A company is only as good as its employees, and even if you vet your hires carefully and place your trust in them, things can still go wrong. When performing landscaping, construction, renovation, and similar services—especially when your business offers services in or around a client’s home—employees can cause damage to customer property accidentally or through negligence.
While you might not be responsible for the damage, as the business owner, it falls on you to mediate conflicts and settle any liabilities while also preserving your company’s reputation and ideally keeping the client on your roster. Whether it’s a matter of spilled paint or damage to anything from flooring to trees in their yard, here are the critical steps you need to take to mitigate any fallout from a client’s damaged property.
Understand the Circumstances
The first step to protecting yourself in the event of damage to client property is understanding the situation from all possible perspectives. This means meeting with both the employees involved and the client as soon as possible, while the incident is fresh in their minds. Emotions may be high, so it’s important to stress that you’re not looking to cast blame. Maybe the two descriptions will match up, and it’ll be a simple fix, but often situations take a more complicated turn.
You’ll want to ask both parties some key questions to get a fuller picture of the situation. You’ll want to know where the incident occurred, the time of day, who was involved, and who witnessed it. Make sure to interview the employee about the safety guidelines used while completing the job. If they followed all safety requirements and best practices, the incident may be a no-fault accident or could have been caused by outside elements.
Often, circumstances at the client’s home can contribute to the circumstances by increasing the risk of an incident. Issues can include uneven flooring that would cause the worker to trip, unexpected rocks and roots in the yard that could cause damage to equipment, and other mitigating factors. While the ideal solution is a fix that everyone agrees with, figuring out responsibility can make it easier to determine what the company is truly liable for and what responsibility falls on the client.
Make Sure You’re Covered
Often, businesses find out the hard way that the best time to protect themselves from liability would have been before any incident occurred. The best way to reduce your out-of-pocket costs in the event of accidental damage is to obtain the proper insurance coverage. This may vary based on whether your employee is a salaried worker or an independent contractor you brought in to complete the job.
The good news is, there is one type of insurance that will apply to the majority of circumstances: commercial general liability insurance. This insurance covers you and pays your costs to defend or settle claims for damage to a customer’s property. It also protects you from liability if a customer is injured on your property and in slander and libel cases.
This coverage extends to cover both attorneys’ and professional witnesses’ legal fees and will cover both settlements and judgments, although there is usually a liability limit. Check your policy options carefully before picking the insurance that’s right for your business.
Keep Your Cool
Tensions can escalate quickly when clients feel like they’ve been wronged, and it can be tempting to defend your company aggressively. But the best approach isn’t to go on the defensive immediately. While an employee of yours may have caused the damage, you’re not the person being accused. You’re also in the role of mediator, and you’re the person with the best chance to create a satisfactory outcome for everyone involved.
Some tips to make mediation more effective include making sure everyone has the chance to say their piece. Also, be sure to show compassion. Taking a serious, neutral, and empathetic tone will make the customer more receptive to solutions. Keep your focus on the customer and their problem, and if possible, don’t respond to angry comments or escalation threats. Make the customer feel like you agree with them, and remind them that your goal is to resolve their problem.
It’s not always possible to create a satisfying resolution for everyone, but in the best scenarios, you can avoid a formal claim.
An Ideal Resolution
No business wants to find themselves in the position of having to make a customer whole due to damaged property. However, it’s likely to happen at some point, and having the proper insurance coverage can insulate your business against the financial fallout. This makes it easier to keep the focus where it should be: on maintaining your company’s reputation and preserving a relationship with a valued customer.