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Working In Dangerous Homes

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Providing customer service in some locations can prove to be a challenge. It is especially tough when you’re trying to help someone who lives in a home where the home itself is the danger. Technicians may be confronted by homes that are unsanitary, have extreme temperatures, contain hostile pets, or worse.

Though it’s your job to help the customer by fixing his problem, your number one priority in these situations is to protect yourself.

Unsanitary Conditions
These can run the gamut from pest infestations to dangerous medical waste that hasn’t been disposed of properly. Wear disposable gloves and keep hand sanitizer in your tool box or truck.

If the main problem seems to be a pest infestation, take appropriate measures. Spray yourself with bug repellent. Wear disposable booties over shoes. Avoid setting anything down inside the house that may provide transportation for cockroaches or ants. To keep things out of your hair, wear a disposable scrub cap or disposable shower cap.

If the infestation is more along the lines of rats or bats, you very well may want to call off the appointment and inform the customer that you cannot provide them service until the infestation has been eliminated.

When the appointment is over, and before you get in your vehicle, remove everything disposable and discard in a plastic bag and securely close it. Dispose of this bag at your earliest opportunity.

Hostile Animals
It’s always a good idea to inform the customer ahead of time that any animals they have on the premises must be restrained before your arrival.
When you arrive for a service call, ask the customer if all pets have been physically restrained. If not, tell her that you will wait outside until it’s resolved. If the customer isn’t cooperating, offer to reschedule the appointment for a time when the animals will be restrained.
In the case of a home where pet hoarding is a problem, be extremely careful even after the animals have been taken care of. In many cases these types of owners have become overwhelmed with their addiction to “collecting” animals, and as a result the home may be infested with fleas, or have feces and urine present. Be mindful of where you step and what you touch.

Structural Problems
When you are working in a home that has not been properly maintained, be on the lookout for hazardous conditions. If you are climbing stairs or stepping onto a porch, check for structural integrity before trusting the construction to bear your weight. If you are working in a basement or crawl space inspect what is overhead.

If you suspect the presence of asbestos, or lead paint dust in the home, you may want to consider wearing a respirator.

Homes in Bad Areas
Schedule the appointment during daylight hours. Drive past the address on the first pass and scope out the situation. Can you get from your vehicle to the entrance safely?

Ensure that your equipment is secure, and that your vehicle is locked. “Always take your tools inside with you,” advises Randy Seaman of Seaman’s Mechanical in Grand Rapids, MI. Try to keep your truck or van from being a tempting target by keeping valuables out of sight.

Randy Gibbs of Brody-Pennell Heating and Air Conditioning in Los Angelese, CA, also recommends, “Protect company vehicles by installing alarms.”
If anything about the neighborhood or the customer overly concerns you, go with your instinct. It’s always better to be safe.

Unstable Customers
Occasionally, the problem isn’t with the actual home, but the person inside it. If the customer is angry, you’re going to be their first outlet. Remain calm and polite. “Sympathize with the customer and feel their pain. Let them know you’re on their side, and you want the problem fixed as much as they do”, offers Rick Cronholm of Johansen & Anderson, Inc in Joliet, IL.

Luke Vanderhill of Nieboer Heating and Cooling in Kalamazoo, MI advises, “Sincerely apologize to the customer and then take control of the situation. Keep the anger out of your voice.”

In extreme cases, a customer might actually be on the verge of becoming violent. Be especially alert if you notice any of these signs:

  • Muscle tension in the face, flared nostrils
  • Stuttering or speaking in a higher or lower pitch than normal
  • Sarcasm, challenges, or threats
  • Obvious intoxication

If your customer is exhibiting any combination of these, take care. If the situation is too explosive, it’s best to calmly exit the premises.

If you think the situation is safe enough to handle, try some of these techniques:

  • Don’t turn your back on the customer or stand in his “personal space”
  • Try to shift the customer into problem-solving mode
  • Tell the customer you need a moment to gather your thoughts and leave for 5 minutes

At the end of the day, the most important thing is your own safety. In this particular aspect, customer service is secondary. Be observant and a proactive as possible. Be aware of your surroundings, and take the time to do things the safest way, not the fastest way. A little bit of foresight will go a long way in ensuring your own well-being.

Melinda Wamsley

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service, Management, Residential Buildings, Safety

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