One of the most important responsibilities we undertake for our clients is to identify and report on safety concerns, significant deficiencies and other major problems. Many times during the course of our careers we have saved our clients from unknowingly purchasing a major money pit or even a potential death trap.
HOW ARE WE PERCEIVED BY OUR CLIENTS?
Although our clients want to know these things and really appreciate our observations, reporting on problem after problem is often disheartening for them. In most cases, they hired us because they wanted to purchase that house. Unfortunately, a few clients, and certainly some brokers and sellers, find our problem reporting annoying. Why? Because they perceive it to be not in their best interest. Many of us have heard brokers mention, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” What I think they mean by that is “sugar-coat it a little, don’t be a deal killer.” Obviously, that is not our job. In fact, it’s unethical.
Our job is to deliver an honest, educated and objective opinion; and provide a professional inspection and report. Proper reporting of major concerns and life/safety issues warrants significant and often strong language.
On the other hand, good home inspectors do not take a “doom and gloom” approach about every minor problem or wear-and-tear item. Choosing either extreme for every defect is counterproductive, unethical, and will result in loss of credibility and lack of professional service for your clients, the public and your profession. How we communicate our observations and suggestions, and how we are perceived by our clients, are important characteristics to valuable client relations. HOW DO OUR CLIENTS VALUE COMPETENCE?
Don’t underestimate the impact that good social and conversational skills and client perceptions can have in business. In fact, across the board, in a wide variety of businesses, research indicates that most people would rather work with someone who is likable and less competent than with someone who is very skilled and abrasive. Tizianna Casciaro, a professor at the Harvard Business School, agrees, “How we value competence changes depending on whether we like someone or not.”
These findings have enormous implications for the home inspector. During a several-hour home inspection, a client will develop a strong impression of the inspector predicated on his personality. And, if Dr. Casciaro is correct, this means that the client will judge the inspector’s performance based more on whether she liked the inspector than whether the inspector actually did a great inspection. Most clients are not sufficiently knowledgeable on the subject of homes; therefore, they have no way to objectively judge a home inspection. What all clients do have is an acute sense of whether the inspector was really concerned, interested and devoted to helping them.
I am not suggesting that likability is more important than thoroughness, technical excellence or ethics. What I am saying is, we need to be more than just technically excellent, thorough and ethical if we want the maximum return from our inspections. We should strive to be likable besides.
It is my belief that an unlikable, brilliant home inspector will often not be as appreciated by his client and will often not receive as many referrals as a likable, technically average inspector. I think we all know at least a few inspectors who bear that out.
WHAT ARE ETHOS, PATHOS AND LOGOS?
Although we perform home inspections and the report happens to be our product, we are essentially in a communication service business. In addition to writing a good report, how we converse with our clients and the other interested parties at the inspection plays an important role in the home inspection process. The ancient Greeks said that all conversation involves three fundamental components: Ethos, the character of the speaker; Pathos, connecting with the emotions; and Logos, the factual content of the message and the rational argument that you present on behalf of your point of view. Even though the rational facts alone are critical and important, usually they are not as powerful or as influential as the emotions.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST IMPEDIMENT TO OUR LIKABILITY?
Considering all the time, effort and money that we invest to develop and improve our technical skills, it is our social and communication skills that matter today more than ever. To be a truly successful home inspector these days requires exceptional conversational and people skills and the ability to relate to a diverse audience. We are in constant face-to-face contact with our clients, agents and often the owners of the property we are inspecting. Like it or not, your conversational skills and your ‘likability factor’ represent a meaningful part of your service. In our area, the market stays relatively constant but more competition each and every year bites into our market share. Your ‘likability factor’ is an important quality to differentiate you from the pack.
Many people do not need to be taught to be likeable; it’s part of their make-up. Some personalities are naturally likable and some are not. You can usually tell the difference, like the ones who are friends with everyone. You know the type: You can put them in a room with strangers, and they’ll have ten new friends in ten minutes. Research shows that the biggest impediment to likability is not caring. Caring is the key.
One of the strategies to developing a more successful business is to be more caring and work at improving your social intelligence, which is the aptitude that makes us smart in our relationships. Empathy and social skills are the two main ingredients of social intelligence. This includes being able to read a situation to know how to make a good impression and being able to sense another’s feelings and intentions. Take responsibility for yourself and create better relationships with your clients, colleagues, agents and others. Remember, no one is going to make you likable. The people who are likable naturally care about other people and care about the connections they make. They are genuine, positive and caring people who earn their likability and reveal their winsome nature at each and every inspection.
PEOPLE LIKE TO DO BUSINESS WITH PEOPLE THEY LIKE
You can choose to be a ‘likable’ or ‘unlikable’ inspector; it’s simply your choice. Even if you possess many other vital professional qualities, e.g., honest, objective, fair, thorough, etc., if you practice with an aura of ‘unlikability,’ if you appear arrogant, abrasive, harried, uninterested and unwilling to listen and answer questions, which persona do you think clients and colleagues would rather work with and refer future business to?
One of the reasons we like someone is because we think he or she likes us. People like to do business with people they like. Being concerned, accessible, thoughtful and caring, and willing to communicate are not only basic attributes to your ‘likability factor’ and client satisfaction, they are desirable traits in and of themselves. Never underestimate the value of your ‘likability factor’ and your social intelligence. Today more than ever, they are essential elements in the success of your business.
Copyright © 2009 by Bill Sutton. Reprinted with permission.
Bill Sutton is the owner of Bay Colony Home Inspection Consultants of Milton, Mass., ASHI Member #224, past-president of ASHI NE, past COR speaker and a full-time home inspector for 30 years.