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Giving the Gift of Care and Concern

May 9, 2003
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“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.”
-William Hazlitt

It’s what I call the “Yeah, sure, no problem” scenario, and it plays out in thousands of homes every day. There are two players in this sad little script: A young, intimidated carpet-cleaning technician on one side and a middle-aged, apprehensive and more-than-a-little-suspicious homeowner on the other:

Customer (fretting): I’m really concerned about the spots here in the family room and also about how you will move this antique roll top desk away from the wall. You know, it’s been in my family for six generations.
Technician (bored, chewing gum): Yeah, sure, no problem.

Folks, the relationship is only going to go downhill from here. Last month we covered giving unspoken answers to the customer’s unspoken questions. Unspoken questions are created by a customer’s apprehension, suspicion and, above all, her fear of putting her home and possessions into the hands of a stranger of unknown character and skill. These sound like reasonable concerns to me.

You and your employees give unspoken answers by how you look, dress, act and, most importantly, how you respond to your customer’s verbal questions. But remember that a customer’s spoken questions are usually masking their deeper, non-verbal concerns (see “Listening On a Deeper Level” in the April issue of ICS or online at www.icsmag.com).

The very best unspoken answer you can give to any question? Take immediate action on whatever concern the homeowner reveals. Your goal is to demonstrate an attitude of care and concern. Why? Because when you display the twin virtues of care and concern, your customer’s worries just melt away.

The old adage, “Actions speak louder than words” is so true when you are trying to show customers that you really do care about them and their home. Here are some immediate actions that will let you listen, and reply, on a deeper level:

Write it Down
Many years ago I had a technician named Dave who was beloved by all those he worked for. Customers would insist that only Dave come back year after year to care for their home. This confused me, because I knew that Dave was at best only adequate technically. Many of my other technicians were better cleaners, yet Dave was by far the most popular with my customers.

One day, Dave’s assistant was out sick, so I volunteered to help him. I told Dave to simply introduce me as his assistant and I’d run the hoses and clean stairs for him (Dave, of course, loved the idea of the boss being his helper).

Dave did an adequate job cleaning and was very polite to the customers. But I noticed (as I wrestled with the hoses) one thing that set him apart from all our other technicians: As he walked through the home for the first time with the customer, he would make notes on a small pad as the customer talked. And they loved it.

Writing down the customer’s concerns sends the unspoken answer that you are not only listening but that you will follow up. And it is very flattering. One reason that people tend to “spill their guts” to reporters is that the journalist is carefully jotting down their every word.

Ask Permission, Then Test Their Concern
If you’ve cleaned carpets for awhile you can look at a spot from 10 feet away and know if it is going to clean out or not. But what is more effective? Glancing at the spot and saying, “Yeah, sure, no problem. It will probably come out.” or immediately dropping to one knee, closely examining the offending area and asking, “May I test this and see what the cleaning results will be?” The answer is obvious.

This principle of permission first/ then test applies in all facets of this industry. For example, think about the initial inspection of a smoke damaged home. Your competition is racing through the insured’s home with their tape measure, feverishly jotting down their “low bid” numbers. You, on the other hand, are going to show care and concern by interviewing the homeowner (while painstakingly writing down their replies) and asking, “Mrs. Jones, would you take me on a tour of your home and show me any special concerns? Then, with your permission, I’ll test these areas to see what degree of residue removal our methods will achieve.”

Now, which company do you think the insured will fight for to restore her home?

Permission in All Things
One subliminal concern the customer has is losing control of her home while your employees are working in it. So train your employees to give the customer the illusion of control. For example, normally try to park in the street and then ask, “We’ll need to move the van as close as possible to the house. May we park in your driveway?” Another great question is, “Is there any room in particular you would like done first?”

Asking permission is just one more action that gives the customer an unspoken answer to a very big unspoken question: “Are these people going to respect my home and my authority?”

Benefit From Indirect Verbal Reassurance
The immediate action of writing down your customer’s responses is a powerful unspoken answer. But if you want to hit an emotional home run with the homeowner, you’ll need to use indirect verbal reassurance. Here’s how it works when the customer displays a concern:

Customer: I am so worried about Aunt Martha’s china hutch. It came over on the Mayflower, you know.
Technician: Wow, I can see why you are concerned. Let me write this down but I’m also going to remind my assistant right now. (In front of the homeowner, the Technician calls out to his coworker) Hey, Bill, when you get to this china hutch be sure to call me over to help. I want us to gently move it out and then replace it as a team. Did you know this piece is as old as the Mayflower? We don’t want anything to happen to it on our watch!

By taking the immediate action of verbally following up on the customer’s concern while they are listening, you send the powerful unspoken answer that “Yes, we will respond to your every concern!” (Note: indirect verbal reassurance works beautifully when you are dealing with the fragile emotions of a restoration customer.)

If you and your employees start listening on a deeper level and give unspoken answers to your customer’s non-verbal, unspoken questions, you will create delighted advocates, or Cheerleaders, that will sing your praises from the rooftops. One of the best unspoken answers you can give is to take an immediate action that says, “I care about you and your home.”

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