Benchmarks of Growth - Part 3 of 6
The DYOJO Podcast, Episode 59
Guest: Tammy Birklid, Merit Construction (Tacoma, WA)
The DYOJO Podcast is sponsored by Enlightened Restoration Solutions (ERS). Ben Justesen and his team have put together a dynamic live class which reviews real world estimates and elevates your ability to master the methodology of Xactware. Including how to determine your own labor rates, create your own price list, and navigate pricing feedback.
Tammy shares insights into her process of growing in the company, with the company, and now as the leader of her company, Merit Construction in Tacoma, Washington. I found it interesting that her background was in finances and yet she placed a high emphasis on culture. Not that these concepts are exclusive, but in my experience the financial minded person has not always been the driver of those efforts.
Tammy shares so many gems for our series, Benchmarks of Growth, this is part 3 of 6 from The DYOJO Podcast.
The DYOJO Podcast is sponsored by Advocate Claim Service (ACS), "Where you can find solutions to claims that are causing you anxiety." David Princeton and his team are ready to help you navigate doubtful and disputed insurance claims.
The DYOJO Podcast is THE podcast for intentional restorers, helping you shorten your dang learning curve for personal and professional development. Catch us every Thursday on YouTube.com/thedyojo
I share a story in my latest book about being hired to elevate training for an established office and then being berated for doing what I thought I was hired for; training. The experience of working in an environment with a supervisor that didn’t do much to help their team members with career development was a challenge but I want everyone reading to understand that it can be done. Career development in property restoration, as in most of the skilled trades, will require you to develop the right mindset and habits in customer service. We will address two key components of customer service in this article, communication and cleanliness.
Property restoration career development: Create your own opportunities
It may surprise some of those reading to learn that prior to 2008 we had specialists for almost everything. When I started in the industry in 2002, with the team in bright yellow, we had separate divisions. There was some crossover assisting teams when they needed help, but our primary functions and teams were distinct from each other. We had managers for each of our divisions, mold, water, fire/contents, repairs, and carpets.
When I arrived with the company listed in the opening paragraph, my role as production manager was expected to oversee all of the “divisions” similar to those listed above. As a side note, we offered trauma/crime scene cleanup but it was not a service we did a lot of. I saw bio-services as an opportunity to learn more about the process and market those services so that I could create a growth void that I could then fill. You may be starting over, like I was, or feel like you are stuck in career limbo, look for something that no one else wants to do and create your own opening. Whatever level you are at in your career, life is about opportunity, not convenience.
Property restoration career development: Training for customer service
While I was not aware of the title at the time, I had to develop a process for teaching my team soft skills in addition to the technical (hard) skills of property restoration. If you are a manager and/or owner, when you train your team members to develop their mindset and habits, you communicate opportunities for growth which will also push you to continue to grow. This quote attributed to Richard Branson, is a strong encouragement to any organization that wants to thrive with their people, "Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to."
The chart below is the result of years of grinding out a process for addressing what I felt was important when training a diverse group of team members who had to master multiple service offerings. If you are committed to training, you have to budget time to focus on core principles and supplement scheduled training with on the job follow up by yourself and your team members. You don’t have accountability until you create clarity, develop consistency, and your team is committed to holding each other to the shared standards (culture). Accountability starts with the people in positions of leadership leading by example, without which it won’t exist.
Customer service, or better said, the customer experience, is essential to long term success in a service based industry like property restoration. You cannot expect that customer service is common sense or that your existing team will pass down everything that you hold dear.
Two key aspects of customer service that you have a direct impact on are:
Property restoration career development: Cleanliness is godliness
Cleanliness is godliness in property restoration. What is the first thing you should do when you meet a client, regardless of the time of day? If you are entering a home, you should be asking, “Would you like me to take my shoes off,” or slipping on protective booties that your company supplies you boxes and boxes of. Why is this important? Because it demonstrates to the homeowner that you respect their home, you respect them, and your number one priority is their experience during this process.
What is the alternative? You may walk in and the customer may be fine, but making this consideration known is key to setting yourself apart - even if no one else in your company does it. Obviously, if the whole house is flooded, you aren’t taking your shoes off and booties are useless. You can say, “Normally we would take our shoes off but it does not appear to be safe at this time.” One component of sales is ensuring you communicate how you and your company are different, not by putting your competitors down but by showing your client your unique values and habits.
