- THE MAGAZINE
“If you give people what they want then you’ll get what you want.” – Sam Walton
Winter is upon us and many of you (I hope) are up to your ankles/knees/hips in water and fire losses! Wonderful! Done right, restoration work brings in great cash flow and high net profits. Even better, this winter windfall comes right when most residential carpet cleaners are starving to death!
However, do it wrong, and restoration work quickly turns into an ugly (and litigation prone) test of will between you, the homeowner and the insurance company. True, as a restorer you legally, ethically and technically work for the home owner who authorized you to start work.
But frankly speaking, from a practical standpoint the insurance adjuster is also your client. So you need to wear “bi-focal Customers Eyeglasses” by viewing the loss through the eyes of both the homeowner and the adjuster. (For more on the Emotional Dynamics of a client with a damaged home, download my free Special Report “Recession Proofing Your Restoration Business” at http://tiny.cc/SFSrp )
Now you can (and sometimes should) go around insurance adjusters by developing an alternate network that brings in restoration work. But my adjuster philosophy is akin to what Lyndon Johnson famously said about FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in.” So I always tried at first to “make nice” with adjusters and the insurance companies they represent.
The most common marketing philosophy on cultivating adjusters is the “good old boy” approach. You know, the wine-and-dine, drop-candy-off-at-the-office, shoot-the-breeze stuff. There is nothing really wrong with this concept. In fact, at times I did all of the above. But I found most adjusters were way too busy and stressed to spend their precious free time “hanging out” socially with a restorer. (Or maybe they just didn’t like me!)
Instead, I always approached an adjuster relationship as a partner focused on making his or her life easier. I did this by becoming a resource, a helper and a trusted “go to” person. And yes, this partnering arrangement often included serving as a “mediator” to calm the often adversarial relationship between the home owner and the insurance adjuster!
Now over the years, I’ve counted many insurance adjusters as friends. Most adjusters are honest, hard-working people who sincerely want to “do the right thing” for everyone (including their employer!) in the loss.
But let’s be honest here. Simply put, I’m not sure why anyone would work long-term as an insurance adjuster! High pressure, little appreciation, ugly traumatic situations along with adversarial, confrontational relationships with the insured, plus adjusters don’t even get paid all that much. Wow!
And yet, this stressed out adjuster is who you need to “partner with” to make your losses run smoother, plus tap into a stream of future insurance work. So let’s look at a day in the life of a typical adjuster and the emotional stresses they work under.
More importantly, let’s also focus how to make an adjuster view you as a trusted strategic partner. Once you gain an adjuster’s trust they will actively promote (and yes, even connive) to get you in on their losses. Why? Because you are going to make their life so much easier! Remember that adjusters are…
Cynical and suspicious. Ya really got to feel for an adjuster. Talk about a double loss of faith in human nature! Many insureds shamelessly inflate the loss to either a) have negotiating room later or b) to make money on the claim and/or c) get a free home remodeling out of the restoration process. Plus our restoration industry is full of fly-by-night and/or incompetent operators. So when you cheerfully walk in to an adjuster’s office promising them the world their first response likely will be, “Yeah, right!”
Your solution: Perform! Do what you say you will do- do it right and deliver on time. This obviously is easier said than done and especially so in restoration. Restoring a water or fire damaged home is a game of details. To make everything come together (including the paperwork) you must build a business infrastructure that provides an organized and documented work flow. Your system must also provide regular communication with the adjuster and the home owner. (As one adjuster told me, “Steve, just never surprise me.”)
Hint: Set up online, password-protected sharing sites for each of your adjusters with a separate job folder for each loss. (Some of our SFS members have had good success with the free “Google docs” service.) Now the adjuster can easily access your loss documentation, updated progress reports and new photos. (Every time you add something to the Job Folder your adjuster receives an email notification. Now that’s communication between partners!)
Time pressure. An adjuster is always “under the gun.” The insurance company wants the loss (and the paperwork) finished up quickly and with everything documented along the way. The insured just wants their life back ASAP, to be back in their home and to feel good about the process. And the adjuster is supposed to make this all happen while possibly balancing dozens of losses at the same time!
Your solution: Speed! The one common denominator in the often conflicting desires of the insurance company and the home owner is they both want the loss finished fast! (Insurance companies have learned the hard way that the longer the loss drags on the more it will cost them and not just in additional living expenses.)
So your job is to focus on both immediate response and rapid completion. Build a stable of competent and motivated sub-contractors who will give you “priority scheduling.” (Do this by paying your subs very well and on time!) Explain to all your sub-contractors that you are searching for a long term partnership type of relationship. Then say, “My insurance adjusters expect me to perform quickly and that is what I need from you too.”
I developed relationships with carpenters for rapid board-up service along with plumbers (who are a very good source of referrals) and electricians who could immediately secure the property. I also had a moving company that would give 24-hour service plus dry cleaners, electronic specialists, a document drying company, carpet installers and the all-important temporary help agency!
Remember too that a successful restoration loss is based on the perception and feelings of the Insured. So train your employees (and your sub-contractors) to always display a “sense of urgency.” (And especially so when the homeowner is on the premises!) No more long breaks, no personal cell calls/texting or unmotivated workers just hanging out and idly chatting on company time. Instead, insist on an organized work atmosphere of “git ‘er done!” (This same sense of urgency will also make you more money too!)
Cost pressure. Insurance companies’ bottom lines are under increasing pressure. So of course this gets passed down the person slaving away in the field- your adjuster. And yet, a busy adjuster doesn’t have the time to manage the loss before hand or do a full line item review of your bill afterwards. He or she needs a “partner.”
Your solution: Justification! Oddly enough, the adjuster doesn’t really care how much the loss is. After all, a busy property loss adjuster may approve millions of dollars of losses every month. It’s all monopoly money to them! But they do need you to help them cover their butt. So once again, never surprise an adjuster.
If possible, coordinate with your adjuster on setting an accurate reserve for the loss. (One State Farm adjuster always told me, “Steve, just give me something I can hand my hat on.”) Demonstrate your knowledge by following industry standards on tear out and equipment placement. And above all else, document, document, document! An organized billing packet using industry software is a thing of beauty for an adjuster and his or her claims manager!
Fear! That’s right, adjusters are scared to death every time the phone rings. Why? Because it usually is an angry homeowner screaming about the restoration contractor’s actions (or lack of action!) in their home. If you prove to an adjuster that the jobs you handle run smoothly and wind up with a happy, content insured they will fight to get you in on their losses. Adjusters love having less drama in their lives!
Solution: Create a Cheerleader out of the insured right from the git-go. Cheerleader homeowners complain less to the adjuster and happily settle the loss much sooner. You will make Cheerleaders by programming in positive Moments of Truth that show your care and concern for a home owner who has suffered a devastating loss. Orient and train your employees to display this same care and concern. I’ll share specific tips on how to make a Cheerleader out of a restoration homeowner next month.
Simply put, you create Adjuster Cheerleaders when you can consistently bring “peace to their valley”! So partner with insurance adjusters and you’ll have a fat bank account, happy employees and the genuine satisfaction of helping people in need!