On the Job, part two



Customers aren’t always logical with their actions towards you. Some might even say they rarely are.

But it’s important to remember to respect your customers and take the time to listen to them even when they’re being a little crazy, even when they’re taking up your oh-so-valuable time. More important to remember is, in doing this, you are far more likely to create loyal customers, the type who refer friends and family.

Of course, while we must be considerate of the customer, we also have a job to do, which is impossible while in conversation.

In the first part of this article, we talked about how to show customers you care about their feelings and concerns. In this second half, we’ll look at how to show them you mean business — and need to get to it.

John Goense, chairman of Response Team 1, says his company looks for these abilities first in potential employees. “You need to have a certain set of technical skills [in restoration], but there are a lot of people who have those skills,” he explains.

So instead of hiring for industry skills, he focuses on people skills. “We use psychological profiling we developed over the years that quantifies personality characteristics, and we measure those against a benchmark we’ve established by testing our top performers,” Goense adds. “We basically have a template of what those people look like and test for them.”

But if you already have employees without these skills (or you yourself lack them), here’s a guide to better dealing with customers in their homes, and when looking for new employees, a skill set to look for.

Stay in control

From the Trenches

“The How-Do-I-Get-In Job”

We went to clean this lady’s home. There was so much stuff in the drive way I could not get up next to the home. She asked her neighbor if I could use his drive way to cut across her yard.I could not use the front door due to so much stuff piled up in the way. I had to go around to the side door and cut through a kitchen that had so much stuff and filth stacked up that you could not see the counter tops. They cleared a path so that I could barely fit through into two different rooms where the carpets were covered in dog pee.As I am looking around trying to decide the fastest escape route, this lady looks at me and asks if I recycle my used water because she did not want other people’s germs in her house.

Jim Martin,
Beyond Clean,
Tucson, AZ

“The Awkward Moment”

Cleaned a home two years ago where the homeowner told me a story about her friend who had hired a carpet cleaner on referral. The story was fairly long, and she said the cleaning was a good job.The friend then paid the cleaner and gave him a tip, and then he killed her.Felt a little awkward as she then told me her husband was gone but expected to return soon.

James Beane,
James Bean’s Cleaner Carpet and Upholstery,
Fort Jones, CA


“Take a common sense approach,” Goense recommends. “You’re there to be supportive and helpful, but you have to make a judgement call on the person you’re dealing with so you can get your job done. You’re there to be helpful to them, but you’re not there to be their therapist.”

If customers want to tell you about the birthday party they were having upstairs when their basement flooded, let them, and then gently steer the conversation back to the work. It’s important that you lead customer interactions.

1.   Don’t make light of their problems: For restorers, jobs can start to blend together. While you might have seen 100 cases exactly like the one you’re working, it’s likely the first one for your customer. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t say, “We’ve seen cases like this before.” That makes their personal crisis seem unimportant to you.

2.   Keep it confidential: If you’re working a death scene cleanup, and the customer gives you all the gory details of their loved one’s untimely death, don’t let her catch you sharing those details with a coworker, even if it’s really juicy.

3.   Stay positive: Whenever possible talk about things as positively as you can. Don’t talk about the “damage;” talk about the “areas for restoration.” Don’t talk about the “stains;” talk about the “places for improvement.”

4.   Don’t overstep: There are many missteps you can make with your words. This is especially true for restorers. Some things to especially look out for are:

o   Don’t bring religion into it: Since your faith gives you comfort, you reasonably want to share that with your customers, but unless you know for certainty their faith is the same as yours, you can quickly offend a good customer.

o   Don’t offer clichés: Telling someone in crisis “everything will be fine” is not helpful.

o   Don’t judge: People aren’t always reasonable (again especially for restoration customers dealing with trauma), but it’s important to try to understand their situation. When you see a messy home, try not to think less of your customer. You don’t know what might have happened recently.

5.   Pay attention: If you really listen to a customer, you can more easily find ways to naturally end the conversation and get to work. For example, when a customer says, “I just can’t believe what a mess it is,” realize it’s a good place to both comfort her and make your way out of the conversation by simply saying, “I’m going to go start taking care of it for you so you don’t have to look at it anymore.”

6.   Have set “exit phrases” ready: You can develop some of these (like the one above) yourself so it feels natural. Just consider things customers are likely to say, and come up with what exits for you. For example, “These spots are as good as gone,” for when a customer is going on about his dog peeing, his daughter’s secret party while he was out of town, etc. It mainly comes down to letting them know you’re there to help and then leaving the conversation to go perform that help.

“Lots of times, 80 or 90 percent of the solution is to just listen. You don’t really have to say anything, and people don’t really want you to say anything; they just need to be heard,” says Goense. “Much of the time if you’re just patient, thoughtful and considerate and you’ll take a little bit of time to listen to them before courteously moving the conversation to get going or ask them about stuff you need information on to do the job, they’ll walk away satisfied.”

Learn empathy

It can be hard, at times, not to think of customers as something we “put up with” in order to do our jobs, but customers are the job. Without them, there’s no work to do.

Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagine how it would feel to let a stranger into your home, to leave them alone with the world you’ve built. Be sure to respect that you are in this sacred space — stay out of areas you don’t need to be in, listen to your customers even when they’re unreasonable, and generally treat them with the golden rule.

Successfully interacting with customers is really all about kindness and understanding. It isn’t always easy to remember that and maintain composure in the busy worlds of carpet cleaning and restoration. But make your customers happy, and they’ll return the favor — with more business.


Amanda Hosey is assistant editor for Cleanfax. She has worked in the editing and publishing field for more than five years. Hosey holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s in creative writing. She can be reached at (205)408-3784 or [email protected].

Cleanfax Staff

Cleanfax provides cleaning and restoration professionals with information designed to help them manage and grow their businesses.

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