Your company image is not what you say you are; it’s how your clients perceive you. You may think you are a “high-end” home inspector because you’ve targeted a market that’s willing to pay more for your services. But if you show up on the job wearing ripped jeans, a paint-stained t-shirt and worn-out sneakers, your image no longer says “high-end, professional service.”
Your clients aren’t evaluating you according to your set of criteria for good performance. They are evaluating you on the basis of their own set of criteria. Why? Because they don’t know what your set of criteria is. They only know what they hope to gain from the inspection.
Here’s an analogy: Say you buy a new audio system for your home. You apply a set of criteria to the system to determine its value—not its general value in the world, but its value to you. Sure, the salespeople at the store talked up the system’s superior subwoofers. But you care more if it will deliver on the high end of the range with crystal-clear pitch. You and the sales staff at the store have different criteria for evaluating the same thing. But at least you both have a tangible characteristic on which to base your opinions— sound quality.
A home inspection service has no tangible attributes on which a customer can form an opinion or base a decision. All you have to offer your clients is the promise of an expert inspection. The clients have to trust that you are not selling them a bill of goods. Most of your clients will have no idea what you do. As a result, they will latch on to every intangible stimulus they can get their eyes and ears on—for example, your professional manner, vocabulary, eye contact, anything that will give them a clue about you. In other words, your clients are constantly evaluating you from the moment they see your business card, brochure or advertisement to the time you hand over your final inspection report. All of these evaluations will factor into your company’s image as your clients see it.
Clients do this because they are in no position to evaluate your technical expertise. It’s like taking a car into the shop for service. It’s hard to know whether the mechanic did a good job, but if there is grease on the upholstery, you will have a definite opinion about the service you received.
The truth is, your clients may form an opinion of you at several points during a transaction. This list provides estimates of the relative importance of these points with respect to their marketing value:
• A referral from someone the client knows (15% importance)
• A good business card (5% importance)
• A good brochure (5% importance)
• A telephone conversation with the client (15% importance)
• The first five minutes during which the client meets you at the property (20% importance)
• The inspection—specifically, the professionalism, approachability and expertise that you demonstrate to the client (25% importance)
• The quality of the inspection report (15% importance)
Let’s cover some details about the first four points:
Referrals Indicate Satisfaction
Referrals from past clients are worth a lot, much more than a business card or a brochure. It’s likely that your new client already has formed a generally favorable opinion of you just on the basis of someone else’s satisfaction with your services. The client likely will put a lot of stock into the referring person’s opinion, especially if the person who gave the referral is a real estate professional.
Good Business Cards are Essential
A business card is not worth much from a marketing perspective… and we’re talking about a good business card here. Sound contradictory? Let me explain. A well-designed business card is simply the standard for any industry. If you have a business, you require a good business card. However, in terms of marketing, a good business card is not what will bring you business. Because most everyone has a business card, if yours stands out as being of high quality, it will simply confirm the good opinion that a client forms about you from other points of contact.
If, on the other hand, your card looks to be of low quality or amateurish, you are giving yourself a huge marketing disadvantage. A low-quality business card gives the impression of having been made the night before. Particularly obvious are the business cards that come in sheets that you feed through a printer. Even well-designed cards printed on these sheets don’t pass the test. If you look carefully, you can see evidence of the perforations where the cards were torn from the sheets. Providing anything that suggests to the client that you may have started your business yesterday will not be comforting to the client, especially because home inspection is a service that depends on the experience of the practitioner.
Brochures are not the Best Tools
A brochure has the same effect as a business card. You have an opportunity to make a favorable impression by providing a well-constructed brochure, but the message is not as powerful as other points of contact with the client. And a low-quality brochure is a detriment. Here’s the bottom line: If you can’t afford to create a high-quality brochure, it’s best not to create one at all. There are lots of other ways to get your message out there that require less cash and can make a stronger marketing impact.
Good Phone Manner is Key
The telephone conversation is the client’s first opportunity to truly evaluate you. Clients listen to how you speak. They will notice the clarity and tone of your voice, the vocabulary you use and so on. It is extremely important to have a professional and approachable telephone manner. You don’t have to be slick, but you should always be prepared to answer questions in a friendly and professional manner. For example, if you sound irritated because you are on the roof of a house when you receivea call from a client, that’s the impression you will give with the client—that you are or can be irritable. That’s one reason for you to consider having someone else answer your phone calls for you when you are out in the field inspecting. Another reason to consider this idea is because answering the phone while you are conducting an inspection with another client forces you to become distracted. Even if you keep the call brief, the client who’s right there with you may perceive your taking the call as showing a lack of respect for him or her.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to give someone else (for example, an assistant or receptionist, a coworker or your spouse) the responsibility of fielding phone calls when you are unavailable. Just be sure that you trust the person handling phone calls to use good sales and customer service skills and to communicate successfully with both established and prospective clients. If you can’t find a person to manage phone calls for you when you are in the field, then consider either hiring an answering service or simply turning off the ringer on your cell phone so that you (and the client who might be with you) are not distracted by phone calls during an inspection. If you choose to turn off your phone, be sure that your greeting is concise and professional, that you remember to turn your phone back on after the inspection and that you return any calls you received promptly.
By incorporating these suggestions, you can continually improve your company’s image. In next month’s issue of the Reporter, look for Part 2 of this series, which will cover the importance of making good first impressions, conducting proper introductions and building positive rapport throughout the inspection process.