Increase Profits By Improving Communications

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Miscommunications lie quietly beneath the surface of most problems in cleaning and restoration transactions. Commonly-overlooked communication problems lead to liability issues and collection problems. Here are some tools to prevent these problems, avoid bad online reviews, and get paid faster!

Address the “Communication Driver”

In business transactions, we need to convince the other parties that they are better off transacting with us than not transacting with us. The challenge is that we often have different priorities than those with whom we do business. If we fail to find any common ground, the transaction will fail and valuable time will be wasted. 

Our good friend, Tim Hull, articulates this well. He says that participants in communications each have a primary issue that drives their communication. This “communication driver” is that person’s highest priority, and it will probably be different from yours. To succeed, we must determine each party’s communication driver, embrace it, and address it head-on in our communications with that party. Ignore it, and the transaction will fail, and you may find yourself in court.

Before any important communication, set aside time to deliberately consider the communication driver for the recipient of your communication. It will be (1) price; (2) quality; or (3) time.

1.Price

To identify the communication driver, carefully consider the role of the person with whom you will communicate. For insurance adjusters and TPAs, it is price. Some adjusters are under the illusion that they need not pay more than the lowest price in town. Their sole goal is to decrease costs at the expense of quality, using restorers as the vehicle to accomplish that.

If you can’t convince adjusters that you’re approaching their claims economically, you risk turning them into adversaries. When that happens, they’re incentivized to make you “the bad guy” and turn policyholders against you. If you haven’t earned the policyholder’s trust and built strong alliances with them, they may believe the adjuster’s criticisms of you. Don’t assume that policyholders understand the adjuster’s agendas. Some adjusters are skilled in manipulating policyholders into believing that good, honest restorers are swindling them. 

If you’re discussing scope with the adjuster before work has begun and you repeatedly tout your superior service and top quality materials, you are inviting the adjuster to engage a restoration cannibal to prepare a competitive bid, and we know where that leads. Instead, explain how you will control labor and materials costs, and the ways you will minimize the carrier’s ancillary costs, like additional living expenses and business interruption. 

When no insurance is available to pay for the work, price is often a communication driver for cash customers, particularly on commercial losses. 

2. Quality

On covered claims, the communication driver for residential customers is usually quality. This is because someone else (the insurer) is presumably paying for your service. These customers want everything to which they are entitled under the policy, the best possible labor, and high quality materials. If the policyholder thinks you’re only there to save money for the carrier, the job may wind up with a competitor, or worse, a lawyer. Speak to the policyholder privately and patiently explain the skill, training, and certifications of your workforce. Give specific examples of what you will do to ensure the property is properly restored.

3. Time

For others, time is the priority. Time is the communication driver when a loss to commercial property interrupts business. Be armed with some impressive ideas on how to accelerate getting the business back online. If a casino is losing a million dollars an hour, they don’t care that you can save them ten cents a foot on drywall. This is the time to discuss three shifts, afterhours work, and subcontract labor. Charge a fair price and provide quality service, but when communicating with the time-centric individual, stay focused on expedience and efficiency.

If we disregard the communication driver, not only will the communication be unproductive, but the relationship could also collapse and we could wind up in court. But when we speak to other parties’ communication drivers, they feel heard. They must feel heard to trust you. Trust is essential to a successful transaction. 

People Will Hear Things You Did Not Say

Customers yearn for predictability but restoration is an inherently unpredictable process. We must be ever-mindful that the principal terms of restoration transactions are often discussed when customers have undergone one of the most stressful or tragic events of their lives. Stress diminishes the brain’s capacity to accurately capture information. The greater the stress, the less information is retained. The brain chooses key facts to capture and discards the rest. When you’re discussing price and scope, you may get polite head nods from the customer, but the customer’s mind may be elsewhere. The customer may be in a state of shock, heartbroken from losing family heirlooms, or overcome by fear of financial devastation. Your statements, even if clear, may fall on deaf ears. 

To thrive, the humans need optimism and hope. When our chips are down, we tend to latch onto favorable facts for instant gratification. When favorable facts are unavailable, we sometimes create favorable interpretations of the facts to brighten our vision of the future. Sometimes people hear what they want to hear.

