Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the September issue of DS News.
A mortgage field services provider and its clients mostly share the same goal—to preserve and protect the asset in the most cost-effective way. They do this while maintaining AHJ compliance and preventing blight to the community, to ultimately bring the property into conveyance or marketable condition. They must also comply with the given disposition strategy for the asset while maximizing reimbursement and claimability.
With an extensive Quality Assurance (QA) process, the communities at large are armed with variations of flags, stops, and checks and balances to ensure all issues are appropriately captured and accounted. These issues could include but are not limited to identification of violations or conditions that may leave a property vulnerable to further damage and making sure standard services are accurately completed, such as securing, winterization, lawn maintenance, debris removal, etc.
QA also allows them to monitor and control their internal processes, examine their operations for flaws, and evaluate overall best practices. Together, these steps contribute to a positive competitive advantage.
Why Is QA so Important?
There’s more to QA than beating the competition. For example, failure to adequately control for quality could risk the assets’ eligibility for beneficial programs such as HUD’s Claims Without Conveyance of Title (CWCOT).” Here’s a sampling of reasons why a robust QA process can lead to long-term success for property management and preservation companies:
- Investor Requirements: Within the field services industry, the rules around conveyance with marketable title make QA an integral process. Each investor has specific requirements and guidelines for conveyance. Therefore, the QA process lines up each investor requirement with the delivery to those guidelines. Regular QA reviews can guarantee high-caliber work by the field services company and assure all stakeholders, including banks, investors/insurers, and AHJ, that every property is appropriately maintained according to all their requirements.
- Error Reduction: A comprehensive QA process is necessary to reduce errors both in office and out in the field. Field service providers that can maintain a low error ratio can implement more streamlined processes and offer products that hold a greater edge and higher guarantees in their product management and delivery, ultimately boosting productivity and overall company revenue.
- Catching Asset Damages: A thorough QA process can aid in catching various issues or damages at asset acquisition, which, if missed during an initial review, can cause a field services provider to miss out on a potentially valuable bid, or lead to mortgagee neglect, resulting in increased costs toward a company’s profit.
- Managing Risks: Proper QA procedures not only enhance the product provided but are a crucial part of mitigating risks. The greatest challenge here is ensuring that the measurement attributes in place not only measure what is being controlled but do so accurately.
A robust QA process can also support a company in successfully identifying trends and developing quality-measurement attributes. Deploying those controls will ultimately aid in managing processes that are reliably replicated across all operations and reduce risks related to the community around the property.
With the required QA monitoring in place, field services providers can catch and avert potential blight from occurring at their properties and prevent declining conditions from worsening. If elaborate checks are completed to ensure an asset is aptly preserved, a company can more efficiently determine trends regarding how errors arise and build processes to prevent them from occurring in the future.
If a company can successfully interpret trending data, then procedure, actions, responses, and methodology, can be augmented to increase reliability and reproducibility in the property preservation process. However, the greatest risk lies within the ability to collect, interpret, and trust the reviews done internally and in the field.
One of the challenges when putting together an adept QA process is to create checks and balances that can be used universally for every asset. While it is impossible to catch every outlier that may occur at a property, if a company can develop a uniform, well-structured method for the high-volume/high-risk scenarios, this will lead to a more efficacious QA process.
The real success of QA, therefore, lies in being able to make use of these methodologies available within a company, portfolio, or for a specific investor at a high rate of consistency. Such a process also contributes to the greatest mitigation of risk for all stakeholders.
To carry out such a process, however, a field services provider must have the right balance of tools—both manual and automated.
A big part of the property preservation business revolves around the review and analysis of photo documentation to justify that the correct asset was maintained fittingly and within the required timeframes.
All field services companies, therefore, develop and maintain some form of the photo review process that assures their customers the highest quality work as well as ease of implementation within current processes.
Designing reports based on inspection surveys to more easily identify new, worsening, or persistent damages can also trigger bids for repair without delay, further reducing the risk of neglect and costly exposure.
Provided there remains some variation of a manual check (or ideally, a combination of checks) to confirm that the photos justify completed work was finished in accordance with bank, investor/insurer, and local government requirements, a company can guarantee high-quality product delivery.
In today’s competitive environment, the case for using technology is also gaining increasing importance. Companies today are constantly reevaluating their field services QA processes in the quest to not only reduce timelines but also their exposure by exploring new avenues to integrate automation into their QA procedures.
While automation might be a vital step to expedite a step or process, it must be done with caution. Companies must control these processes for privacy and security concerns and require increased visibility to safeguarding collected data, and its subsequent distribution to operations.
There are positives and negatives to a primarily technology-driven structure; the reality is that although a computer can inevitably move more quickly than a human, one loses the comprehensive, questioning, curious mind that can spot the $50,000 repair, where the computer may miss. Conversely, to maintain a parallel ground with competitors within the industry, technology must be used in a limited yet innovative manner.
The key is for a company is to strike the right balance and determine the steps in a process that can be fulfilled safely, seamlessly, and with the greatest dividend opportunity through technology with little to no risk to the business and the greatest rate of reapplication.
The Ideal QA Team
While processes can be automated, QA requires the human eye to not only recognize what attributes are being controlled for and proficiency in identifying root cause, but an ability to effectively communicate findings to the user, manager and analysis team(s). To be competent enough to understand why they complete their reviews it becomes necessary for a company to hone a QA team that can seamlessly communicate its analysis at a high level.
Generally, most companies look at a QA team with the ideology that the task will be repetitive, monotonous, black and white, etc.; anyone can review, anyone can report, anyone can test—they’re just following a set of given instructions, right?
The QA team should care more about the quality of the product as opposed to a quality score. Can they recognize a problem? Sure, but can they communicate the errors to the maker, manager, or analysis team? Can they attempt to solve or demonstrate corrective, detailed solutions? If the QA analyst cannot explain at a high-level the operational impacts, financial risk, rigor of controllability, reproducibility, and replication, then what’s the point?
Thus, a truly innovative QA team goes beyond the generally accepted idea of tasks to caring more about the quality of the product.
While the incorporation of advancements of technology can ease the tedium of a review when processing incredibly substantial volumes of inspections, the value of the analyst’s response has often stimulated best operational practices, guided profitable business decisions, and portrayed success.
Another issue that a field services provider must consider when building their QA process and team, is the varied interpretations of each individual. There will always be cases of QA analysts disagreeing with operations (or even with other QA analysts) during their reviews.
Thus, it is essential that the attributed review process is published in detailed, clear, and concise language to ensure QA managers have controlled for as much interpretation as possible.
Most importantly, the greatest challenge is to determine and implement an appropriate pass percentage threshold. This percentage is a delicate balance that in and of itself must accept failures–it is thus the QA team’s burden to determine the weight and severity of each defect and the impact on the user’s, processor’s, or vendor’s pass percentage.
In the field services industry, product demand usually appears in the form of coverage territory which directly correlates to the desirability of a particular vendor being selected for more lucrative cities, counties, states, regions, etc. or even services. Higher passing percentages can more than likely award the boots on the ground some of the more coveted services and locations.
Finally, as mentioned during the 2018 Five Star Conference’s Property Management Lab, the most successful QA model will not be built solely on the paragon of technology. It will consist of a coalescence of technological exploitation, alongside team members with the most creative, knowledgeable, and analytical minds, who live among the patterns, embracing the errors much more than the successes—it will be a fine balance between man and machine.