By Steve Toburen

Nothing is more stressful than trying to bring “order out of chaos” after arriving at an emergency water damage loss. Property owners surprised by an unexpected water damage in their home or business get weird fast.

Unless you stage manage those first few critical minutes, the job will go from already bad (since no one enjoys being flooded out) to worse very quickly.

Your challenges

All cleaning and restoration clients base much of their “value perception” on how they feel about the employees actually doing the work. Customers are subconsciously asking:

  • “Are they competent?”
  • “Has this company done this before?”
  • “Will this tech be careful with my possessions?”

Most importantly, customers are wondering, “Can I trust these people?”

As a motivated business owner, I (and likely you) could instinctively answer these “unspoken questions” of a traumatized insured. However, as my company grew, my best use as the leader was not as the “first responder” on a water loss. (And I also didn’t enjoy rolling out of my warm bed at 3:00 a.m. either!) So, my sometimes-half-awake techs needed help when getting started on a loss.

We also needed to get all the contact information for the loss including the all-important responsible party authorizing the work. Why? Because once a property was restored, many times “responsibility amnesia” would hit all concerned.

All these details were tough to remember even under ideal circumstances, but disaster lurked at 3:00 a.m. while standing in ankle-deep water with a sobbing insured, who was screaming, “Just get moving!” (My insureds wanted immediate action but often got nitpicky later with the details.)

When my employees created a bad first impression, it would dog us throughout the entire loss. Even worse, my adjusters and agents hated dealing with ticked-off, screaming insureds. I realized I had to change things quickly.

Steve’s solution: The Water Damage Customer Interview

I developed a “Water Damage Customer Interview” (WDCI) form that helped my techs tactfully take control of the situation immediately upon arrival. They first calmly and confidently introduced themselves (and their crew) to the insured and explained what they had arrived to do.

“I understand things may be a little ‘moist’ here,” they would say to wry chuckles all around.

Write me at requests@homefrontsuccess.com, include your zip code, and I'll email you the Water Damage Customer Interview form I used at no charge. Then let me know about any improvements you make. And feel free to include any questions or comments.

Write me at requests@homefrontsuccess.com, include your zip code, and I’ll email you the Water Damage Customer Interview form I used at no charge. Then let me know about any improvements you make. And feel free to include any questions or comments.

My lead tech would then pull out a pen and clipboard, look down at his WDCI, and explain he needed to ask the owner a few questions during a quick “tour” of the damage. This tech would also ask permission for the rest of our crew to start “staging” our tools and equipment just outside the front door.

The first questions listed on the WDCI ask:

  • “Have you identified where the water came from?”
  • “Are there any unsafe conditions that you know of?”

Remember the insured is stressed and most certainly not a water damage expert, so the WDCI helped our tech “prime the pump” with additional questions:

  • “Are any electrical items or plugs wet?”
  • “Are any ceilings sagging due to water?”

As the client replied to each question, the tech would write it down on the WDCI form. (Carefully noting the insured’s responses is very important!) Filling out this form structured those first few chaotic minutes on the loss, made sure our office got the information it needed, and gained our company respect.

The WDCI form listed other important questions for the tech such as:

  • “Can you show me the source of the water?”
  • “Has the in-flow been stopped?” (I learned this one the hard way!)
  • “Does anyone in the family have any unusual health issues?” (We wanted to know this up front.)
  • “Do you have any special concerns and/or items of unusual value or sentimental appeal?” (All replies should be noted by the tech.)
  • “Can you give me a tour, and as we go, please share any questions that you have? With your permission, I’ll also be checking for any areas that may not appear to be wet for any hidden water intrusion.”

The WDCI form also reminded our techs to always ask permission before opening any closed doors, cabinets, or furniture. This politeness shown to a traumatized insured cemented a professional relationship.

While the WDCI form guided our tech through the pre-inspection, it also helped them review the loss and explain to our customer what we would be doing in the first, “damage containment” phase. And the form fed our tech the correct terminology (and a reminder) to get the authorization signed!

The result

My employees liked having the “crutch” of a written form on their clipboard to remind them about each question to ask. My overwhelmed and stressed-out customers were delighted to be asked for their opinions while watching the tech carefully write down their answers. They would say to themselves, “Finally, a company that actually listens to me!”

Thanks in part to our WDCI form, our insurance adjusters and agents came to realize that when our company took over a loss it would be a seamless process with a delighted insured at the end. So almost always their reply to a flooded insured was, “Just call Steve!”

And me? I loved that my Water Damage Customer Interview form helped my techs create a cheerleader out of a traumatized property owner (at 3:00 a.m.). After all, when our insured was delighted, the loss ran smoother, our profits skyrocketed, and we became the “go-to” restoration contractor in our area.


Steve Toburen started and ran a world-class cleaning and restoration firm for over 20 years. He is now the director of training for Jon-Don’s Strategies for Success program. Steve also founded HomeFrontSuccess.com, a resource portal with training programs for contractors working in customers’ homes. Reach Steve at stoburen@homefrontsuccess.com.