It goes without saying that a fundamental part of restoration work is showing up for people on some of their worst days. Even an event like unforeseen water damage from a burst pipe can cause homeowners a lot of stress, so when it comes to large-scale losses like hurricanes and tornadoes, the stress and emotional toll of the situation increases exponentially.

For newcomers to the restoration industry, this can be quite an adjustment, even if they’ve had customer-facing experience in a different industry. But in this line of work, caring for customers and prioritizing customer service is (or should be) just as important as technical know-how, because it’s what makes the difference between getting the job done and leaving a lasting impression.

If leaders and owners of restoration businesses, both large and small, want to make this shift, they should approach it as an ongoing process. Start having conversations with your team about improving customer interactions before any catastrophic event occurs and make it a daily practice.

Here are five ways to train and prepare your restoration employees to provide the best customer experience, both in their everyday work and after disasters:

1. Make sure your team members take a step back before diving right into work.

Water damage mitigation, mold remediation and most other types of restoration work are time sensitive, so it may be tempting to “skip the small talk” with property owners and jump right into action as soon as crews arrive on the scene. However, it’s important first to take time to listen carefully to the homeowner and talk through their questions and concerns about the damage you’ll be addressing.

People often want to be heard and want to understand how you’ll resolve the issue before giving you free rein in their home or business. Arriving to a job with patience and a listening ear sets your team on the right path from the start. Not only does this help give clients some peace of mind, but it also helps you avoid any misunderstandings and miscommunication down the road.

2. Remember that body language says a lot.

As restoration experts, we’re typically one of the first to assess the damage in a home, and often one of the last to leave, which means we work with property owners enough to need to develop a good rapport with them. When talking to clients, or anyone, our nonverbal communication can say just as much as our words. Coach your team on how to appear confident yet approachable whenever they’re interacting with home and business owners. One way to do this is to review some of the common body language that comes into play during customer interactions.

There’s no shortage of information and interpretations of nonverbal communication to choose from, but here are a few examples you could start with:

  • Eye Contact – Making eye contact throughout your conversation with someone shows you are engaged and care about what they have to say. It also helps establish trust and suggests you are confident in yourself and your abilities, which in turn helps instill confidence in the customer as well.
  • Posture & Stance – Standing up straight and facing your clients with an open stance when talking to them also conveys confidence and makes you seem more approachable. The opposite of this — having your arms crossed or angling yourself away from them – can come across as guarded, unfriendly or standoffish.
  • Non-Verbal Cues – Simple actions like smiling or nodding during a conversation (where appropriate) show that you are actively listening and acknowledging what the other person is saying, which helps them feel heard. There may be fewer opportunities to smile when talking with a homeowner after a disaster, but remind your team that a warm smile upon arrival or leaving can still go a long way.

3. Discuss and practice emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (often referred to as “EQ” or “EI”) is the ability to identify, understand, and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. No matter what field you work in, this is an important skill set to learn because it can help you build better relationships and improve chances of success and satisfaction in any career.

When preparing your next training or team meeting focused on customer service, consider planning a seminar about emotional intelligence, how to build it and how it directly applies to our jobs and everyday interactions with clients. Like nonverbal communication, there’s a lot to unpack on the subject (and plenty of research available), but two key elements of emotional intelligence that are particularly relevant for restoration are empathy and self-awareness.

  • Empathy is about seeing and understanding a situation from another person’s perspective. You can put yourself in the shoes of a client whose family photos have been damaged by a water leak, or whose home has been hit by a hurricane, which helps you gain a better understanding of their feelings and personalize your interactions with them.
  • Self-awareness is about understanding your own emotions and the effect they have on you. This is especially important and useful during catastrophe events when the jobs get stressful and the days are long. You and your employees can step back, recognize your own emotions and understand how those (likely) heightened emotions could impact interactions with customers and fellow team members.

As restoration professionals, we’re entering emotionally charged situations every time we walk onto a job site, so spending time building your team’s emotional intelligence is a worthwhile investment. The more you practice, the better prepared your team will be for positively navigating all types of customers and customer interactions. Again, doing this ahead of a disaster helps these tips sink in and become second nature once the catastrophe response begins.

4. Break everything down into layman’s terms.

Anyone who works in a technical field like restoration needs the occasional reminder of how to step outside of their industry and speak to those who do not have the same strong background and subject matter expertise. After any kind of property loss, property owners are dealing with a lot, and using a bunch of industry jargon with a customer who is already stressed will likely only fluster them more.

To help your team avoid this, it’s a good idea to run through different damage scenarios with them, going over both the technical explanation and the “customer version” of the problem and solution each time. Doing this on a regular basis will make it easier for all of your employees to implement in the field. It also gives them new ways to explain your process to clients, which is always helpful for those times when the property owner may be a bit distracted by the damage to their home needs you to walk through things a couple of times. Even though the repetition may feel a bit cumbersome, it’s essential for clients to understand the next steps you’ll be taking before you start the work.

5. Be realistic.

The best-case-scenario with any restoration job is to be able to fully restore the home or business to pre-loss conditions or better. However, it’s crucial not to overpromise or sugarcoat the reality of what may or may not be salvageable whenever you’re talking to property owners. Despite our best efforts, some things aren’t able to be saved. This can be difficult news to deliver, but it’s far more important — and better for business — to be honest with your customers.

When responding to any type of catastrophe event, before your team is on the ground, remind them about the importance of being upfront and realistic about their damage assessments. Spend a little extra time on this with any team members who have not worked a disaster response before. If there are damaged items they’re uncertain about, make sure they know the best way to explain to customers that it’s too soon to tell. Then, make sure you have the technical experts and other support staff on hand to help provide an answer to the property owner as soon as possible. This will help you manage expectations and minimize the likelihood of leaving clients disappointed once the job is complete.

At the end of the day, establishing a reputation for great customer service takes time and practice. It has to be a fundamental goal and value that your entire team and business works toward together. We have the opportunity to restore a sense of normalcy and peace of mind during a stressful time in people’s lives, and while it may take days or weeks to fully repair their home or business, we can have a positive impact right away by preparing to provide a good customer experience from day one.