I will never forget my first fire job. It was a small kitchen fire with very little structural damage but it filled a 1,800-square-foot house that was packed full of contents with black smoke. So the packing and inventory was quite a chore.
Back then we didn’t have software and cool 3D cameras to use; we literally had a laptop, Microsoft Word, a digital camera (this was before smartphones) and a voice recorder to log non-salvage which we would transcribe later for the homeowner and adjuster.
If I could have had a software program and a smartphone to organize all the pictures and descriptions, it would have made that job so much easier on my end. But I ask myself, what would that technology have done for my client? Would it have made the experience that she went through better in some way? Would she have felt less stressed or in some way more in control of a very out-of-control situation?
It probably would have given her better visual inventory lists as she would have had pictures connected to each description unlike my word document I gave her, as well as speeding up the process of the claim because everything would have been digitized. Instead we had to fax or mail everything to the adjuster back in those days.
But when it comes to the emotional side of the claim, which is really the most important part of dealing with a fire in someone’s home, would this technology have really made a difference?
No. I don’t believe it would have, at least not where it matters most.
You can have all the latest, greatest, coolest tools, equipment and technology at your fingertips and still have your contents job go sideways in a hurry. But if you have the right training and skill set that will help you understand how to build that trust relationship with your client during the pack-out process, you will set yourself and your client up for success on every job.
Here are the top three things you can do during every pack-out to create immediate trust and confidence with your client at the start.
Listen - Let Them Know You Care
When there has been fire it starts a huge chain of events that start happening very quickly and mostly around the client. Decisions are being made by firemen. Fire inspectors are taking control of their home. And insurance adjusters are calling and telling them how things work and what they need to do next.
Most of the events are going on without any contribution from the homeowner affected. And while all of this is happening, usually no one is giving them a chance to speak out or be heard. A lot of fear and mistrust can manifest when someone doesn’t feel like you care about them or their feelings.
When you first show up at a job, before any paperwork is signed, introduce yourself and ask them what happened. How did the fire start? And then let them tell their story. They need to get it out and be heard.
Be authentic and listen sincerely to what they are telling you. Not only are you allowing them to start to process the trauma that just happened to them but you will find very important information about what they need from you and what matters most to them.
When we feel heard, we feel like our opinion or feelings matter. If your client feels they matter to you, you will have their trust and loyalty forever.
Demonstrate Your Expertise
This is probably the first time your client has had to deal with a fire and damage to their personal belongings even though this may be something you deal with several times a week. So they are concerned, stressed and maybe even fearful of the entire process because there are so many unknowns.
This is where you as “the expert” come in. It’s part of your job to educate your client about the process and let them know just what you can do for them. Demonstrate for them how you decontaminate their home, clothes and dishes.
Show them the level of contamination in their home with dry sponge testing. Then explain to them what you are going to do and what equipment you are going to use to bring their home back to pre-loss condition.
As you are educating them you are demonstrating your expertise, and they are gaining confidence and trust in your ability to help them through it all.
Let Them Keep Control
What??!! But I am the expert and I know what needs to be done!
This is true, but the most difficult person to deal with is one that feels out of control and desperate. So let your client keep control that you guide and direct.
Can you imagine if a total stranger walked into your home today and said give me your keys so I can take everything you own to my warehouse and I will let you know when you can have it back?
You would probably be just a little stressed out at the thought, I’m guessing.
Our job is to get our client onboard with letting us do the job we know needs to be done, all the while feeling that they have a say and ultimately control over what happens to their belongings. This is easy to do once they know that their concerns and belongings matter to us, and we demonstrate that we have the skill and training to handle the job.
The technology and tools we now have at our disposal for contents cleaning and inventory are great and so nice to have, as long as we remember to use them to enhance our ability to create the right kind of experience for our clients and not use it to replace human interaction and relationships.
And at the critical first step the pack-out is where the relationship begins.