 Restorers must be excruciatingly careful when choosing words that could elevate customers’ expectations. Promise hard work, integrity, and professionalism, but don’t give estimates of prices or completion dates until you have conducted a sufficient investigation. Oral discussions about price, material selections, and completion dates are risky and inadvisable. Written discussion of those issues is always safer. 

Learn to Write the Right Way

Our readers know we don’t shower insurance adjusters with praise, but one thing most adjusters do really well is write professional-looking, fact-based letters without emotion. Pull out some letters from adjusters to see what we mean. They are usually written in short paragraphs and are typically structured like this: 

FACT + FACT + FACT + POLICY LANGUAGE + ANALYSIS = CONCLUSION

They did not grow up writing that way. They were trained. Restorers need to be trained the same way. The conclusion should flow naturally from dry facts, like a math equation. 

Here’s how to accomplish this:

Establish a goal. Decide exactly what you want to accomplish with your words before you write them. Keep the purpose at the top of your mind the entire time you write. Make sure each word furthers your goal. Otherwise, take it out. Concise messages stand out and save the reader valuable time.

State the key message clearly. Do not assume that your message will be absorbed by people merely because they are sophisticated and attentive. Frame your message in succinct terms they will understand and be specific. If you cannot state the key message in one or two sentences, refine it. Stay on topic! State the key message at or near the beginning of the document, with the rest used to flesh out details that logically support an inevitable conclusion.

Be real. Don’t type anything you would not say in person. Remember emails last forever and can be used against you. Time permitting, draft then sleep on it. Review later with a clear mind, and take the poison out of it. Try to find paths that will trigger the least amount of resistance.

Avoid personal attacks. The adjuster may be acting unprofessionally, but don’t offer an opinion on that. Don’t email an adjuster saying “you have handled this unprofessionally.” Leave that up to the jury.

Review and reconsider. Before sending something important, confidentially share a draft with a trusted colleague. Set aside your ego and invite constructive criticism, remembering that the critic is trying to help you. Look for things that could be interpreted differently from what you intended.

Be Careful when Responding to Attacks

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? Harmony will always help and conflict will always hurt. Here are some tips for responding to attacks:

  • Don’t take the bait. When someone lashes out, take the high road and stay professional. You appear vulnerable when they think they’re getting under your skin. You may be livid, but your tone and choice of words should convey that you remain in control, not only of the situation, but of your emotions. Appear totally un-phased by how wildly unreasonable the other party is. Just because someone is angry, does not mean that you need to be angry too.
  • Wait to respond. Ponder each attack before deciding whether to respond. Wait to respond until you are not angry or if you cannot write without anger, consider not responding or having someone else respond for you. Assume the writer is not trying to be offensive.
  • Be empathetic. You may think the person reading your words is a total jerk but this person nonetheless a living, breathing human with challenges, traumas, and sensitivities. Avoid words that could be misconstrued as an attack. Inflicting unnecessary injury fans the flames of conflict and interferes with your goals.

Most importantly, if you have communication that is not productive, keep the conversation going. Don’t give up!

We wish you fruitful communications.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for general information purposes and is not intended to be legal advice. Legal issues should be presented to qualified counsel licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction where the events occurred.

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Ed Cross & Caroline Victoria Tucker

Ed Cross, “The Restoration Lawyer,” represents restorers nationwide from offices in Palm Desert, California and Honolulu, Hawaii. His firm drafts restoration contracts, collects money for restorers, and represents them in litigation. He is the Restoration Contractor Advocate for the Restoration Industry Association. He is recipient of the Martin L. King Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest award of the Restoration Industry Association. He can be reached at (760) 773-4002 or by email at Ed@EdCross.com. For more information, please visit TheRestorationLawyer.com.

Caroline Victoria Tucker is an Associate with the Law Offices of Edward H. Cross. She has been a California lawyer since 2008. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Science from The Pennsylvania State University in 2005. In 2008, Caroline graduated cum laude from Whittier Law School. She is well-versed in business and real estate litigation and is a zealous advocate for the rights of restoration contractors. She can be reached at (760) 688-4772 or by email at CarolineTucker@EdCross.com or at TheRestorationLawyer.com.

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