Customer Service in a Crisis
By Ron Fanish
Customer service is the bedrock of any business, but it’s especially important in certain industries—the cleaning and restoration industry being among them. Cleaning and restoration professionals are often interacting with people and families who have lost their homes or businesses to fires, floods, and other calamities. As a result, clients can be dealing with trauma and high emotions, the loss of valuable possessions, and even being displaced from their home.
For this reason, cleaning and restoration professionals must make customer service an absolute top priority.
When they do, they can help people through stressful, difficult situations and build a sterling reputation. This is important and often overlooked.
When they don’t, they risk letting people down when they’re most vulnerable—and seriously damaging their professional brand in the process. Sadly, this is the scenario that often happens.
So, how do you deliver impeccable customer service in a crisis?
Two words: “transparent communication.” That is, always keeping the client informed, involved, and at ease. Below, find six strategies for doing exactly that.
Stay in constant communication
Your clients are amid one of the biggest crises they may ever face, so now is not the time for sporadic communication or long silences. Once you begin working with a client, stay in communication regularly. Be incredibly responsive to their calls, emails, and other messages. And, share all updates in real time. If new information comes across your desk, share it immediately. This goes not just for the home or business owner, but for the insurance carrier as well. It’s not just the conscientious thing to do, it also ensures everyone is always on the same page and fully informed.
Use all the digital tools at your disposal
Cleaning and restoration professionals have a wide array of tools at their disposal—not just for cleaning and restoring, but also for cataloging and communicating. Make sure you’ve mastered the latter in addition to the former. You, or the insurance carrier, may have software to upload photos, take notes, and provide other necessary documentation. You can also designate formal correspondence channels between you, the home or business owner, and the insurer, such as a custom web portal or dedicated email thread. These tools will keep you organized, give the client peace of mind, and make it easy to check records and answer questions.
As noted earlier, the period of cleaning and restoration after a fire, flood, or other crisis can be some of the most trying and traumatic times in a home or business owner’s life. For that reason, it’s essential to build sensitivity—in addition to efficiency and effectiveness—into your approach to transparent communication. Directness without sensitivity may come across as harsh or unfeeling. Both office staff and field techs should be trained on how to best interact with emotional clients. Let the clients know that you are professionals; that as challenging as this time may be, it’s not the first time it’s happened to somebody, and that they’re well on their way to getting through it, restoring their property, and returning to normalcy.
For the communication process (and the restoration process at large) to run smoothly, you must build trust with your clients. They are depending on you to put their properties back together, so they need to know they can count on you. How?
First, act as a key ally when it comes to interacting with insurance. Remind property owners to contact their insurance agency as soon as possible and to thoroughly review the policy to determine what coverage they have in place. During this stressful time, clients may neglect to fully review or understand their insurance. You can build trust by helping navigate this aspect. For example, you can remind the customer to determine if certain crises (like mold remediation) are covered or not, or you can help clarify whether additional living expense coverage (i.e., relocation) is available. In short, be a trusted guide in what can be a confusing and overwhelming insurance process.
Go above and beyond
A cornerstone of transparent communication is going above and beyond. Home or business owners may expect you to simply clean and restore, but you can show them you’re capable of much more. Provide a daily report on progress since clients may not be able to visit the site themselves. Additionally, schedule walkthroughs after the completion of each phase of the restoration process. This ensures your work is up to the client’s standards and gives them agency in what can feel like a chaotic time. Lastly, before finishing the project, create a final “punch list” to ensure all needs and preferences are met.
Don’t make assumptions
So far, we’ve covered what you should do to ensure transparent communication. Of course, there are also things cleaning and restoration professionals shouldn’t do. One of those is to make assumptions about what a 0home or business owner knows about the restoration process, their insurance policy, and any other topic.
Since there are so many moving parts and people involved in a restoration process, it can be appealing to make assumptions and speed things along. But that often results in problems like miscommunications, misunderstandings, and upset clients. If the project is plagued by assumptions and miscommunications, take the time to talk things through and ensure everyone is on the same page—and then don’t let it happen again going forward.
Cleaning and restoration professionals may feel confident when addressing a fire, flood, or other crisis—after all, that’s our trade. But client emotions are often just the opposite: fear and a sense of being overwhelmed. For that reason, it’s crucial for cleaning and restoration professionals to show up not just with their physical tools, but also equipped to deliver clear, transparent communication and compassionate customer service every time.
Ron Fanish is co-owner of Rainbow International Restoration of Westchester, a full-service, one-stop-shop for restoration, cleaning and reconstruction based in Westchester County, NY. For more information, visit www.rainbowintl.com/westchester.