The 'In-N-Out' Urge and Claims Efficiency

Getting It Right, One Burger (Or Claim) At A Time...

Editor's Note: This article has been provided by Christopher Tidball, a claims consultant and author of the PC360 "Blocking and Tackling" blog, as well as various books.

During a recent discussion with a friend, he commented on the “In-N-Out” t-shirt I was wearing. As the owner of a number of restaurants, he shared his fascination with how successful the In-N-Out enterprise has become in such a limited geographic market.

This west coast phenomenon boasts a simple menu with just a handful of items, although those in the know have memorized the secret menu. Despite this seemingly limited offering, there are routinely customer lines out the door akin to those at the release of a new Apple product.

For those who have shared the In-N-Out experience, you can probably relate to the cult status this organization has attained over the years. For those who have not, it is certainly worthy of adding to your “bucket list.” When you get the chance, order the Double Double “Animal Style,” and thank me later.

Followers of Blocking and Tackling have probably come to realize that I am not a fan of reinventing the wheel. Rather, I like to look across the business landscape for organizations—claims or otherwise—that do things we can emulate to make our own organizations better. When I think about drivers of success, three things come to mind: timeliness, quality and accuracy.

Perhaps there is no better example of the consistent application of all three than In-N-Out Burger. The closely held chain, celebrated by fans for its fresh ingredients, has made third-generation owner and President Lynsi Torres the youngest billionaire woman in the U.S. and one of the youngest in the world. Just 30, Torres oversees the Irvine, Calif.-based fast-food company her family built from a single hamburger stand into an almost 280-restaurant empire in five states that’s currently worth about $1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The Claims Connection

So what can we possibly learn from a burger joint to make our claims organizations better? In a word, plently.

What is so striking about In-N-Out  is its ability to replicate the experience from location to location without missing a beat. The stores are all immaculate. The crewmembers behind each counter are clean cut and courteous, often looking as if they just walked out of Mayberry. The quality is consistent to a fault, with freshness guaranteed just as the company did when founded in 1948. In a world where things are overprocessed, pre-packaged and frozen, In-N-Out owns the distinction of not even owning a microwave, heat lamp, or a freezer. The commitment has been on doing things right, one burger at a time.

Herein lays the challenge for claims organizations, where inconsistency hampers quality, timeliness and accuracy.  By focusing on the basic fundamentals, organizations can get back on track to delivering a quality claim product, one claim at a time.  

As discussed in Re-Adjusted: 20 Essential Rules For Taking Your Claims Organization From Ordinary To Extraordinary, the focus is on doing just that. Achieving this level of success, however, is often easier said than done in the imperfect world in which we live. 

Comparative Negligence

Like a burger, well-done, medium or rare, there is often an element of subjectivity to the claims process. Consider liability decisions where ten adjusters will quite frequently come up with ten different assessments. While one may be hard pressed to challenge the results of a 60/40 decision against one that is 70/30, this far too often isn’t the issue. Rather, organizations are confronted with far too many claims adjusters simply assessing 100-percent liability against one party or another in a world where full liability is more often than not an anomaly.

During my tenure leading various quality assurance and casualty processes for a larger multi-national insurer, significant amounts of time, energy, and capital were expended to bring a uniform approach to achieving results. Most certainly there are products, such as ClaimIQ, which are proven to assist in this endeavor, especially when used in conjunction with execution of fundamentals.

What is often found while benchmarking organizations is a widespread disparity of understanding, be it liability or another critical claims function. When there isn’t a uniform approach, one cannot expect consistent and accurate outcomes. Ten different adjusters will often assess liability ten different ways, sometimes right and other times wrong. 

Liability, along with damages, serves as the foundation of all claims. Yet, it is often cast aside in a never end quest to achieve other metrics, such as disposition. Adjusters may recognize that not addressing liability is the path of least resistance and can actually improve disposition results. But is this the right approach, especially when considering the important role that the carrier, as a fiduciary, plays in achieving accurate claims outcomes? 

While the laws vary in many states, there are some basic benchmarks against which your results can be measured. For auto carriers, a good starting point is to identify the percentage of claims on which comparative negligence was assessed. 

Opportunities likely exist if comparative negligence is assessed on fewer than 35 percent of collision claims in pure comparative venues; 25 percent in modified venues; and 10 percent in contributory venues.   

Proper calibration of an organization does take time, experience, and effort. But it is a worthwhile endeavor that exposes inadequate knowledge from which training can commence. It should never be designed as a punitive exercise, but rather one that seeks to improve performance. 

Calibration drills will force every level of the organization back to the basics. They will create a mental toughness and psychological mindset that will forever transform an organization into one focused on execution with no excuses that does nothing but perform at the optimal level.  

To effectively improve your organization, calibration needs to be taken to every level of the organization. In essence, the line adjuster, supervisor, manager, and claims leaders must all be on the same page. If a claim is presented to them, they need to utilize the same thought process to drive outcomes. This is precisely how In-N-Out achieved its success. Its uniform approach follows basic blocking and tackling techniques to deliver quality on a consistent and timely basis, yielding significant results.    

Of course, our insurance claims organizations are not hamburger joints. We do nevertheless provide a menu of offerings. Our policyholders select from that menu, and when a claim happens they expect us to deliver the services promised on that menu. To do so provides organizations with an immediate competitive advantage, thereby enabling them to move from ordinary to extraordinary. 

Christopher Tidball is a claims consultant and author of multiple books. The industry veteran has held various adjusting, management, and leadership roles with multiple insurers. To learn more, visit www.christidiball.com.  

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