There is an increasing trend by insurers to use a lesser number of investigation agencies and rely on large (often national) agencies for the conduct of their work. WorkCover Queensland recently reduced their investigation panel members from six to three. Whereas there was previously several smaller firms that provided specialised surveillance services exclusively, the three selected large national firms now provide both surveillance and factual investigations.
No doubt there are logistical and other corporate reasons for choosing to go the “lesser and bigger” route. But it does make me wonder whether this will, in time, be seen to have been the correct decision. In fact, several large insurers have started to reverse their policies in this regard. Whilst there will always be some degree of variation in the quality of service that any agency produces, a common theme I have been hearing is that the larger firms seem to have a somewhat “sausage factory” mentality. Get the job in, done and back with little apparent regard for results or quality of service.
Maybe I’m wrong, but being “all things, to all people, everywhere” seems like an extremely difficult business model to achieve and an even harder one to maintain.
I’ve given some recent thought to what the pros and cons are to choosing a larger firm over a smaller one.
The first potential Pro would have to be that larger firms have more resources at their disposal. A larger firm has bigger premises (but this also means added overheads), more administration staff (again, more costs) and they cover a larger geographical area, with several having national coverage.
Let’s have a closer look at a larger agency’s expansive geographical coverage. Larger agencies mainly use investigation personnel on a sub-contract basis who also operate their own separate businesses and who might even have their own clients. Not very many are employees of a larger agency – they can’t afford to be because the volume of work just isn’t there, particularly in regional areas. So you have a one or two person team in a regional area that charge a certain fee structure to their own clients, but who are also on a lower rate when taking on work for a large PI agency to fill in on the quiet times.
Which clients do you think the regional operators would give a priority to? Would this priority go to their direct clients at a higher rate, or a large PI agency at a lower rate? Which jobs would be more important to them?
Let's look at another “resources” issue; that of more and/or better equipment. Again, most agencies (both the smaller operators and the larger ones) engage sub-contract surveillance (and factual) investigators who all have their own equipment. This includes camcorders and other covert video systems, plus suitably disguised surveillance vehicles. There isn’t much more a surveillance operative needs to conduct effective surveillance.
What about all that great equipment back at the agency? It might come as a bit of a surprise, but all you need is a PC to prepare a report and the equipment to get the exposed video onto a DVD. Most agencies will also prepare video-print photos off the DVD to be included in the report. $1,500 to $2,000 would more than adequately cover that set-up as a basic cost. You can pay for and get fancy “fluff” material like glossy DVD covers, but I suspect most clients are more interested in the actual evidence obtained, not the “look” of the package it’s in.
Another possible Pro is that a larger agency has the financial resources to design and implement written guidelines and standard operating procedures to hopefully achieve a more consistent result. Many are even ISO compliant. On a side-issue, they certainly have the most financial resources to “throw” at a tender and it seems to me that often a tender decision will be made on who can dot the most “I”s and cross the most “T”s. Is this really the best way to pick a service provider?
When you compare a large agency (which has a large number of individual personnel in place to deal with each component of the matter in hand) to a smaller agency that might employ one or two people to do exactly the same job, a great deal of inefficiency becomes evident.
In a large agency, the receptionist will take the initial call and perhaps transfer the call through to the surveillance manager. This is usually an employee. Compare talking to an employee with that of speaking to the actual owner of the business - who is usually involved in the day to day hands-on investigation/surveillance work as well. I’m not saying an employee doesn’t care about your inquiry, but the business owner’s actual livelihood depends on maintaining good quality client services so they will continue to get additional work. It simply means more to him or her.
It is also extremely difficult for the surveillance manager at a large national agency to have detailed knowledge of each matter being handled by that firm – a larger agency might have fifty or more matters on their books at any given time. When there is an inquiry about a particular matter, the surveillance manager will usually have to find out what’s been happening and call back.
On the other hand, the owner of a smaller agency which might be handling say, a dozen matters at a time, would probably be familiar with each and every matter. He’s probably worked on a lot of them personally and can give you an update on the matter straight away. If you need an urgent answer, a smaller firm will be far better placed to provide one quicker than a larger firm.
An argument could be made that a larger agency provides better overall results. As mentioned above, “…a larger agency has the financial resources to design and implement written guidelines and standard operating procedures to achieve a more consistent result.” But, here’s the rub. Just how good are those “consistent results?” In both cases you have independent surveillance operatives conducting the majority of the work. However, with a smaller firm, you are also likely to have the principal actively involved in the hands-on surveillance work, or at the very least, he will be liaising regularly (usually daily) with the operatives conducting the work. His livelihood directly depends on obtaining consistent high-quality results.
Let’s look at it from the surveillance operative’s perspective. He usually receives surveillance assignments by email and might get an initial telephone call from the surveillance manager at a large agency to discuss the matter. After that, contact with the larger firm is usually very limited. Sure, he will probably phone if there is a problem, but there is far less day to day communication between a surveillance operative and a larger firm than there is with a smaller firm.
I want to know exactly what is happening on each of my jobs on a day to day basis and I want to be ready to provide advice or assistance if it is needed. Each and every job is important to me and all my operatives know that. I care about each job and I think that reflects back by them caring more about the job as well.
In some cases, the surveillance manager at a large firm might simply be a full time administrator with limited or even no direct hands-on surveillance experience. There are some very good, experienced surveillance operatives working in this industry, but some matters can be quite complex or difficult and some guidance and assistance will often be needed.
The larger the firm and the more people involved in the process, the easier it is for one person in that chain to overlook something important. Things simply “fall between the cracks” more in a large firm than a smaller one.
Will the trend to use larger national firms continue, or will some of the more recent reversals of that trend continue to increase? I guess only time will tell.
Listen to some jazz whilst reading
© Copyright 2017: JFA Brisbane >< Private Investigators
Unauthorised duplication or publication of any materials from this site is expressly prohibited
Missing Persons / Finding Someone online form
Background Checks online form
Surveillance online form (private matters)
Surveillance online form (injured workers)