When we have done something to hurt someone else, simply asking what we can do to help the situation is one of the most important conversations we can have.
About 3 years ago, our 4-person Team had been at their 5th home of the day for just a few minutes when the woman cleaning the upstairs bathroom (Susana) said there was no water. She tried the sinks, the shower, and the garden tub – nothing. She went downstairs to tell the Team Coach (Carol) the situation. Carol checked the water in the kitchen sink and sure enough – no water. She called the client who said there was a problem with the pump and directed Carol to go out to the pump house and reset it.
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While Tami and Donnie continued cleaning the dry areas of the home, Carol and Susana traipsed out to the pump house. Because there is no service inside the pump house, Susana was relaying messages between the Client and Carol: “push the red button, hold it down for 5 seconds, wait for the beep, then push again twice,” or some such nonsense. Together they were trying repeatedly to get the pump to reset when the client said “Just forget it; it’s not working for some reason. I’ll just have you guys come out again tomorrow instead after I get it working.” Carol and Susana went back to the house, gathered up their gear and headed off to their next job along with Tami and Donnie.
Of course, we received the call the next day from Mrs. Client furious that we had flooded her entire home by leaving the bath tub open all the way after resetting the pump. What a mess! The ceiling had dropped in some areas and the wood floors were soaked and the client was livid! She demanded that I drive over as soon as we got the message and give her a $5,000.00 check as a show of good faith that I was going to take care of the problem. We didn’t do that. We did let her blow off steam until we could get hold of our insurance company and get them to contact her. That was a very long 36 hours with her repeated demands that we give her cash because she knew we were going to weasel out of taking responsibility. Luckily her husband was a much cooler personality type and told us he would do his best to keep his wife from harassing us.
It was bit scary because the insurance company kept telling us that because she told us to leave that we could have a case for not accepting responsibility. It is quite odd to be in the middle of the situation where you know you are the one responsible – remember, we turned the faucet on full blast and left it wide open. Eventually our insurance company did agree to pay for all the damage and repairs, including the fans that were needed to dry the area before the repairs could begin, but it was nerve-wracking until then.
An interesting thing came out of the experience. After everything was settled we talked to Mr. and Mrs. Client again about what we should have done differently so that we would be more prepared in the future if something like this happened. We discovered that we had not done something so simple and obvious to the client that she had just become convinced that we weren’t going to take care of the situation. We had apologized profusely, but only superficially because we never asked what we could do in the moment to help her out. Remember, her home was flooded! We got so caught up in apologizing, finding out what had happened, contacting the insurance company etc. that we never offered to bring out fans or even pay for the fans and get reimbursed (or not).
Great lesson that, when we’ve done something to hurt someone else, simply asking what we can do to help the situation is one of the most important conversations we can have.
Update: Mr. and Mrs. Client have been with us 10 years next month, and we now have an excellent working relationship, but it wasn’t always easy or fun getting here. Carol, Susana, Donnie, and Tami don’t really talk about the flooding, but they are EXCELLENT at turning off all faucets to this very day!
Liz Trotter is founder of American Maid Cleaning as well as an entrepreneur and leadership trainer based in Olympia, Washington. She is also a former ARCSI board member, creator of the Culture Circus employee development system and a charter member of Cleaning For A Reason.