In Part 1 of this series about your company image (published in the June issue of the Reporter), we described how clients will perceive your company and outlined some strategies for success. In this article, we continue the discussion with the importance of first impressions and how to build a relationship during and after the inspection. If you have been inspecting for years, this will be a quick checkup for you, and if you are newer to home inspection, you may learn some useful tips.
Make a Positive First Impression in Person
The first few seconds with the client are more important than the rest of the inspection. We all form opinions on the basis of first impressions. Your clients will have an expectation before the inspection and an immediate perception when they first meet you. They are hoping to meet someone who is experienced and competent, as well as friendly and approachable.
Clients want someone who has their interests at heart and someone who will provide expert, unbiased advice. You should look the part and fit the role—from your vehicle to your clothing and from your business card to your personality. Be the professional your clients are hoping to meet.
Smile when you introduce yourself to your clients. Let them know you’re glad to meet them and that you appreciate the opportunity to help them with their decision. For the next few hours, your clients should be the most important people in the world to you.
Scripting and practicing your opening communication can be helpful, but be sure that you sound genuine. Your tone should be conversational and your first comments should be welcoming.
The introduction process should not take more than a minute or two. Introduce yourself and give the client a business card. A short statement about your credentials or experience working with homes in this neighborhood will reinforce the feeling that they are working with a well-trained professional and that they have made a good decision in choosing you. Some inspectors offer a positive comment about the neighborhood if it seems appropriate.
Explain the inspection process, including how long the inspection will take and when they will get the report. Encourage the client to accompany you on the inspection and ask questions. Assure your clients that they do not need to take notes; everything will be in the report.
We are assuming that the client has accepted the inspection agreement before the inspection. Most inspectors electronically send this agreement when the inspection is booked and clients typically accept the terms online. If this has not been done, however, you should present and explain the contract and get the client’s acceptance before the inspection begins. To minimize liability, this needs to be done before you get started.
Get Them Talking
The next step is to put your clients at ease and gather some information. Ask questions about them and find out where they are moving from. People are typically most comfortable talking about themselves—it’s a subject they know better than anyone.
Ask your clients if they have any specific concerns about the home or if they are just looking for an overall checkup. Ask them to point out their concerns when you arrive so that you can address them during the inspection. This will help you remember to point out the issues that are especially important to them.
You have now set the stage for a professional, friendly, consultative inspection with the client’s participation.
The Inspection Process
It is ideal for your clients to follow you around the home while you inspect it, although you cannot force them to do so. You can remind them that if they come with you on the inspection, then you will be able to discuss your findings and answer their questions as you go. The benefits to the client are significant. They get a much better understanding of the home. You get to develop a rapport with the client that can help reduce your liability. Clients who join you on the inspection and see how hard you work on their behalf are far less likely to complain. Most of our complaints come from clients who did not attend the inspection.
Your clients will be refining their opinion of you during the inspection. Most will not be able to evaluate your technical skills, so they will judge your communication skills. That is why the way you say something is as important as what you say.
Dos and Don’ts for Communication
It’s a conversation, not a lecture. As you point things out, ask for feedback. You could say, “Does that make sense?” Make sure that your clients feel engaged and respected. Be sure to answer their questions patiently and completely. No matter how silly a person’s question may seem to you, you should take it seriously and answer it fully.
The knowledge dilemma. Our challenge is that we cannot know everything. We do not get to take the house apart. We do not “get to live in it for three years to learn how it works. Remember, physicians don’t know everything either. They have to recommend testing or provide referrals to specialists. In this way, you are like a family doctor.
Here are some suggestions for what to say (or what not to say) when you cannot be definitive:
Avoid saying, “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure” or “I think.” You want to sound experienced and professional and you want to inspire confidence. Try saying things along the lines of these examples:
• “We don’t have enough evidence...”
• “We can only see part of the story here...”
• “Based on the partial evidence we can see,...”
• “ Although I’d love to see what’s going on behind, we are not allowed to take the house apart.”
The next step is to provide some direction. It may be recommending a further evaluation by a specialist or monitoring with an explanation of what the client should watch for.
You will be definitive in some cases. In other cases, you will be drawing conclusions on the basis of incomplete information and deduction. Make sure that you distinguish between fact and opinion. For example, you might say, “Based on the little we can see and my experience, there may be considerable concealed damage behind this wall.” After offering your opinion, you should provide the client some direction such as, “I recommend the drywall be removed to determine the condition of the structure behind it and to determine whether repairs are needed.”
Your Final Report is Important
The only thing more important than the first impression you make is the last impression. The inspection report is the last part of the inspection process and it’s the only tangible evidence of your inspection.
The report has to knock your client’s socks off. It is the material proof that they have received a professional assessment. From a marketing perspective, the report is what will get you future referrals. If your report is unimpressive, your client’s image of you and your whole business will be unimpressive. A great inspection can be wasted by a mediocre report.
Reports should look professional, with relevant color photographs to help tell the story. It’s hard to look great with handwritten reports and checkboxes on a form. A lot of great software is available that can help make you look good. Whatever you use to create your reports, put forth your best effort and ensure that your report reflects how you would like your company to be perceived.
Your report is important, but it is not the only opportunity to showcase your skill as an inspector. Perception is reality, and a professional and friendly demeanor at the inspection that puts your client at ease can turn a customer into a referrer. A positive impression is good for your business and good for our profession!