Public letter regarding the TV news story by Cincinnati Channel 9 “iTeam”
We appreciate WCPO’s commitment to public education, and we realize that they only have a limited time to tell a story on TV, but it appears that much of the information we provided the station did not make it into the final cut. As demonstrated in the interview, we do not shy from taking personal responsibility and it pains us deeply when things go wrong in a customer experience. Our policy has been to try to solve each situation as best as we can, and to learn from it in improving our business practices going forward.
In this particular situation, however, there was a rather significant part of the facts getting lost in the presentation. While we do not dispute (and are deeply sorry that) the family went through a difficult time, there were key points left out of the narrative that we feel are important to bring to light:
1. The Mariemont situation was very large and very complex, and involved tear gas. If you’ve never been exposed to tear gas, perhaps that doesn’t sound so bad – but I assure you it is. Of all the hazards we clean, tear gas is near the top for the level of effort required to completely eradicate it for the safety of residents. A single canister is enough to affect a 2500-square-foot home, and there were approximately 10 canisters in the home we cleaned. There was also a significant amount of personal property (furniture, clothing, electronics, miscellaneous household items) that had to be removed or cleaned in order to prevent re-introduction of the tear gas, which is like a fine powder coating everything. All floors, walls and ceilings had to be meticulously cleaned and disinfected multiple times to remove all traces, before and after the HVAC cleaning. Several of the walls were made of porous materials (brick and wood paneling) which created additional complication. When we were done, the customer documented and spoke her satisfaction with the level of clean we provided, and marveled that we were able to get rid of it all. Trust me, the final bill was exactly matched to the level of effort deployed, and our hourly labor rates are in line with Blue Book and other industry guidelines. It may seem shocking to an outsider, but that’s because so little is known by consumers about the industry and its best practices.
2. There was biological fluid throughout multiple rooms as well as outdoor areas, with significant damage to a portion of the wood flooring which had to be removed.
3. The teams were called out in the evening, and worked exhaustively over a 4 day period to complete the job from top to bottom so that the family could gather in the house. The supervisor did provide a pricing sheet upfront which detailed hourly rates and materials, and gave frequent updates to the family on work in progress. We did follow the Ohio laws with regards to all paperwork and the customer waived a need for a formal estimate. (By the way, this was three years ago – we have since made investments in our technology and process to be able to more accurately provide no obligation estimates for customers and it’s been part of our practice since 2012.)
4. We do not promise customers that their insurance will cover all of our service; in fact, I showed Brendan Keefe (and he photographed) the official “language regarding insurance coverage” placards that are placed in each truck to ensure that employees are not creating confusion or misleading customers. Our field and home office support teams are trained specifically and exhaustively on this issue; it’s important training because although we do find insurance carriers will usually help their homeowners with our services, it’s not a guarantee and there are certainly exceptions. When a customer is in a state of trauma, we try to go above and beyond in explaining these details. Fact: in this situation the carrier initially told their customer they would pay the bill – but then nearly 60 days after the claim was filed, they refused to pay in full and made an insufficient counter-offer. We were shown “comps” (comparative estimates) by companies that had not made a formal inspection of the situation themselves but rather were guessing based on a phone conversation and a few photos. Additionally, there was no proof that these companies had tear gas experience or were legally operating in Ohio.
5. Last but not least, this was a closed case in 2011 and thus is not exactly newsworthy in 2014. I say that not to be dismissive of the grieving that will always be there on the part of the family for their loved ones, but rather to put this in context. The family did not instigate this news story – rather, it was sparked by a conversation between two journalists (who then contacted the family to ask them if they could re-open the emotional story), and the additional context is that May is traditionally the time of “sweeps week” when media gets their ratings scored (we see our press inquiries increase significantly at this time of year because crime scene cleanup is oddly fascinating to viewers).
In 2011, we did settle with the insurance carrier, and while this was not an optimal situation, it represents only one data point in an otherwise stellar reputation that Aftermath has with the majority of its customers. As the largest biohazard remediation company, we service literally thousands of situations each year – more than any other provider in the business – including major commercial and institutional relationships. Of those, we have a 99% satisfaction rate with customers.
Yes, we have tens of thousands of happy customers! And while it makes “good TV” to insinuate that the reason people recommend us is because of silly things like magnets, I can assure that they recommend us because we’re the best in the business, hands down. We stand our ground as industry leaders who are pushing to attain a higher level of professionalism in everything we do, and raising the bar for other companies in the US. We will continue our public education and awareness efforts, to ensure that people understand the risks, rights and responsibilities of biohazard remediation. And we will continue to listen to feedback from customers like the Sparks family, who hold our feet to the fire – to always find a better way to help them get back on the road to recovery.
Thank you for the opportunity to reach the public on this topic – while I’m frustrated that you pulled an isolated incident from a less than perfect company history, I’m grateful that you at least gave us a partial platform to help tell the full story. Anytime you’d like to come back and visit us, to really showcase the integrity, passion and compassion shown by our employees to families and property owners in unbelievably traumatic states of emotion, we’ll happily share more. I personally find it to be a much more interesting (and true) story, which is why I’m inspired each day at my job here.
Dana Todd, Chief Marketing Officer