Additional habits that demonstrate a standard of cleanliness:
I can remember early on, I was on a project where I had forgotten my vacuum cleaner (or someone had borrowed it and not returned it), and the day was wrapping up. Somehow the only tool I had was a hand broom and dust pan. My boss had made it clear that sweeping at the end of every day was important to him and would pay off with the customer. So, I swept my way out on my hands and knees. This wasn’t a detailed sweep as we were coming back to complete more demolition the next day, but that action won a lot of favor with the customer. Unfortunately, not every customer will vocalize their satisfaction, but your habits are critical as they establish your way of doing things.
Property restoration career development: Communication
Communication is more than just talking. If you are the one presenting the information, your integrity is essential. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of people who will speak when without thinking about what they are saying or about things that they don’t fully understand. You are not doing yourself or your client a good service if you tell them something just to ease the tension or sound important.
Whenever we would onboard new technicians, or in peak season when we would bring in temporary labor, I would give some variation of a speech about two great communication anathemas that weren’t to be practiced in our team culture:
Property restoration career development: Be intentional
What is a business? In order to have a sustainable property restoration business you will need two things: happy customers and profitable jobs. Too many organizations, and people in a position of leadership, focus on profits as though they are the cause and not the effect. This is not to diminish how important profits are, but to understand that it is much more effective to direct your team members to focus on what they can control. All team members play a role in achieving happy customers and this is where we should focus our training. If you teach your team how to produce happy customers, you will find ways as a team to achieve profitability. On the other hand, if you always preach profits first, you will struggle to achieve happy customers. One is a cause, the other is an effect. Al Erisman, author of The ServiceMaster Story, discussed how early leaders in this flagship restoration organization had the mindset that profits were the subject but not the object of their efforts.
As you develop your career in property restoration, use these three guides:
Being an intentional restorer starts with doing it right. Whatever your roles and responsibilities are, learn how to do them right. Once you have this foundation you can learn to perform these functions more efficiently. This does not mean faster. Yet, efficiency increases overall team speed without cutting corners or sacrificing quality (doing it right). In everything we do, we want to add that sizzle which stamps your work with your way (reflects your culture). When you arrive with booties, lay down flooring protection, set dust control barriers, and close every day with sweeping the worksite, you are showing your customer that you have a way; that you have pride in what you do (excellence).
Companies that invest in their employees (inputs) will find that they can increase their profits (outputs) by producing team members that are more engaged and less likely to leave (retention). The common adage goes something like this,
Manager 1 asks, “What happens if we invest in training and developing our employees and they leave?”
Manager 2 responds, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”
Rather than look at the negative examples in your experiences as a person in a position of leadership, as those of your peers, focus on the success stories and build your vision around those common denominators. Alex Blagojevic joins The DYOJO Podcast (Episode 43) to share her perspectives as a young insurance professional on how she was inspired by the organizations that invested in her.
We also discuss the book Insuring Tommorrow: Engaging Millennials in the Insurance Industry by Tony Canas and Carly Burnham of the Insurance Nerds which was written to help organizations better understand the largest current and incoming generational workforce. If you refuse to learn to interact with millennials, you will soon find that your company has no future.
Alex also speaks to growth minded professionals about having a 5 year plan and sharing that with your manager so that everyone can be on the same page with regards to vision and goals. She shares how organizations that invest in soft skills training, such as customer service, empower their teams to take ownership for their personal growth as well as better contribute to the growth of the company. Watch the whole interview in The DYOJO YouTube page or listen via The DYOJO Podcast on Apple and Spotify.
The DYOJO Podcast, helping you shorten your DANG learning curve for professional development, releases every Monday at 6am PST, in 2021 we will be recording many of our episodes LIVE on Thursdays at 9am PST.
I originally reached out to Alex Blagojevic regarding a post from LinkedIn on the importance of technology in the property claims assessment process, "I’ll be on site conducting a 360 degree scan of a water damaged unit. With my site scope and virtual scan, a control estimate will be conducted by our Xactimate team within a matter of days. It’s truly incredible what our new technology can capture in one quick site visit." We were putting together a multi-member panel for a discussion about Docusketch which turned into Episode 40 of The DYOJO Podcast.
