Communication: Where Are We Failing?

About a year and a half ago, after spending time in the commercial general contracting field, I returned to the restoration industry and noticed a significant change. From the top-down, insurer to a contractor, it was a different game.

As I became re-acclimated to the business, I discovered that one of the bigger changes came from the implementation of key performance indicators (KPI) developed by most of our clients. It only makes sense, right? In order to track performance, we should be held accountable to certain standards. Once the insurers and industry researchers went out and discovered that their client’s satisfaction was linked to project timelines, it was off to the races.

A fairly simple and easy KPI to track and measure is time — the date a job file is opened to the date that it closes. But even a simple KPI like this was a new concept for an industry that, for a long time, built its business on generating and maintaining personal relationships with adjusters and agents. Time is not personal. So now, managers and business owners are faced with a different challenge. With most KPIs measured against time, where does communication — the personal part of the relationship — come into play?

Disaster restoration is a service-based industry, so communication, both internal and external, is one of the most important aspects of customer satisfaction. For the most part, we don’t have to worry about goods being returned or products performing as expected, but we do have to focus on maintaining great service.

In a service-based business, our “sale” is providing our service to the customer’s liking. When looking at service failures, I think the majority of us can comfortably say that it’s usually caused by a lack of communication. As managers and business owners, we tend to get really busy, but it’s important that we still find the time to diagnose these failures to see where the lines of communication are breaking. Most of the time, the communication failures can be separated into three categories:

1. Internal failures
2. External failures – homeowners
3. External failures – insurance companies
(adjusters, agents)

INTERNAL FAILURES

I believe this is the most critical failure. As we might easily have 10–15 employees or more involved in a single loss, it’s easy to see how communication can fail. From the receptionist to the painter, everyone involved in a loss should be in constant communication to ensure that all details are being recorded and communicated accurately. When job knowledge and training aren’t a factor, systems and communication processes should be in place to eliminate communication breakdown.

Project milestones should be established to indicate when certain information should be communicated. It’s also important that our team is aware of who is responsible for which milestones. Whether the milestone is making the first contact with the insured or taking job site photos, it’s important that everyone know who is accountable for what.

If this is not already being done, I would recommend mapping out the internal process currently being used to allow everyone to visually see who in the organization is responsible for which steps of the project. Then, the next time a communication breakdown occurs, we can take a look at our internal map. If a trend develops and communication failures are repeatedly happening at the same phase in our jobs, we may need to sit down with our managers and find a way to improve the exist- ing process.

In my organization, we have pushed the importance of the information coming from the field. Field documentation (pictures mostly), restoration management, and group messenger apps/software are utilized by all departments so the sharing of this communication is transmitted quickly with the right amount of detail.

EXTERNAL FAILURES – HOMEOWNERS

The first common mistake with homeowner communications is at the beginning of the project when expectations are being set. We have to remember that while we work in this business, the majority of homeowners do not. What we might consider as very common or expected on a loss is likely new and uncommon for the homeowner. Setting clear expectations in the very first conversation we have with the homeowner can really help to avoid most of the questions we are normally asked throughout a loss.

Similar to mapping out internal processes, think about the typical steps that occur during a loss and even set the expectation of what can influence the process. Constant and consistent communication is also a good practice. Think about it: Have we ever had a homeowner give us a bad review for over-communicating? Probably not. Touching base with the homeowner on a regular basis provides them with the comfort that they are being taken care of. Even if we don’t have any updates for them, a simple phone call to see if they have any questions will keep us on their good side.

We had a project manager start with our organization a few months ago, and he establishes his communication expectation with the customer right away. He lets them know that emails are his preferred means of communication and also explains why. He explains how the written communication keeps the conversations clear and documented, provides mutual accountability (e.g., schedules, deadlines, material selections), and also provides a method for other members of our organization to access this information if required.

EXTERNAL FAILURES – INSURANCE COMPANIES

The dynamic of communicating with insurance companies and adjusters have also changed over the years. We used to meet adjusters on the majority of losses where they could see, in person, what we and the homeowner were up against. Now, in most cases, we don’t see adjusters on losses. Instead, they rely on our documentation in the field to make decisions. I see the communication breakdown that occurs in this area as a result of details that are missed when relaying information. In my company, we seem to be getting better at this, and when thinking about the reasons why we are improving, something came to mind: KPIs. Although KPIs are mostly measured by time, communication is still a component. Remember, KPIs help to tell a story about what happened and when, so they are a valuable tool for identifying certain types of information on a job.

CONCLUSION

Just like a lot of restoration companies, we have developed strategies to help our team keep up with the KPIs. With the number of projects and claims coming in, it can be difficult to track and prioritize the sequence of when these targets should be completed. Through restoration management software and additional help from our administrative team, we have been able to track and improve these metrics.

Communication breakdowns exist in all businesses and industries, so it is a struggle we can all relate to. Instead of getting frustrated about poor communication, we can instead think about the processes that exist in the business and try to improve where we are going wrong. Systems can be put in place and technology exists that allows us
to communicate with different parties in different ways. Putting this information where it can be viewed by every- one in the business is also a good practice. In order to operate as a team, more than one person must know what’s going on with every single project. To improve communication, try incorporating communication building in every production meeting or asking the next client how they think we can improve the communication within our organization. These minor acts could have major results, which is something that will be reflected in our KPIs.RIA

Mitch Caron started his career as a general laborer with WINMAR® Durham. Through training and hard work, Mitch became a water technician, which eventually led to a supervisory role. Mitch has a bachelor’s of technology in construction management and a certification in restoration project management. He is an estimator/project manager, sits on the RIA Canadian Council, and chairs the Canadian Young Professional Restorers’ Committee.

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