Monday, October 24, 2016

When Expert Advice Becomes Worthless

Imagine for a moment that you're the owner of a multi-million dollar business and tax time is coming up soon. Your accountant has poured over all your profits and losses, and has concluded that you will need to pay the government $130,000 (I have no idea what the average multi-million dollar company would actually expect to pay in taxes).

Now imagine that you tell the accountant that you disagree, and that you think you should only pay $30,000. The accountant asks why, and you reply that you heard from your cousin who teaches finance at the local college that you can write off all meals you and your family eat, the vet bills for your horses and dogs, plus the college tuition for all three of your kids. The accountant warns you that you're making a big mistake, but you still insist on only paying the $30,000. Your future looks bleak.

As ridiculous as that sounds, we run into equivalent scenarios occasionally in the disaster restoration industry. A homeowner or building owner calls us to inspect their damage and asks our expert recommendations, only to tell us which steps they feel are not necessary to mitigate their problem. I'm not talking about cases where a customer has the knowledge and ability to do parts of the work himself to keep costs down; some do. I'm talking about people who want to skip entire steps in the process altogether because they don't believe they need to be done, or because they don't want to go over budget. That's when expert advice becomes worthless, and dissatisfaction is usually the end result.



A customer has the right, of course, to reject our advice. It's their home or building, and we respect their right to refuse. When that happens, we always re-state our advice to make sure they clearly understand the possible results of not following our recommendations, and then we ask them to sign a release form stating that they understand and do not hold us (or their insurance company if it's a claim) liable for any problems resulting from their decision. We have no other choice, except to turn down the job, which we are willing to do in some special circumstances.

Compare that to the owner of the multi-million dollar company in our earlier example. He has the right to refuse the accountant's advice, but he also accepts the consequences. The accountant has done his due diligence in preparing the correct figures. His responsibility ends there. It's the a same with us.

Just like the accountant, qualified project managers and coordinators in our industry have to complete specialized training and testing to acquire the right certifications to be able to make credible recommendations to customers. Equally as important is that those technicians also have the benefit of experience, since they see similar damage scenarios over and over on a weekly basis. They also have the benefit of seeing and correcting the results of mitigation jobs that were done incorrectly by others.

While it's true that it's always smart to ask questions and not just automatically believe things that might not make sense to you, there comes a point where common sense tells you that there is a reason you hired an expert instead of trying to fix the problem yourself. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't ask for clarity regarding the expert's suggestions; it just means that you shouldn't base your decisions about what they want to do on something you heard from a friend or read on an Internet forum. Instead, ask questions about anything that makes you uncomfortable. A trained expert will have answers that make sense, and will be able to explain them in a non-technical way that their average customer can easily understand.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why A Disaster Restoration Company Hates Disasters

Almost every time we get bad weather in our service area, someone inevitably says something like "I bet you guys love this kind of weather." Even when conditions are good, people often think we are constantly hoping for a cold winter (pipe freezes), or heavy rain (flooding).


Insulation from collapsed, water damaged ceiling



While those conditions are admittedly part of the life blood of the restoration industry, we honestly don't savor the results of those conditions. Just as a doctor doesn't rejoice over an epidemic or a big accident with lots of injuries, we don't rejoice over floods, fires, mold or trauma. Yes, disaster restoration can be a profitable business, and we want every opportunity to do the work, but industries grow from effectively meeting a need, and the need we meet just happens to be the result of bad things. Even as we acknowledge that our business wouldn't exist if bad things didn't happen, we sympathize with our customers.

So, it doesn't make us happy when a customer's home or business gets burned or flooded . In fact, we hate it; mainly because we've seen the hardship it causes day after day. We especially hate it when someone has had an accident or died unattended and not found for days, and someone is needed to clean up the scene. We're mindful of the sadness others are going through, even as we send out the bill for our services. After all, if we can't grow profitably, we can't continue to meet that crucial need.

The fact is, disasters happen, regardless of whether we want them to or not, and we're just glad that we have the skills, training and equipment to make things better again; just like a doctor is glad when he or she can help a patient recover and go back to a normal way of life.