As an independent commercial claims adjuster she shared her experiences with technology and integration with tools such as Encircle for categorizing photos from a loss and Docusketch for 360 degree captures that can expediently be transformed into a layout sketch for Xactimate. For those who aren't familiar with the property claims process, thorough documentation is key to empowering all stakeholders to communicate clearly and restore the affected to pre-loss conditions. Alex has observed these tools quickly becoming the standard for insurance carriers and restoration contractors.
She shares how her journey into the insurance claims world started with a position as a project managers assistant at a local ServiceMaster, helping those managing claims to maintain their documentation streams. In her pursuit of more meaningful work, increasing responsibility, and upward mobility, she pursued the claims side as an entry level broker. It wasn't long before doors opened to allow her to explore more direct involvement with helping people with property damages as an adjuster.
There are many nuggets within this discussion, of which managers should take note, on how young people entering the workforce are looking for opportunities for professional growth. Those organizations and people in positions of leadership who can connect growth minded individuals with the opportunities within their companies will find that there is a deep well of strong candidates eager to make a difference. Alex understood the process of earning her way by learning from each role while keeping her eyes open for experiences that would further her career. Seeing the claims process from "both sides" has helped her to have a greater perspective for how to serve the client to create a positive customer experience. Some of the best training she received was while she was at an entry level position with a brokerage and yet it would appear that organization was unable to connect their training with opportunities that would keep a strong candidate such as Alex within the fold.
We had a similar conversation with Chris Stanley on Episode 38 of The DYOJO Podcast. Chris shared how important it is for companies to create a direct correlation to training and advancement which is why his organization IA Path has developed a process that empowers those seeking a career in adjusting to get to work within 90 days. Alex notes the value of initiatives such as The DYOJO Podcast which is, "A platform that encourages collaboration while opening up discussions that directly effect our day to day work across the claims industry."
Alex encourages adjusting professionals, who want to create a positive customer experience with their brand, to remember that the claims process:
The market is always evolving and people in a position of leadership who want to remain competitive need to invest in their own training for soft skills to optimize employee recruitment, hiring, and retention. We discussed another great resource for growth minded leaders who want to develop their abilities for working with the incoming workforce candidates, the book Insuring Tomorrow: Engaging Millennials in the Insurance Industry by Tony Canas and Carly Burnham of Insurance Nerds. Seeking out employee input, reading books on vital soft skills, and listening to programs such as The DYOJO Podcast can help managers to shorten their learning curve for leadership development and employee engagement.
Topics and Guests for The DYOJO Podcast Episode 43:
The DYOJO Podcast recently experimented with our first LIVE recording of a show. Our guest Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Experience and Support at NumberBarn out of San Diego, California, was up for the challenge.
We asked Jeremy to share his perspectives and experiences with the following topics related to customer experience (CX):
Shout outs for:
The DYOJO Podcast is the INFOtainment podcast for the skilled trades. Helping you shorten your DANG learning curve for personal and professional development. Watch on YouTube. Listen on Apple and Spotify.
Jeremy Watkin - www.customerservicelife.com / @jtwatkin
TDP - www.thedyojo.com/listen
The Adventures of Goldilocks the Adjuster and the 3 Estimator Bears
In property restoration, we train our team members for many technical skills but we are woefully behind in soft skills. This is a reality throughout construction and most skilled trades. While I believe the primary reasons for this gap are not nefarious, as no one is actively trying to prevent professional development, if you and I don’t face the facts, we will continue to struggle in areas that can be overcome with a dose of intentionality.
Often we allow ourselves to be caught in the hamster wheel of busyness, telling ourselves that we are working “harder” and therefore never stopping to develop a process for working “smarter”. It’s difficult to do, but you and I have to take a step back if we are going to improve the process. One area that I would like to direct our attention towards, that assists our team members to perform their functions much more efficiently and leads to much better project outcomes, is business relationships.
If we rate our relationships on a scale of niceness, perhaps we can compare this feature to the familiar story of Goldilocks the Adjuster and the Three Estimator Bears:
When Goldilocks the friendly neighborhood Adjuster, or any other business role player (this could be subcontractors, vendors, suppliers, third party administrators, consultants, etc), comes along to discuss a claim, she finds it easy to compel Pushover Bear into compliance. It’s almost too easy. Pushover Bears believes that if they are nice and the adjuster is nice, that must mean we have a positive relationship. In Pushover Bear’s defense, what would lead someone to fold in situations of adversity?
On the Blue Collar Nation Podcast, hosts Eric “The Tech Whisperer” Sprague and Larry “Pineapple Man” Wilberton discuss their experiences with an estimator who was a people-pleasing-pushover that cost them millions (by their estimates). As individuals in positions of leadership, they had to learn to better identify their team members' personalities and skill sets so they could train them to achieve better outcomes.
Some estimators are built for confrontation and any sleight is taken to the maximum offense so that they can exhaust their grievances with Goldilocks, the Adjuster, and the entire system of insurance (if not beyond). Pertinacious Bear often views a rejection of their estimate as a personal attack and/or they believe any concession is giving away too much. If Pushover Bear is good at playing the quantity over quality game, Pertinacious Bear will fight for every penny claiming they are only about quality.
If Pushover Bear is at risk of being played, Pertinacious Bear tries too hard to be the player. It is important even when making a valid case to remain polite and professional, above reproach. Pragmatism isn’t the only way to approach a situation, but as an organization it is important to define what your process is and how your responses will be in alignment with your values.
It may seem that Pragmatist Bear is the best kind of bear because their estimates would be ‘just right’ and their ability to negotiate must lead to profitable outcomes, right? The author is clearly steering the reader towards this conclusion, right? This is not my point.
The greater issue is whether your organization has discussed, defined and developed a process to optimize your approach to claims dynamics. If there is no clarity or consistency in the organization, there will be recurring issues as Goldilocks the Adjuster is ALWAYS visiting your estimating cottage. Those in a position of leadership need to be mindful to create a culture that attracts, develops, retains and enhances the traits which align with their process.
Writing a good estimate is the foundation of telling the story of the loss but the process does not end there. As former owners, Eric and Larry understand the importance of developing your team. They created Morning Tech Meeting to help business owners simplify soft skills training for field employees. The duo discuss how Jon Isaacson’s book Be Intentional: Estimating would have been required reading in their organization as it discusses how organizations can develop a robust approach to being professional and polite without getting played.
The First Step is Defining the Game
Something I like to point out in all of my creative outlets, whether it’s The Intentional Restorer, The DYOJO Podcast or Be Intentional: Estimating, is that the first step is to define for your organization the game you want to play. Is your approach to claims going to be:
Quick and Easy Claims
While I am not a fan of quantity over quality, there are plenty of businesses who have done very well for themselves operating this way. The program heavy organization that writes estimates to get approved must understand what they are doing and set their systems up to optimize this approach. We can write estimates that will get approved on the first draft, but if you want to play the quick and easy claim game, you’d better have your team set up to get in and get out with no interruptions or exceptions.
Fight for Every Penny
Depending on where you hang out in the property restoration ecosystem, there are plenty of contractors who are making it their mission to make their voice heard. They believe they are in the right, defending the honor of the process and fighting the good fight for their clients. Pertinacious Bears are in stark contrast to Pushover Bears and yet both extremes have their pros and cons. The right estimating bears need to be in the right restoration cottages in order to make the honey to flow.
This is not to say that pragmatism is the only answer as there is plenty of grey area in whatever approach you take. Pushover Bears and Goldilocks the Adjuster think that Pragmatist Bear is too severe while Pertinacious Bear thinks that Pragmatist Bear is as “soft” as Pushover Bear. This is not a matter of right or wrong but of defining the approach from the top down so that it can be executed from the bottom up in the organization. Be clear and be consistent.
Start by Defining Professional Relationships
In Be Intentional: Estimating I outline the MINDSET and HABITS that I believe will help owners, managers, estimators and growth minded employees to succeed with estimating property insurance claims. I think it is important to share a few ground rules for developing relationships in the insurance realm.
Anyone who has been in the industry for a period of time will have some level of pessimism about the claims process (porridge frequently too cold). It is important as an incoming estimator to form your own opinions, but that doesn’t mean you should disregard some of the battle tested wisdom from bears of all shapes, sizes and temperaments.
Four Simple Claims Relationship Optimizers:
For these and more tips on how to be professional, be polite but don’t get played, check out Jon Isaacson “The Intentional Restorer’s” new book Be Intentional: Estimating available in Kindle and paperback. Contact The DYOJO for discounts on bulk orders for your team.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a 19 year veteran of the property restoration industry and a business coach through his organization The DYOJO.