Everyone that has been in business for a while can tell you, sometimes customers are the worst part of your job! We recently had one of these clients, and it really tested me emotionally. Fortunately, I was able to do what we should all do when we have a difficult client: grit our teeth going through the ordeal, but keep our eyes wide open so that we can learn from this uncomfortable situation.
I thought writing this out in the form of a case study would work best for presenting the material. A case study is defined (by Google) as “a particular instance of something used or analyzed in order to illustrate a thesis or principle.” In this case study, I would like to discuss an issue that recently occurred to our inspection company. I believe that this situation, while quite frustrating for us as a company and for me personally, will prove to be a valuable example of the situations that all businesses ultimately face when dealing with the public.
BACKGROUND: We performed an inspection on a relatively large home for a client. The inspection was scheduled by the buyer’s agent and approved by the buyer, however the buyer did not attend the inspection. We sent all of the necessary paperwork ahead of time to the buyer by email, and he completed the inspection contract and paid the invoice prior to the inspection. The inspection included the home and the swimming pool. The home inspector performing the inspection that day had a questionable situation with some of the pool equipment, and called for a manager to offer an opinion of the equipment in question. The manager went to the house later that evening to confirm the inspector’s suspicions regarding a defect with the pool equipment.
ISSUE: The buyer requested that some of the items found in the inspection report be repaired by the sellers, which they agreed to address. The buyer contracted us to re-inspect the areas that were repaired. During the re-inspection, the buyer was present and questioned the inspector about some things that he perceived to be a problem with the pool. As the inspector was only contracted to re-inspect a few items, and the pool was not one of the items on the re-inspection list, the inspector referred the pool questions to the manager that had previously examined the pool equipment. The buyer perceived the problems to be an oversight on the part of the inspection company, and proceeded to send increasingly contentious emails to his real estate agent, the inspector and the manager. A few weeks later, after closing, the buyer again sent another combative email to his agent and the home inspection manager documenting some moisture damaged wood below the shingles on the roof, which were being lifted for access in his pictures. The buyer threatened to file a complaint with the state against the inspection company.
REALITY: The buyer’s first concern was the fact that there were inserts missing from the hot tub jets. These inserts and not necessary for proper function of the hot tub, and are often not installed. It is the home owner’s decision if they like the hot tub with or without jet inserts. The pool inspection report clearly states that the pool/hot tub inspection is limited to areas above the water line. These inserts cost less than $10 each, and the five jets could have easily been modified to the new home owner’s preferences. The buyer’s second issue was that the inspector didn’t tell him that the pool heater was broken. The heater functioned properly during the inspection, and a second pool inspector (hired by the agent in an attempt to pacify the buyer) confirmed that the heater was functional. It appears that the buyer simply did not know how to turn on the pool heater. The buyer’s last issue (regarding the moisture damage on the roof) was not reported to us, it was simply referenced in his last threatening email, which included two pictures of the shingles and felt paper being raised up at the edge of the roof to expose this damaged area. The buyer obviously did not read his inspection agreement, his inspection report, or the laws of our state dictating home inspection practices, which all clearly state that he was being provided with a “general, visual inspection.” Home inspectors are not contracted to lift shingles on the home, as doing so can potentially cause damage and effect the water-tightness of the roof covering.
DETERMINATION: After first contact with him, where he expressed concern over the (perceived) pool issues, we offered to rectify the things that he thought were an issue with the pool. We quickly realized, after his next (escalating) barrage of emails, that this was going to be a classic example of a problem client. He possesses a confrontational personality; he was not present at the inspection; he did not read his inspection contract, and therefore has an unrealistic expectation of what services a home inspector provides. Even though our inspector performed all his contracted duties, and provided a very good report to the client, we offered the client a refund of his home and pool inspection fees, as outlined in his inspection contract. The buyer did not respond to our refund offer, and simply kept emailing his real estate agent with new perceived slights. At this point, the determination was made to discontinue all correspondence with the client, and simply wait for his next move. The good thing for us is that in our state, all complaints must be processed through the state board of home inspectors, and all complaints are judged against our state laws: our standards of practice. As of this writing, this is still an active situation, and its future is unknown.
Mark Ryan, actor, author and director succinctly states that “You can’t please everyone, but I’ve always felt you cannot ultimately lose if you give everything 110%. You’ll always learn something useful, even from a failure, that can be applied to the next challenge or project.” While cases like these are certainly stressful, they will ultimately provide valuable information that will improve us as inspectors, and help guide us in our future business endeavors. Lean into it, the pain only hurts for a little while…
FOLLOW UP: It has now been a little over a year from the original date of this issue, and our disgruntled client has not contacted us again regarding this inspection. However, I have encountered his agent multiple times, and he never misses a chance to apologize for getting our company involved with that client!
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