Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Making Peace on the Restoration Home Front

December 11, 2008
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The war in Iraq may get the headlines, but there are thousands of smaller conflicts playing out every day in American living rooms. (And no, this will not be a column on marital counseling!) Yes, far too often there is “blood on the tracks” in the ugly confrontation between an insurance adjuster and the homeowner.

The danger to you as a professional water or fire damage restorer? You may wind up as “collateral damage”! If you don’t bring peace to this brewing war on the home front, you may wind up wounded by all the “emotional shrapnel” flying around.

Your goals as a peacemaker are threefold. First, you want to make a nice profit on this restoration loss. Second, you ethically and morally must keep the interests of the homeowner (who is legally your client) in mind. And third, you obviously hope to make a Cheerleader out of the adjuster so that he or she will refer more work to you in the future. Oddly enough, all three of these goals can be easily met if you focus on the Emotional Dynamics of an insurance loss.

Above all else, as a restoration peacemaker you must build your actions and words around the emotions and desires of all the parties involved. (Wars have been fought over bruised emotions and hurt feelings and it is no different on the home front.)  So let’s start with the adjuster. What feelings does he or she have? And don’t scream out “none” here!

Simply put, I have no idea why anyone would want to be an adjuster. High pressure, adversarial relationships, dangerous situations and they don’t even get paid that much. Therefore, adjusters struggle with stress, burnout, low self-esteem (remember, I just said few people want to become adjusters) and most of all, fear-of-the-phone-ringing-with-an-angry-homeowner syndrome! What do they desire from you? Peace. That’s right. Bring “peace to the valley” of an adjuster and he or she will fight to get you into their loss. How do you do this? By creating a Cheerleader out of your mutual client, the homeowner.  

Let’s look closely at the emotional landscape of your customer with a fire or water damaged home. (As part of this emotional approach, I suggest you avoid the cold, non-feeling legal term “insured” in favor of the more personal “homeowner,” “client” or the old favorite, “customer.”)

Remember, even a normal, routine carpet-cleaning transaction is viewed by the homeowner as a “tolerated interruption”; few people look forward to their big carpet-cleaning day. But at least you are a scheduled and planned-for interruption; this new disaster has engulfed your client and seemingly always at the very worst possible time in their life. Even on a normal day, people are more stressed/harried than ever before and this unplanned-for water/smoke or fire loss can often take them to the breaking point.

This incredible pressure often leads immediately after a loss to what psychologists call Acute Stress Disorder. Wikipedia defines it as “a psychological condition arising in response to a terrifying event. ASD is the result of a traumatic event in which the person experiences or witnesses an event that causes the victim/witness to experience extreme, disturbing or unexpected fear, stress, and sometimes pain. ASD is a variation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is the mind’s and body’s response to feelings (both perceived and real) of intense helplessness. Symptoms may include anxiety, impaired judgment, confusion, detachment and depression.”

Sound like anyone you have met recently? Perhaps the last homeowner you met with that had a living room inundated with 3 inches of water? Yes, she probably nodded her head in a sort of dazed way, answered simple questions and even signed your authorization form. But what happened the next day? My guess is, she called up and asked you tons of questions on the very same points you had patiently covered 24 hours earlier! Why? Focus again on the symptoms of ASD: anxiety, impaired judgment, confusion, detachment and depression. And all this time you just thought it was your bad communication skills! But now the plot thickens.

The Emotional Dynamics of a restoration loss involve a lot more than just a little homeowner confusion. Look at the list of some common “restoration emotions.” Ask yourself how many of these apply to my recent restoration clients?

On top of all these crushing negative feelings, your restoration customer’s primary emotion is fear! That is right, your restoration client is scared to death and who can blame them? Life as they know it has been shattered. The problem is, traditionally no one in the restoration process understands these simple Emotional Dynamics of the Restoration Home Front and, therefore, the war erupts! So sad, because it is so unnecessary if you understand one key restoration condition.

All of these negative and fearful emotions give rise to a phenomenon psychologists call the Fight or Flight Response. When all animals are under attack (either by an individual, by circumstances, or by both combined) the immediate reaction is, in the immortal words of Monty Python, to “Run away, run away!” But the homeowner is “trapped” in their home. Since they can’t run away, obviously your customer’s only available subconscious response is to move into a defensive mode and fight. Vióla, the suspicious mindset you deal with in the beginning on the part of most homeowners! (Of course it doesn’t help that most adjusters are totally ignorant of these Emotional Dynamics of a restoration loss.)

Wow! The emotional landscape of an insurance loss is getting pretty cluttered. In the beginning you are dealing with the numb confusion of ASD. Then all the crushing negative Emotional Dynamics bore in on the homeowner leading to the Fight or Flight Response. But let’s assume that with your superb pre-programmed Value Added Service restoration procedures you have gained the confidence and trust of the homeowner. Wonderful! But even in a smooth-running loss there is one more syndrome that eventually will damage the home owner/ adjuster/ restorer relationship.

As the job drags on the homeowner is more and more inconvenienced (The “fun” of living in a motel and eating out all the time wears thin after two or three days, especially with three kids in tow!).  Inevitably this daily stress leads to resentment, especially when the customer sub-consciously notices that everyone else involved with the loss is making money except them. (And everyone goes home at night to a nice, comfortable home except them.) Resentment inevitably grows into anger, which is increased by one more common homeowner emotion: guilt.

The simple fact is many restoration losses are caused by something stupid done by the homeowner or their family. (Fortunately, homeowner policies cover most acts of stupidity.) Therefore, the homeowner is also feeling guilty, which once again leads to anger! Since no one likes feeling angry at themselves, eventually we arrive at the dreaded restoration syndrome of “Hostility Transference.” This condition appears and worsens as the job drags on. Hostility Transference causes the homeowner to start lashing out (often unreasonably) at everyone involved on the loss. Hint: insurance companies know the longer the loss drags on, the uglier it will get and the more the claim will cost. Getting the job done fast is one more way to an adjuster’s heart!

Making peace on a restoration battlefield littered with
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • the Fight or Flight Response and
  • Hostility Transference

  is going to be a challenge! But rest easy. Thousands of restoration professionals are making Cheerleaders out of homeowners and adjusters by implementing simple restoration Moments of Truth that calm and win over their traumatized restoration clients. Next month I’ll share some of these great peace-making tips – all focused on the Emotional Dynamics of the Home Front!

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