Monday, June 6, 2016

ServiceMaster by Cornerstone's Dirty Little Secret


I remember the first time I saw my toddler eat something he had just dropped on the floor. I was too far away and couldn't stop him. It completely grossed me out because I couldn't stop thinking of the shoes that had walked across that floor and all the places they'd been. I later learned that he was building immunity in a very natural way. It must have worked because he almost never gets sick. I still think it was gross.

Although most of the germs on my living room floor are probably pretty harmless to a healthy person with a normal immune system, there are dangerous pathogens lurking out there. One of the worst of those is Staph; the very mention of which sends terror through doctors and hospital administrators. They hate that word so much that they don't even like to refer to their employees as "staff." It's unnerving how many people develop Staph infections during their hospital stay. Then there's MRSA (often pronounced Mer-sah), a type of antibiotic resistant staph infection, which has been a problem in athletic locker rooms for a several years now. 

As if those two weren't enough, there's also Listeria; Salmonella; E. coli; Norovirus; and even Ebola (which terrified the world last year, even though it has been around for decades).

There are blood-borne pathogens and there are pathogens that come from all the other various bodily fluids secreted in all the routine ways. Some are airborne, and some just linger on surfaces, waiting for us to touch them so they can get into a cut or end up on our potato chips when we dip into the bag before remembering to wash our hands. It's almost enough to make you go all Howard Hughes and hide from the world!

Since most of us aren't wealthy enough to skip work indefinitely and lock ourselves into our mansions, we have to find another way to cope with pathogens. Well, ServiceMaster by Cornerstone now has a quick, easy solution, and we're happy to reveal our "dirty little secret": Chlorine Dioxide (Clo2), and a method perfected by our friends at Prokure1.



This stuff is going to revolutionize the way we deal with germs. Unlike past methods of pathogen control, Clo2 doesn't just combine with the pathogen; it actually breaks it down into it's basic parts (carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen), and causes it to dissipate harmlessly. The best part is that unlike many commonly used chemical agents (bleach and popular spray disinfectants), Clo2 leaves no carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing) residue. It's also color safe, so you don't have to worry about damaging carpets, curtains or upholstery.



It gets even better! Clo2 not only works on pathogens, it eliminates even the most stubborn odors, and it kills mold. We've used it to convert smoking apartment units into non-smoking ones, and we've even used it to deodorize and disinfect the homes of hoarders where the odor was extreme. On a less pleasant note; we've also used it successfully for cleanup after an unattended death where a body has begun to decompose. It handles both odors and pathogens in that scenario.  To top it off, Clo2 is even being used against the highly contagious Ebola virus in Africa.

Here's something that truly amazes me: As of this writing, ServiceMaster by Cornerstone is the ONLY disaster restoration company in the mid-south using this method of odor and pathogen control.

Germs and odor will always be a part of life on earth, but it helps to know that there's a devastating new weapon in our arsenal that will solve both problems quickly and safely.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

From Filthy to Food-Grade Clean in Ninety Minutes



In the old days of disaster restoration (only a few short years ago), soft contents (clothing, textiles, shoes, leather goods) that had been saturated with super-heavy soot and smoke, or that had been exposed to contaminated water, bio-contaminants, or other pathogens would've been automatically discarded and replaced (per the insurance company) during a disaster cleanup. There was just no way to get them truly clean, deodorized, and decontaminated without damaging the fabric. There's no telling how many tons of soft goods were relegated to the land fills during all those years.

That still happens today in a lot of places. It was happening right here in the Mid-South until last summer when ServiceMaster by Cornerstone met the folks from Esporta Wash Systems, and things haven't been the same since.



We were thrilled with the results on our first contents restoration job using the Esporta iS4000. This particular job was the result of a toilet overflow. Since toilet overflows are considered category three water (full of bio-contaminants), most insurance companies allow for full replacement. We explained our wash system technology to our customer and left the choice to her. She decided to give it a try; after all, we have a 100% satisfaction guarantee on items washed in the Esporta.

