Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Making Peace on the Restoration Home Front- Part III

“Let us have peace” - Ulysses S. Grant

Recession is such an ugly word. And yes, since carpet cleaning is obviously a “discretionary income” item, our industry is not immune to an economic downturn. However, as an independent entrepreneur, you don’t have to go down with the ship.

You enjoy the priceless opportunity to choose your fate by focusing your business on industry niches that are recession resistant. For example, pipes break and homes flood no matter how bad the economy is. And yes, insurance carriers are legally obligated to restore the inundated home to its pre-flood condition. Wonderful! But trouble rears its ugly head…

Far too many carpet cleaners approach the restoration sector just like a regular carpet cleaning job and totally ignore the Emotional Dynamics of dealing with a traumatized and beat-up-on homeowner. To be successful in water-damage restoration you must “make peace” on the “Restoration Triangle” of the homeowner, the insurance adjuster and, of course, you!

In my December 2008 “To Your Success” column, we learned that customers with a badly damaged home often suffer from Acute Stress Disorder. ASD 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. Insurance adjusters typically ignore these very real Emotional Dynamics of the loss and therefore wind up in a bitter war with the homeowner. And you? Far too often you get wounded with all the “emotional shrapnel” flying around!

In the January issue we walked step by step through the first two minutes after arriving at the customer’s home. Remember, to “make peace,” you (and your employees) must focus on answering the suspicious and even hostile “unspoken questions” of your client with reassuring “unspoken answers.” You will do this by pre-programming wonderful positive Moments of Truth (MOT) designed to impress your customer on a subliminal level. For example, after introducing yourself to the customer…

Give your client the Illusion of Control. Don’t forget that ASD is the body’s response to feelings of intense helplessness. You can create a great MOT by allowing the homeowner to once again feel in control of their life, even in small things. For example, ask, “Am I parked in the right place?” or even better, park on the street and ask, “May I pull into your driveway?” Program other “Permission Questions” throughout your job script. Examples: “May I open this closet door?” “If it is OK with you, I’d like to disengage your carpet from the tackless strip” and “With your permission, I would like to test this area for water intrusion.”

Of course, when you interview a customer…

Above all else, listen. Yes, there is a need to maintain a “sense of urgency” on a restoration loss. But part of giving your customer the “Illusion of Control” is to allow them to unload on you. So very likely, you may hear at great length about how the loss occurred; the fact that they have been with the same insurance company for 38 years and have never filed a claim; that their neighbor says the house will never be the same and that it would have been better if it had burned to the ground!

Yadda yadda yadda, sigh!

None of this matters to you personally or to the technical success of this restoration project. But at this stage it is a huge mistake to ignore your customer’s concerns. The few minutes saved by blowing the homeowner off now will cost you big time later on.

As you listen/interview to your customer be sure to take notes. Not only is this a huge positive MOT, it will actually help you coordinate the job down the road. Now that the homeowner has vented and you are oriented on the job logistics and the Emotional Dynamics of the loss, you should …

Tactfully take charge. While giving the homeowner a feeling of control is essential, remember that they are also looking for someone to lead them out of their valley of despair. Do this by projecting an air of quiet competence, as in “we’ve done this sort of thing before.” One of the best ways to take control is the old, reliable, “Let me get your input on our projected job timetable.”

Employee competence counts too. Your anxious and stressed-out restoration customer has highly sensitive “antenna” that quickly detect people who don’t know what they are doing. Therefore, I always preached to my employees, “Always act like you know what you are doing, even if you don’t!”

You should promote this air of “quiet competence” by developing a regular written routine on how to perform a typical residential water loss. This system should include a printed job flow chart that shows every employee what their part is in the “restoration stage play.” Then train your employees step by step how to perform this regular scripted routine. And finally, don’t forget that every actor needs their props to be in place. So therefore you should …

Make sure the needed equipment is available. It is tough to act competent when your employee discovers that the scrub wand or the moisture sensor or the tool box or the (insert your experience here) has been left back at the office. We’re talking total panic here! So implement a standard equipment list for every one of your trucks. Itemize out specifically exactly what must be onboard at all times and where it is kept. Label each truck accordingly in a standard format. Then enforce this rule with an iron fisted, “no excuses” policy!

When, inevitably, standard inventory items are removed from the truck and not replaced upon returning to the shop they must be itemized on a red 4-by-6-inch cardboard “hang tag” and wired to the steering wheel. Now when the next crew comes along they will spot the missing item(s) before leaving the shop and driving 30 miles to discover there is no scrub wand onboard! Been there, done that!

Project peace and harmony among your workers. No one is perfect, and this no doubt includes your employees. After all, working in close proximity during highly stressful and uncomfortable situations such as restoration losses can lead to bickering and fighting even among the best people. However, emphasize to your employees in no uncertain terms that they must project a united front to the customer. Make it part of your company culture that everyone gets treated with respect and dignity – even when they may not deserve it! (Of course, it is even better if your employees actually like and enjoy each other’s company! Part of your job as a manager is to hire quality people that fit in well, and to promote this family feeling through a variety of extracurricular activities.)

Teach your employees to see through the eyes of the homeowner. We call it “Putting on the Customer’s Eyeglasses”; this is a skill infinitely more important than any technical ability you can teach your employees. The “Customer’s Eyeglasses” will empower your people to focus on the Emotional Dynamics of the loss and make enthusiastic Cheerleaders out of traumatized and beat-up-on homeowners, even if they have Lake Erie in their living room. These delighted policyholders will in turn rave about your company to the stressed out adjuster who in turn will – you guessed it – become a Cheerleader that over the years to come will happily guide millions of dollars of water damage losses your way. All this will happen if you “Make Peace on the Restoration Home Front.”

(Author’s Note: Another great way to give the “Illusion of Control” is to interview the homeowner using a structured format. For your free copy of a Water Damage Loss Interview Form, e-mail me at and put the phrase “Interview Form” in the subject line.)

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