Healing the Loss - Part II
August 23, 2007
Buying toys is fun. After all, just think about the last time you bought a car/sofa/set of golf clubs/laptop computer/big screen TV/fill in the blank. My guess is it was an exciting and gratifying experience. The fascinating process of investigating your options (my wife calls this “shopping”), making the purchase and then finally the exhilaration of bringing your new possession home and actually enjoying it for the first time. Priceless!
Yes, customers buying tangible goods are, if not happy and excited, at the very least reasonably content. But what about our customers in the restoration and remediation industry? When was the last time you worked for a client that was happy and excited over having your technicians working on the catastrophe in their home? Remember that the emotional dynamics of a restoration loss are totally different from any other buying experience.
Simply put, both the damage and your company are an unwanted (and totally unexpected) presence in the customer’s life. Instead of the immediate gratification and pride of ownership of a new prized possession, your client is irritated, suspicious, apprehensive, hostile, guilty, angry, scared to death and very, very paranoid! Never forget that your customers are most definitely not happy campers.
On the other hand, the restoration process is all in a day’s work for you, just another routine job (yawn!). This emotional contradiction between the restoration professional and his or her customer is where problems crop up because, when you meet the homeowner for the first time, their overriding emotions will be doubt, suspicion and fear, all focused on you!
For the client this “job” is their life, and they (hopefully) have not been through this ordeal before. Therefore all this fear, suspicion and panic on the part of the homeowner inevitably leads to a psychological phenomenon I call “Unspoken Questions/ Unspoken Answers.”
Certainly, your new restoration clients are bursting with lots of verbal questions. After all, how often do you hear, “How soon can you get here? Is my home still going to smell like smoke when you are done? Will the insurance company buy me new carpet? When can we move back in?” and of course the dreaded, “My neighbor’s great aunt had a fire once and she told me that …”
However, do you think the homeowner has more urgent questions they don’t verbalize out loud to you? Yes, their panicked and paranoid emotions lead to Unspoken Questions, such as, “Do your people know what they are doing? Are you (and they) honest? Can I trust you? Do you care?” Make no mistake about it. These Unspoken Questions are shouting away silently in your customer’s mind, just begging to be answered. Obviously you need to respond. But how?
Pay attention here. You can’t answer an Unspoken Question with a verbal reply. (If you doubt me, just try telling the homeowner “My employees won’t steal from you.” By making this statement verbally, your client will immediately question your employee’s honesty, and quite possibly doubt your sanity!) Instead, you and your employees must answer the homeowner’s Unspoken Questions with non-verbal Unspoken Answers. These silent replies are based on the image your company projects and especially on how your people look, act and work, as well as the attitude they display.
Now, here is the scary part. Your employees have been giving Unspoken Answers to your customers all along. But neither they – nor you – have been aware of the emotional dynamics of the restoration loss. Even worse, you haven’t been involved in the scripting of your worker’s Unspoken Answers. So let’s examine some common Unspoken Questions of a typical restoration client, and see how you can build in routine Unspoken Answers into your company procedures.
Do your people know what they are doing? Stress to your employees they must always display an air of “calm competence.” Remember that a suspicious (even bordering on paranoid) homeowner has very sensitive antennae that will quickly pick up on any doubt or confusion on the part of your workers. I always told my staff, “At the very least, always act like you know what you are doing!”
However, don’t just depend on your employees successfully acting their part. Routine written procedures, along with organized equipment and technical training, will not only allay the homeowner’s fears (and reduce employee stress) but will also dramatically increase production and your bottom line.
Will you respect me and my possessions? Your clients’ entire lives have been turned upside down by this disaster, so they feel completely out of control. If you show respect by giving your client the “Illusion of Control” in this transaction, your relationship will blossom. For example, at the start of every restoration loss we would line up our entire on-site staff and introduce every worker to the homeowner. The job supervisor would also explain to our customer what each employee would be doing in their home. The result? A homeowner who felt more in control and on top of things.
Your employees should display respect by addressing customers by their last name unless the client asks them to call them by their first name (always a good sign). You should also review the concept of personal space. My rule for employees was if you are close enough to reach out and touch the customer, you are too close.
Giving the customer the Illusion of Control is especially important during the initial inspection of the loss. For example, always ask permission before opening a cabinet, closet or any time you “test for residue removal” (a big Unspoken Answer). Let the customer lead you on your inspection tour. Interview the customer on what happened, but give them plenty of time to respond. I always scheduled at least two hours to inspect even the smallest fire loss. Time spent with the customer now pays off big time later in the loss. Hint: Carry a photo album with before-and-after shots on the initial inspection. When customers see your company’s previous results it becomes a very positive Unspoken Answer.
Do you (and your employees) care about me and my home? Nothing will help you gain the confidence of your restoration client faster than displaying an attitude of care and concern. Remember, these are seriously traumatized and beat-up-on individuals. Even the hint of a lack of concern on the part of your workers will have huge negative effects down the road. Avoid this pitfall by programming into your employee’s work habits routine care and-concern procedures. By the way, when speaking to the homeowner it is always “possessions,” never “stuff,” “items” or “junk.”
Always place walk-off mats at each entrance your employees are using. During your initial inspection place a mat, plus put on surgical booties. Lay down drop cloths, paper runners or moving quilts as appropriate. Take detailed notes, photographs and video all customer possessions that will be packed out. This careful inventory not only will protect you from a nit-picking customer, it also gives a great impression to the homeowner at the start of the job.
Teach your staff to welcome customers checking on their job quality. Too often, employees feel threatened and take it personally when a client is watching them work. However, if the homeowner is hanging around, it very likely means you just have not yet answered all of the their Unspoken Questions. So hire employees who are “people people,” who will feel comfortable explaining their work procedures to the customer. Once the homeowner feels confident in your staff, they very likely will let them get on with their work in peace.
Will I be safe? Personal security is a huge issue and getting bigger. If you have employees or subcontractors working in customer’s homes, you are have an enormous financial, moral and ethical responsibility. Above all else, are you convinced that your worker is a ‘good person”? Here is my personal employee litmus test. If you would not be comfortable having this individual working alone in your home with your spouse, why are you inflicting this marginal person on your suspecting customers? Screen your prospects and perform background checks on the ones who are your best candidates.
Personal appearance and grooming is a big Unspoken Answer when dealing with your customer’s safety concerns. Invest in high-quality, full uniforms for every worker and insist on them being clean and pressed. We contracted with a uniform service to deliver clean uniforms weekly (one less thing to bicker about with my employees). The easiest, simplest and cheapest Unspoken Answer for personal security? Every employee (including you) should wear a photo ID badge with their name and your company logo on it. These badges are extremely reassuring to the homeowner and are easily available over the Internet.
Of course, you can’t script everything in a typical day. So maybe the most important thing to do is increase your employee’s awareness of the Unspoken Answers they are giving the homeowner. I did this through the “Four Cs” we all chanted together at our weekly staff meetings. I would yell out, “What does our customer want from us?” and the entire company would reply in unison, “They want us to be Calm, Competent, Caring and in Control!” If you and your employees master these “Four Cs” working in the home of your restoration clients, you will give great Unspoken Answers to their Unspoken Questions.