Above and beyond

As professional business owners, we all have some standard that we operate by; some set of guidelines that we put out there so that our clients know what it is they’re actually getting when they hire us. Typically, these principles are provided to our clients in one form or another, either printed out in some sort of list or outlined for them in our professional contract. They’re intended to make sure that everyone comes into the transaction with similar expectations.

shaking hands with your home inspection client

And when we meet our client’s expectations, everyone is happy.

We’ve done our job, providing exactly what it is that we were hired to do. Our clients are satisfied, having received the product that they were promised when they hired us.

We often think of it as fulfilling our requirements to our clients.

“Meeting spec” it’s called in the industrial world.

Performing within our limits.

Completing our contractual obligations.

If we stop to think about it, what we’re really saying is that what we’re giving our client is “good enough.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There are plenty of businesses that provide exactly what they’ve promised and nothing more. And there are tons of clients that are looking for us to meet those standards and aren’t interested in anything else.

Give the people what they want.

(attributed to) George Jessel

But what’s a home inspector to do in this situation? What do we do when our product is a home inspection, and our clients are uninformed home buyers? They don’t have any idea what it is we do, they don’t know what it is they want, and they don’t have a clue what they need.

By meeting our obligations, are we doing enough for our clients?

Should we be striving to meet the minimum specs, or should we be doing something more?

Are we satisfied when we provide our clients with the bare minimum, doing exactly what our standards tell us we must do, or should we be focused on surpassing our clients’ expectations? Are we too focused on our obligations, all the while missing out on the intent of what it is we’re really supposed to be doing for our clients?

If you don’t listen to your customers, you will fail.  But if you only listen to your customers, you will also fail.

Amazon slogan

In the home inspection industry, we’re faced with a difficult proposition. Most of our clients have no idea what it is that we do for them. Even if they do read to standards of practice and contract that we provide to them before the inspection (they really do read them, don’t they?), they’re often still at a loss to explain what it is they’re paying us to do.

It can be pretty hard to meet (or exceed) someone’s expectations when they really don’t have any expectations to begin with. Steve Jobs famously remarked that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

While being in this situation can be stressful, it also presents us with a unique opportunity. There aren’t too many products in this world that consumers buy without knowing what it is they’re paying for. Buying a new car? You know what you’re getting. Ordering some burgers and fries? Pretty confident you know what’s gonna be in the bag at the drive-thru window. New pair of shoes? Yep, we know what’s involved there.

But getting a home inspection? Now that’s a different story. They may have a vague idea of what it is we do, but beyond that it’s just a mystery.

And that can be a good thing.

Being an unknown can work in the favor of the minimalist, who do what they must and not a thing more.

I met the standards. What more do you want from me?

But it can also work in the favor of those inspectors who want to do more than the minimum, providing their clients with a product that far exceeds the minimum standards as well as whatever preconceived notions they had of what a home inspection entails.

And why would someone do that, you might ask? Why would an inspector deliver more than they’re legally and contractually required to provide to their clients?

One word: marketing.

Yes, marketing.

Anything we provide that exceeds the standards; anything we do that’s beyond spec; anything we offer that goes above and beyond what’s considered reasonable to expect from a typical home inspector; it’s all marketing.

And what is marketing?

All the time you spend making sure that your product is better than your competition, that’s marketing.

All the late nights reading, listening, watching, and learning things beyond what your licensing entity requires to renew your certification, that’s marketing too.

All the time you spend proofreading your inspection reports at night before you hit publish, instead of just wrapping up on-site and sending the report out without a second glance, yep, that’s marketing.

Anything that you do that exceeds the minimum requirements of your industry, it all counts as marketing your business.

Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.

Joe Chernov

We should be doing everything in our power to make our clients feel like they made the right decision when they hired us. If we provide a bare-bones report that’s hard to read, difficult to navigate, and/or too complicated to understand, we’re doing to opposite of marketing. When we fail to impress, or even worse, confuse our clients, we’ve failed in our job. We haven’t provided them with a product that makes them feel smart for hiring us, and quite likely, we’ve left them with the proverbial “bad taste in their mouth.”

And in today’s always on, easily accessible, interconnected digital world, we disappoint our clients at our own peril. Clients that have a negative experience are highly likely to share their disappointment on social media. Unfortunately for us, those clients that we do make happy are less likely to post about their good interaction with your company than those that are unhappy.

So, we’ve got to do everything in our power to impress our clients and make them happy. It not only keeps them from posting bad reviews about us, but it makes our job a whole lot easier down the line!

a happy home inspection customer

Bare-bones or over the top, it’s entirely up to us to decide how we want to run our business. We can be content with doing the same thing we’ve always done, stickling firmly to the relative security of the middle of the pack. Or we can branch out, upping our game and doing the extra things necessary to set ourselves apart from the masses.

Either way, what we do and how we do it is sending a message to our potential customers.

And that message is our marketing.

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector