What the Restoration Industry Can Learn About Communication From a Hostage Negotiator

Corbin Smith
KnowHow Team Member
Why is communication so important? During our analysis of 1,000 bad online reviews in the restoration industry, we discovered that poor communication was the #1 reason why customers left businesses a 1-star review, and was mentioned in almost 40% of all complaints.

In this episode of The Five Star Restorer Webinar Series, former hostage negotiator and now owner of Conflict-Solutions, Gary McDougall, touched on how the right words, said at the right time, and in the right way, can be the difference between project success or failure. He shared adrenaline pumping stories from his time in law enforcement of how and when he had to use his communication skills under extreme pressure to literally save lives, and how it applies directly to the restoration industry.

If you want to check out the full recording of the webinar, you can do so here:

Here are some of our top takeaways from our interview with Gary McDougall, Hostage Negotiator:

Manage Emotional Responses First

Customers who require restoration services are often in a very emotional situation. It’s very likely they just lost personal belongings, entire homes, or are stressed because they are going to need to pay quite a bit of money to get back to normal life. These factors are a recipe for very tense conversations between parties, where emotional responses can take over.

According to Gary, we need to manage the customer’s emotional response first, before moving toward problem solving. As Gary says, “We need to earn the right to move onto problem solving”.

In any tense situation, or when dealing with a first time customer, take a few moments to manage their emotions. Enter the conversation from a place of empathy, with a sincere desire to understand how this event the customer is facing will impact their life. After that, then you can move onto problem solving and figure out what you need to do to help the customer out. Approaching a situation from this standpoint will help you better manage communication between your team and the customer because you understand how they’re feeling, and the customer feels listened to and cared for.

Paint a Picture Each and Every Time For Customers

Communication with customers often derails because project managers or staff don’t paint a solid picture of what they can expect the job to look like. For example, what will a customer’s house look like once the restoration process begins? Customers who don’t have a solid understanding of what is going to happen to their personal property often get flustered and anxious when they visit the site because as we all know, restoration job sites can often look quite chaotic and messy.

As a hostage negotiator, Gary often had to do the same thing: paint a picture, step for step, word by word, exactly what he needed the criminal or victim to do in a certain situation. Communicating effectively with customers, according to Gary, requires the same level of instruction. Customers should have a clear road map of everything that’s going to be done to their house, so that the next time they come back and see it when all their belongings are moved around, packed up in garbage bags, with bins in the street, they aren’t surprised or angry because they didn’t know what the process entailed.

Recognize Loud vs. Quiet Emotions

Recognizing the difference between loud and quiet emotions can help prevent a lot of poor communication related issues in your business. Gary describes loud emotions as any outward emotion someone portrays, like anger for example. Quiet emotions are the ones we hang on to that aren’t necessarily visible with reactions or body language. These can include guilt, shame, or anxiety.

Being able to recognize quiet emotions and looking past loud emotions can help you gain a better understanding of your customers, and even your employees. You can avoid a lot of unnecessary employee conflict by recognizing the quiet emotions your staff are feeling. They’ll feel listened to and understood, and this will help resolve any conflict much faster than if only loud emotions prevailed. Not only can this help you become a better communicator, but it will also improve company culture, increase employee retention, and improve dialogue between everyone in your organization if they can understand, acknowledge, and recognize quiet emotion in themselves and others.

Avoid E-mail and Text Whenever Possible

One of Gary’s biggest recommendations is to avoid using e-mail or text when intense conversations need to occur. It’s all too easy for wording or tone to be misinterpreted. E-mail and texts can often come across as angry or threatening when they were meant to be completely neutral. This can lead to disastrous implications for your business if you’re communicating with customers over text and they happen to misinterpret a text you send them. The customer could proceed to share their experience through Google reviews that your business has terrible communication practice and rude staff. Gary recommends that for intense conversations where there’s potential for “loud emotion” to show its face, the best thing to do is pick up a few coffees and meet in person. This can greatly diminish the potential for any misinterpretation.

Practice One Skill a Week

Becoming a more effective communicator doesn’t happen overnight. Even for a guy like Gary, mastering communication has taken him decades in high intensity situations to get to his level. It takes practice, and it can be overwhelming to know where to begin on your journey to becoming a more effective communicator.

Gary suggests taking your time and working on one skill per week. For example, one week, practice active listening with each and every customer and really try to understand what they’re feeling. The next week, focus on communicating with your staff only in person or over the phone. The following week take the time to write down the quiet emotions you saw in one or two intense conversations you had from the week and follow up with that person. As cliche as it may sound, practice really does make perfect. Focusing on one skill per week will help you keep communication at the top of your mind and eventually it will become habitual.

We recently conducted a study of over 1,000 bad online reviews and discovered that communication is one of the number one reasons customers leave negative reviews in the restoration industry. Businesses across this industry tend to ignore the importance of good communication not only with customers, but also with staff. Investing in improving your communication can have loads of high-impact benefits on your business and will make you a stronger, more competitive business in the marketplace. As we learned from Gary McDougall throughout our webinar, it is possible to become a better communicator, all it takes is time and practice.

To download our eBook, “Delivering Five Star Restoration Experiences”, this webinar series is based on head over to: https://www.fivestarrestorer.com/. In this book you’ll find the 6 most common reasons customers feel the need to leave a poor review online, and how you can avoid the same mistakes so you never receive a bad review again.

Becoming a process-driven company is the best way to avoid communication breakdowns. KnowHow can help you standardize your company processes and have them easily accessible to each and every employee at the click of a button. Book a demo with us today to learn more: https://tryknowhow.com/