Steve Pham

Dealing with ignorant homeowners is hard. I should know because, recently, I was that ignorant homeowner.

I have been advocating for my mother, who lives alone in a condo three states away. A couple of weeks ago, she called me in a panic because water was seeping through the ceiling and walls.

A pipe had burst in the upstairs unit in the middle of the night, and the water had gushed out for hours. The resulting flood did a number on my mom’s unit. I called three companies that specialize in water damage restoration to assess the situation and provide estimates. My experience with each firm varied so widely that I thought I might share a few notes here in hopes that my pool industry friends might find it useful.

Company No. 1

What they did right: My call was answered within two rings, and I was patched right through to one of the firm’s principals. He listened attentively and scheduled a technician to come that afternoon. He explained that there are different categories of damage, and that if the technician determined that the standing water contained sewage contaminants, he would include a free microbial treatment on the spot to mitigate the spread of biohazards.
What they did wrong: The tech was late by an hour, with no notice, leaving us to wonder if he was coming or not. The estimate was very broad in range: I was told it could be anywhere from $14,000 to $25,000, which put me ill at ease.

Company No. 2

What they did right: I was assigned to a project manager, Mike, and he was to be my single point of contact. Mike himself performed the assessment, and was meticulously detailed in his explanations. He stressed his firm’s IICRC certification, meaning he and his team had all received training from the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, the organization that sets the standards for the cleaning industry. He walked me through next steps if we moved forward. His bid was $12,000–$15,000, a much more reasonable range. Also, he returned my after-hours call within 10 minutes, even though I had said in my voice mail that I didn’t expect a call back until the morning.
What they did wrong: Mike was about 30 minutes late to our appointment, with no heads up about the delay. At one point he sent someone from his company to follow up with us, but the employee didn’t have all the pertinent materials with him. Mike also got just a tad defensive when I asked if his company was bonded.

Company No. 3

What they did right: The best I can say is that they eventually showed up.
What they did wrong: They were grossly late for their appointment. They were only passably fluent in English, which made it difficult to understand their proposal. They answered “yes” when I asked if they were IICRC-certified, but didn’t demonstrate any depth of knowledge when asked questions.

Company No. 2 won the bid, primarily due to Mike’s strength in communication. He was smart to tout his industry certification and skills, which a water damage ignoramus such as myself found reassuring. He took pains to educate me about the restoration process and he was responsive, both traits that highly influenced my decision to hire him in the end.

If you’re not currently using tactics such as these to woo customers, it might be wise to do so.