We restored several items for our customer, but the one item that stands out in our minds is the Coach handbag that she loved. It had been a gift from someone special, and she didn't want to replace it with a new one. The problem was that it had been sitting wet in a bag for a few days before we were called, and by then it was covered in mold in addition to all the other microbial life forms growing within the fabric.

When we tested the handbag with our ATP meter, the same kind used by health departments for testing restaurant surfaces, the reading was 2460 RLU (relative light units). To give you some perspective on that, 30 RLU or below is considered food grade clean. Most surfaces that you handle daily, such as a cell phone, average around 300 RLU. This handbag wasn't just dirty, it was filthy!

Coach handbag before washing

This was going to be a true test of our new Esporta Wash System; the moment of truth. We put the handbag in one of the Esporta's stationary compartments, adjusted the settings, and started the machine. The Esporta passed the handbag through detergent-laden water over and over, using hydraulic action instead of agitation to wash it. That's why we were able to machine wash something as delicate as this, and that's one reason Esporta is superior to traditional washing methods. Doing it this way protects the integrity of the fabric because nothing is rubbing against it and wearing it out. Instead, water and environmentally friendly detergents just keep passing through the fabric, over and over.

The result was incredible. At the end of the process, this handbag that had previously tested at 2460 RLU was testing at 22 RLU. That's food-grade clean, meaning it was so clean you could safely prepare food on it. It also looked brand new and smelled clean and fresh. Our customer even commented that it had not looked that good since it was new. She was also thrilled with how her clothing items and shoes turned out. We were able to get items that she needed immediately back to her within 24 hours, and she had all of her items back in less than a week; delivered neatly under plastic covers, hanging in nice boxes. The whole thing was a home run for us and a pleasant surprise for our customer.

Coach purse after going through the Esporta Wash System


We've done several jobs with our Esporta since then; all of them wildly successful. We're cleaning items that come to us from as far away as Jackson, MS, three hours south of us. There has been so much demand that we just bought a second machine to keep up. It's that good! Word is out about ServiceMaster by Cornerstone and the Esporta Wash System. It feels great to be an industry pioneer.












Friday, December 18, 2015

Be Prepared - Your Disaster Plan Of Action Is A Download Away

Walking into your home and discovering ankle deep water or seeing (and smelling) the results of fire damage is a bad feeling. You might not immediately understand all the problems it will present, but you know it won't be easy.

That thought alone is enough to cause nausea-inducing stress for some of us. It makes sense to do everything possible to keep that stress to a minimum. A simple plan of action could certainly go a long way toward eliminating that stress, and any good plan of action begins with knowing how to contact the right person for help. The next step is knowing what to do until they get there.

Our free ServiceMaster by Cornerstone mobile app is your all-in-one solution for both of those things. A quick response is the best way to prevent further damage, and there's no quicker way than this. With two touches of your fingertip, you can be on your way to recovery. You'll have the peace of mind of knowing that experts who can handle the hard stuff for you are on their way and ready to put things right.



While you're waiting for us to arrive, you can check out the "What To Know" section of our mobile app. You'll find great advice on what you can do to minimize damage until our crew arrives. You can even take photos and send them directly to us through our app.

You'll also find photos of our leadership team and their contact information using our "Key Contacts" page in the "About Us" section. If that's not enough, you can even read a brief synopsis of our company.

Your basic, emergency plan of action is one download away. It's an easy way to prepare. Just click on one of the following links:

For i-Phone: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/servicemaster-by-cornerstone/id839487141?mt=8

For Android: http://www.lollipopandroid.xyz/download/com.smst.charles.html

Monday, November 23, 2015

Two Questions That Can Change Your Life

It's not every day that you get to work with people who are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to do or say something kind to others... unless you work at ServiceMaster by Cornerstone.

In recent months, we have focused heavily on determining the ultimate reason we do what we do every day. That is, the reason we choose to work in the restoration industry, and the reason we show up to work every day. Although that varies from person to person, we wanted to unify everyone under a main purpose for our company. More than that, we wanted to consider whether or not we are finding purpose in our work lives as well as our personal lives. After all, we spend the majority of our waking hours on the job. If our only purpose is to just get through another day of cleaning up after floods, fires, mold and trauma, then the legacy we could leave in this world is wasted.

