Healing the Loss
March 1, 2007
This could be such a great business. Interesting losses and challenging situations translate into a never-boring job. Plus, you aren’t chained to the desk, you enjoy good pay, benefits and the opportunity for advancement, along with the chance to help your fellow human beings in their time of need. It sounds too good to be true – and it is. As usual, there has to be a fly in the ointment, which is…
The insured! Working with insureds has never been easy, and it isn’t getting any better. These irritating, frustrating, manipulative and at times seemingly evil individuals persist in turning what should be a simple financial transaction into an emotional ordeal! Why? Because insurance industry professionals refuse to recognize the Emotional Dynamics of the restoration industry.
That’s right. As Walt Kelley’s Pogo used to say, “We have met the enemy…and he is us.” Insurance adjusters, property managers and restorers are faced with so much human misery, loss and hurt that we instinctively become emotionally distant (don’t feel bad; this is a very normal and human psychological defense mechanism.). So we hide behind the tools of the trade – the technical terms, paperwork, equipment and procedures of our industry. In other words, we focus on doing the work instead of the much more important delivery of the work to the insured.
NOTE: “Hiding out” can be much more than physical. One of the best ways to hide is with unemotional legal phrases like “the insured.” Can’t get much more unfeeling and cold than that, can you? If the industry can reduce this trembling and traumatized person to the status of a contractual phrase, then we are well on our way to insulating ourselves from the homeowner’s pain and suffering…and from helping this beat-up-on individual recover through how we deliver our work. Therefore, instead of the cold legalese of “insured,” we will use words such as ‘homeowner,” “client” or the good old reliable “customer.”
However, with emotional dynamics you will embrace the emotions of the homeowner and build your entire restoration process around calming and soothing their traumatized feelings. Why is this so important? Because 80 percent of how your client decides if the job was done right is based on the relationship they had with the people actually doing the work. That’s right – your customer’s displeasure, satisfaction or hopefully delight with the insurance claim procedure will to a very large degree be determined by how they feel about the individuals involved in the entire claim/restoration process.
This “80% Principle” applies to all aspects of the insurance loss and restoration process. Every person involved – from the insurance agent taking the initial report to the adjuster establishing coverage to the restorer working with all involved to establish scope of repairs and then especially the restoration firm’s technicians actually doing the work – will be judged subconsciously and emotionally by your customer using this principle. It is then the homeowner’s opinion of the quality of their transaction with you will sort of pop out of this weird and complex emotional stew.
Frustrating? Absolutely! In a totally “fair” world, your work would be judged only on its technical quality. Did the property owner receive a fair settlement in a reasonable amount of time? Did they get prompt service and were their possessions restored to a pre-loss condition? Of course. And yet how many your losses have excelled in all these areas, yet your client was at best vaguely dissatisfied and at worst really ticked off with all concerned and with you in particular? Why? Because somewhere in the process the Emotional Dynamics of the homeowner got trampled on by no doubt well-meaning insurance and/or restoration professionals.
So how can we use Emotional Dynamics in the claims/adjusting/restoration process to make all of our jobs a whole lot easier and less confrontational? By focusing on what really matters: the emotions of this traumatized and beat-up individual. Let’s try and look through the eyes of a homeowner who has suffered a devastating (at least to them) loss in their home. Just what are they going through?
- Emotional devastation. Think about it. Having anyone perform work in your home is a stressful event. A student of Emotional Dynamics correctly views any residential service call as a tolerated irritation. But at least normal work in the home is an invited and planned for intrusion! By its very nature restoration work is not just an intrusion, it is a surprise “shock invasion.” On your next initial visit to a smoke- or water-damaged house, look, really look at the home through the eyes of your client. What do you see? Don’t focus on the physical damage. As bad as the blackened walls, scorched curtains and overpowering stench may be, these are not the emotionally devastating parts of the equation.
Instead, look at who is in your client’s home. You very likely will see fire marshals, investigators, adjusters, contractors, friends, curious neighbors and maybe even a few strangers who have just popped in to see what was going on! Remember, all this is happening in the “inner sanctum” of your customer’s being. So what emotions does this home invasion lead to?
Make no mistake about it. Your restoration client feels trapped, invaded, vulnerable and very, very afraid. In fact, if I had to sum up the entire Emotional Dynamics of the restoration industry in one word it would be “Fear.” Homeowners with damaged homes are scared to death and with good reason! All this fear leads to our next emotion…
- Hostility. Psychologists call it the “Flight or Fight” syndrome. When faced with danger we are conditioned to first try to avoid it (remember the scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”: “Run away! Run away!”). But when your client is trapped in their home, her adrenaline levels rise, her heartbeat speeds up and both physically and emotionally she prepares to do battle. A homeowner waiting to meet the adjuster or contractor has no place to run, so they are going to be apprehensive and very likely borderline hostile even before you say a word!
- Confusion reigns. Basic first aid recognizes that when an individual suffers from shock and trauma, the blood leaves the victim’s limbs and rushes to the body’s core. The head (and the brain in it) is a body extremity. So after a homeowner suffers the very real trauma of a damaged home their brain is “running on empty” because it has no fuel (blood) going to it!
Doubt it? Think how often you have patiently gone over every step in the claim or restoration process with a homeowner immediately after their loss, with them nodding and agreeing at every point. What almost always happens one or two days later? Your client will call and ask you the same exact questions that were exhaustively covered in your initial meeting!
Another “confusion factor” is the immediate sprouting of dozens of “instant experts” after every loss. These no-doubt well-meaning relatives and friends utter platitudes such as, “You know, it would have been better if it had burned to the ground!” or “My aunt Martha had a house fire back in 1972, and you can still smell smoke in her home.” Can you feel how overwhelmed your client is at this point?
- Exhaustion. We’re all “creatures of habit” and thrive on our routine. However, any major loss in the home destroys your client’s comfortable schedule and their sleep pattern with it. Restaurant meals and motel living can get real old after the first 48 hours (especially if the family is all bunking in the same room). So your customer is likely deep-down bone tired.
- Anger and resentment. All of the above negative emotions and circumstances together will conspire to put your client into a really foul humor. Then when your customer looks around they will note that everyone in the process is making money off the situation … except them! And yet who is suffering the most? They are and without making a dime off of their pain and anguish! This bitterness is often compounded simply because the majority of residential losses are the fault of the homeowner. And since guilt isn’t a comfortable emotion, clients will often transfer their anger to everyone else involved in the loss, including you.
By delivering your work based on the Emotional Dynamics of the insurance loss, you will silently comfort these wounded and raw emotions of the homeowner, which will help the loss go smoother, faster and be much more profitable. Even better, you will feel great about yourself because you healed the loss.