastation in Moore, Okla.,—just two years after similar mass destruction from a tornado strike in Joplin, Mo.—are vivid reminders that having a disaster affect a home is one of the worst things that can happen to a family. All at once, their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing become priorities.

Items such as clothing tend to be among the most personal articles in a home, as well as the most expensive from an insurance standpoint. Consider the fact that in 2012 Americans spent more than $366 billion on clothing and shoes, exceeding spending on household furnishings by $100 billion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. For insurers, these consumer spending trends can have a significant effect on severity, making restoration a valuable solution due to an average cost reduction of 80 percent compared to replacement—if implemented properly.

Professional garment and textile restoration encompasses a wide range of fabric items found in a home, including clothing, shoes, window treatments, bedding, purses, hats, rugs, stuffed animals, and more. But simply restoring items to pre-loss condition is the most straightforward part of the service; today’s textile restoration is highly sophisticated, with standardized procedures dictating proper claims handling from communication and documentation to pricing and storage. The ultimate goal is to alleviate extra work and irritations for adjusters while providing a valuable and meaningful service for those affected by a loss. To accomplish this, several key pitfalls must be avoided.

Pitfall #1: Communication

As in most situations in life, communication is key with property claims, especially between an adjuster and a textile restorer. A claim that starts right tends to end right. At the onset, a direct assignment from an adjuster enables the adjuster to remain in control and the textile expert to respond quickly. In fact, textile restoration should be considered with the same sense of urgency as mitigation, as the faster a textile specialist can be on-site, the sooner other work can begin and the greater the chance of restoration success. After all, dressers can’t be removed with clothes in them, and walls and closets cannot be restored until textiles are removed.

When delays occur due to poor communication, damage increases. For example, in the case of a fire, smoke produces two basic pollutants: oxides of nitrogen and carbon particles. When these are combined with moisture, the result is nitric acid, which can discolor fabrics within hours. Within days, fabrics may stain permanently. Similarly for water losses, applying restoration procedures within hours can prevent secondary damage, such as dye transfer and mildew growth.

Additionally, a textile expert is adept at providing quick turnaround for emergency needs items. Restoring and returning items such as clothing within 24 to 48 hours reduces additional living expenses (ALE) while providing much-appreciated assistance to the insured. This part of the service also demonstrates action on behalf of the insurance company and instills confidence in the policyholder that restoration is possible and worthwhile by providing proof of concept in the textile specialist’s abilities.

In an ideal scenario, an adjuster will conduct the scope of the loss with the textile restorer to clearly identify what has been affected and to determine the overall parameters of the assignment. A professional textile expert will be able to identify what is restorable, know how best to handle the items, and provide an initial estimate for services so the adjuster can set reserves properly. Without such an estimate, the adjuster risks having a file reopened or reviewed.

Importantly, a textile expert can ensure effective communication at key points in the process, such as when scheduled for initial on-site to coordinate timing with the adjuster; immediately after being on-site to provide an assessment of the loss, scope review, and initial estimate; when returning “immediate needs” clothing within a day or two; when the final invoice is ready to be submitted; and when final delivery is scheduled. 

Communication with the insured also needs to be empathetic and clear. These interactions are vital for setting expectations for timing of the restoration service as well as the process itself, such as returning items to pre-loss condition and how items will be returned. Proper communication with the policyholder reduces unnecessary calls to the adjuster and enhances overall customer satisfaction.

Pitfall #2: Assumptions

On many loss sites, it can be tempting to make fast decisions about what is restorable. A garment may be covered in heavy soot or have water stains that look like they could never be removed. Due to in-depth knowledge about thousands of types of items, hundreds of types of materials, and dozens of types of contaminants, an experienced textile expert will be adept at removing even what appears to be irreparable damage.

Just because an item looks badly soiled is no reason to forego restoration. Even items contaminated with insulation and broken glass, often found after a severe storm, can be successfully restored by the right textile expert. Making assumptions based on outdated information, an unfamiliar situation, or limited experience can lead to a missed opportunity to reduce severity or increase customer satisfaction. Every situation offers new opportunities from which to learn.

Pitfall #3: Documentation

Proper documentation is imperative. Digital photos provide a record of the loss, from rooms affected to somewhat unusual situations such as a large number of a particular item, a high-value collection, or a sentimental piece.

Similarly, a detailed, room-by-room inventory accurately captures the quantity and types of items damaged and provides an audit trail throughout the process, ultimately matching the final invoice. Discrepancies over the number and particular kinds of items removed from a home can lead to unnecessary negotiation with the insured and delay in closing of the claim—an unpleasant situation for all involved. Additionally, without a room-by-room inventory, restored items cannot be returned to their original location in the home, leading to additional work and likely annoyance for the insured.

Documentation also is critically important when dealing with window treatments, which can have a high replacement cost. An initial inspection by a textile expert will identify pre-existing damage, such as sun-fading, fabric deterioration and discoloration, or mechanical issues with blinds that weren’t operable. Digital photos provide a valuable reference for where and how window treatments are attached, how they hang, how far they are off the floor or whether they touch the floor, all of which pose potential annoyances for the insured upon reinstallation.

Pitfall #4: Pricing

Once the textile restoration is complete, pricing becomes the next possible pitfall. A professional textile restorer ensures accurate and proper pricing, particularly through the use of accepted third-party pricing specialists, such as Xactware and Symbility.

When restoration costs are not separated by the service provider, it can be difficult to discern precisely what’s being charged, as expenses for certain parts of the process can be shifted into another area. For example, a consolidated invoice from a general contractor may look like they did not charge pack-out labor for textiles (including boxes, storage, or other components) when, in fact, the charge is included in the higher mitigation or structural portion of the invoice (or elsewhere). Here, again, proper communication is important. From the initial estimate to the final invoice, pricing should be consistently communicated to avoid surprises.

It also is important that the textile expert provide a guarantee on the work being performed, including an agreement not to charge for items that don’t fully respond to restoration. The insurer should never pay twice for an item—once for attempted restoration and again for replacement once it is determined that it cannot be restored to pre-loss condition.

Pitfall #5: Storage

When textile items are fully restored, they often must be stored securely until the homeowner is able to accept final delivery. A textile expert serves as the insured’s “closet” for any period of time, whether days, weeks, or even months. In many cases, the policyholder requires retrieval of items from storage due to changes in weather, special occasions, or work activities. If the items in storage aren’t easily accessible, the insured is inconvenienced and the claims team will have yet another issue with which to deal. Storage facilities must be within a reasonable travel distance and be secure, clean, well-lit, and properly insured to meet the value of the contents stored.

Garment and textile restoration offers numerous benefits for both insurers and policyholders, from reduced severity on a loss to improved customer satisfaction, but realizing these benefits requires an understanding of the proper processes as well as the potential pitfalls that can lead to a permanent stain.  



Wayne M. Wudyka is CEO of the Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network (CRDN), an international organization of textile restoration. He has been a CLM Fellow since 2012 and can be reached at (248) 246-7878, www.crdn.com

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