After a lot of brainstorming and soul searching, our leadership team determined that our company's purpose is "impacting lives at every opportunity so that we can lift people up."
That means everyone; Our customers, our families, each other, and anyone else who crosses our paths in everyday life.

Image courtesy of flikr.com

We now start every morning meeting with the same two questions: What opportunity did you have yesterday to impact someone in a positive way, and how did you lift them up? The answers are often amazing, and sometimes very surprising.

What we discovered was that when we are intentional about looking for opportunities to lift someone up, incredible things happen. A positive culture emerges and we find a kinder, gentler atmosphere. We find ourselves jumping at the opportunity to do things for others that we used to overlook, or perhaps even thought was a little too "above and beyond."

 Positive feedback from our customers has definitely been on the rise lately, and it's because we have team members who are more sympathetic and kinder, and who know they have an opportunity to help someone get through a very frustrating situation. They are motivated by a challenge to change a negative situation into a positive customer experience. They all want to be the one to come into our meeting and share the story that will blow everyone away. Sharing those opportunities with the group has become sort of a badge of honor; a chance to demonstrate that what they do every day, at work and at home, does make a difference and is of value. We couldn't be more proud of them.

Our team also likes to share stories of how their co-workers lift them up. When one team member goes out of his or her way to show kindness to another team member, the others want to make sure that team member gets recognized for it. We didn't even ask them to do that; they just do it because it's right.

In just a couple of months, we've noticed that referring to our co-workers as "team" and our company as the "ServiceMaster by Cornerstone family" stopped sounding clich├ęd and took on a genuineness that we always hoped for, but never could quite achieve. Things sure have changed!

To sum it up, our family at ServiceMaster by Cornerstone has become a small-scale example of what the whole world could be if everyone would be intentional about looking for ways to encourage and be kind to others.

We might not be changing the world at ServiceMaster by Cornerstone, but we've shown what can happen in our own little part of it when we come together for a common purpose and determine to love others. It's a good feeling!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What I Have Learned From Insurance Agents

When I first started calling on insurance agents two and a half years ago, I asked a lot of questions and had a lot of conversations about what's important to their customers. I wanted to know what kind of customer experience would keep agents referring us to their policy holders time after time.
 
Image courtesy of arstechnica.com
 

It's amazing what you can learn if you just ask the right questions and listen carefully. Most of the time, their answers were the result of feedback they had gotten from their customers in the past. Here's what I learned from agents about how to best serve their customers:

Customers need us to show sympathy for their situation.
One agent told me that it's probably rare for her customers to hear "I'm sorry this happened to you" from the restoration company representatives and repair contractors. It's an easy thing to say. It's the appropriate thing to say in a disaster. However, most people rarely think to actually say it. Sympathy needs to especially be extended to the customer on residential jobs. Homeowners are emotionally invested in their homes, and they need to know that the people who are there to solve the problem care about that.

To the customer, this is one of the worst days of their life.
When you see severe water and fire damage almost every day, it's easy to become jaded and forget that what might not even come close to being the worst you've seen is probably one of the worst disasters the customer has ever experienced in his or her home. It's important to remember that everyone's disaster is extremely significant to them, even if it is just another day at the office for us.

Customers need us to set proper expectations.
Most customer dissatisfaction stems from the company they hired not setting proper expectations. The customer needs to know what we'll need to do; why we need to do it; how it's going to be done; and how long it will likely take. They also need to know at the beginning that some of those things might change, depending on what additional damage we might discover during the process. Finally, they need to be prepared for the disruption in their lives; the noise of the equipment, the demolition of ceilings, flooring, sections of wall, etc.; the possible adjustments to their normal schedule during the process.

Customers need to see confidence.
When we arrive on that job, customers need to see us take charge of the situation immediately. They need to see us alert and paying attention. No matter how bad the situation, we need to appear calm and in control. Our actions tell the customer a lot about our ability. They need to be reassured right away that we are trained to handle it and we know exactly what to do. It's important to not panic the customer, and often that means being careful how we phrase things, and using a reassuring tone of voice.

Smile
That should be a given.  A smile always makes any situation better.