The National Institute of Restoration

CUSTOMER SALES & SERVICE

UNIQUE CHALLENGE
Serving Distraught Property Owners takes Special Skills

By Martin Woods

Customer satisfaction is a unique challenge for restoration contractors.

Problems with remodeling jobs consistently lead the complaints tallies at consumer protection departments for many reasons.

What other product do you buy that the company you bought from is in your home for 3 to 6 months or longer? They are there when you wake up in the morning and when you come home at night. Because of them, you can't use your kitchen or bathroom or watch TV in your favorite chair. Logical or not, very often the blame for these disruptions ends up being heaped on the contractor.

Now keep in mind that restoration is similar to remodeling but much more disruptive and unsettling. Homeowners do not have six months to get the house ready for major reconstruction. They had no time to mentally prepare themselves and their families for the trauma and confusion of a large fire or flood.

New challenges confront homeowners because of their ordeal. Suddenly their children become behavior problems for no apparent reason. Minor irritations become major arguments between spouses who can become irritable and fly into a rage over what would normally be insignificant matters. Traumatized homeowners are a real problem on large loss cases - a problem almost totally ignored by the insurance industry.

Dr. Elizabeth M. Smith, an associate professor at the Washington University School of Medicine and a leading authority on disaster trauma, said at a recent seminar that "there is a definite pattern of emotions immediately following a major loss with effects that could last several months to a year or more." What the insured family really needs is a therapist. Instead, they get a contractor."

Dr. Smith said that anger, suspicion, frustration, guilt, moodiness and irritability are just some of the common emotions following a loss. Others include apathy, depression, crying for no apparent reason, feelings of powerlessness, difficulty making decisions and many others.

Contractors become the proverbial lightening rod for all these mixed up emotions hiding beneath the surface. They're re the only tangible outlet for the home owners to vent their frustrations. Sometimes the slightest misstep by the builder can cause a homeowner to explode. And since construction is not an exact science, there is always something they can latch on to. I've seen grown men cry because a paint color was half a shade off. Of course, the paint color was not the problem; it was the stress of the situation.

Restoration contractors are problem solvers in a problem business. We are working in the most difficult situations. We have to do our best to handle everything that comes our way. We have to be hand-holders, therapists, and advisers as well as contractors.

Keep in mind that most homeowners are decent people and are easy to work for. But for restoration contractors, who see homeowners at one of the most stressful periods in their lives, the job of restoring what was lost or destroyed is a seemingly impossible task. While a good contractor can make a home "like new," even the most skilled among us cannot precisely replicate the house that contained the emotional attachments that victims of disaster so earnestly seek to restore.

Martin Woods is Vice President of Woods Restoration Services of Hartford, Connecticut
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Customer service tips
Service With a Smile

A study of 17 companies noted for their customer service, names like McDonald's,
IBM and Whirlpool revealed some common characteristics. All companies shared
a concern for putting the needs of the customer first. Other traits the study revealed:

attention to good employee relations since employee relations mirror customer relations

appreciating the value of satisfied customers as the basis for a successful company

adequate training and support to help employees serve customers well

recognizing that everything impacts customer service one way or another

establishing precise and demanding
performance standards

training managers and defining their roles in promoting customer service

making employees feel appreciated through tangible rewards &
intangible recognition

measuring the effectiveness of customer service and personnel policies

Building strong commitments to customer-oriented business practices

"The customer is always right."  Irritating as it is, the phrase is true. Every salesman knows that attention to the customer is key to success. Dick Schall, author of Keeping the Edge, lists four things every customer wants:

Personal attention. Everyone the customer encounters is a reflection of the company. To the customer, the company is best judged by the last person he encountered.

Dependability. A company can keep a customer with a complaint 80 percent of the time if the customer gets satisfaction after the first contact about his problem. Beyond that, odds of keeping the customer plummet.

Promptness. Companies that thrive on speedy delivery of services - Domino's, FedEx, or one-hour photo - have conditioned customers to want their services quickly.

Employee competance. Training your employees to deal courteously and competently with customers is crucial to your success.

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