We mentioned in our previous article that you can achieve customer satisfaction by coming close to delivering what the client was expecting. Your goal now is to surpass client expectations. To achieve that, you have to find out what the expectation is and offer a little extra. Another way to accomplish the same goal is to reduce the client’s expectations first, and then exceed them.
Don’t let the real estate agent over-promise on your behalf. Even though the agent has been through many home inspections, most agents don’t really understand the technical aspects of your service. We have found that agents may overstate what a home inspector does. For example, an agent will tell the client that a home inspection will uncover all of the hidden defects that the homeowner can’t see. While we, as home inspectors, have lots of tricks up our sleeves for uncovering problems with limited visibility, we can’t uncover hidden defects.
Agents often say things such as the following:
• “The home inspector will look into every nook and cranny.” Clients are then surprised that we don’t move pianos and china cabinets.
• “The home inspector will look at the heat exchanger in the furnace.” Actually, home inspectors just look at the parts of the heat exchanger that are visible from the vestibule area in front of the burner.
Educate the Agent
If you have a working relationship with agents, it’s a good idea to let them know the limitations of a home inspection so that they don’t over-promise on your behalf.
Present Limitations Up Front
Another way to avoid the over-promise problem is to under-promise and over-deliver. Tell your clients about the limitations of a home inspection up front. Then the client will be all the more impressed with what you are able to do during the inspection.
Adjust Customer Expectations
Home inspectors are reluctant to explain the limitations of the inspection up front because they don’t want to start discussing negatives as soon as they meet the client. However, explaining the limitations before you begin the inspection is a good strategy for the following reasons:
• It supports the under-promise and over-deliver philosophy.
• It increases the difference between what the customer expects and receives by reducing expectations.
• It reduces the chance that your client will sue you for something that you could not see during the inspection.
• Clients are less likely to ask you to do something during the inspection that is outside the scope of a home inspection.
Here is a sample process and outline you can use, or modify, for your on-site explanation of the inspection limitations:
Step 1: Introduce yourself to the client. Exchange business cards.
Step 2: Explain to the client what you are going to do during the inspection. For example, say that you will inspect the roof first on your own, but from then on you would like the client to accompany you throughout the inspection.
Step 3: Ask the client if there are concerns about particular areas. Make note of the reply, which shows that you are taking the client seriously. Explain that you will be sure to address those issues as you get to that area of the home.
Step 4: Suggest that the client look at the contract while you inspect the roof.
Step 5: Explain your findings regarding the roof. This step establishes your credibility immediately. If there are no roof problems to report, then describe the roof system.
Step 6: Tell the client that before you continue you would like to answer any questions about the contract. This is the time to explain that the inspection is a visual, nondestructive investigation, and that, as such, the inspection has inherent limitations. For example, if there is no access hatch to the attic, you will not be able to look at the roof structure. (Use an example that does not apply to the house you are inspecting.)
Step 7: Now go ahead and inspect the house and impress the client with your talents. By the way, we typically e-mail or fax our inspection agreement and a copy of the Standard of Practice and Code of Ethics to the client before the inspection. We have found it has at least five advantages:
1. Clients appreciate having the time to review the agreement.
2. Clients with expectations beyond a standard home inspection can call back and say this is not what they wanted.
3. The client can see that a large association, not an individual or a small company, sets the rules of the game. The association’s involvement helps assure the client that the rules are fair.
4. The inspector saves time on site, because the client already knows, and has agreed to, the rules of the game.
5. The inspector’s liability is reduced because it is difficult for the clients to argue that they did not know what they were buying when they arrived at the inspection.
Be prepared for the following question, “If you can’t tell me every problem with the house, what’s the point of a home inspection?” The answer is, “We promise to drastically reduce the risk of buying this home, but we cannot eliminate the risk completely.” Depending on the situation we may also offer, “I am sure that by the end of the inspection you will have learned a great deal about the home and be in a much better position to make a well-informed decision. If this does not happen, you will not be asked to pay for the inspection.”
Easy Way to Exceed Expectations
Here is a simple way to go the extra mile for your client. After the inspection, send an e-mail with an article that relates to something you discussed during the inspection. You can also send a link to a Web site that may be useful. If there is nothing memorable about the inspection, pick a component of the house and send the client an article related to it. It could be an architectural explanation, a functional description, maintenance advice, design and planning information if the client is remodeling and so on.
You don’t have to write the articles; you just have to find them on the Internet and send the links to your client. It won’t take you long to develop a short list of things you can send clients. It takes about five minutes per client and will create a strong positive impression. And there is no hard cost!