Your Permanent Record

If you’re of a certain age (i.e.: old like me), you probably remember being a kid and getting “corrected” for doing something wrong. Back in those days, correction probably involved some hard object finding its way onto your backside, often in a swift and repeated manner! But regardless of whether or not your correction involved borderline child abuse, you were almost always given “the talk.” And the talk usually involved some version of “if you’re not careful, what you did is going to end up on your permanent record.”

getting fussed at for messing up a home inspection

We didn’t know what this permanent record was, but boy, it sure sounded scary. I’m not sure if that talk ever really did much good, but it sure left me with lots of questions.

Who is it that keeps this permanent record?

Do they really write all this stuff down?

How the hell do they find out about it?

Where do they keep this permanent record stored?

Can I sneak in and steal it, or if not, can I at least make some quick editorial changes?

Even though those questions remain unanswered, the thought of a permanent record was often enough to scare us into doing the right thing (at least for a little while, anyway.) It served as an incentive to keep us from doing something that was wrong; something that we knew we didn’t want other people finding out about.

It’s kind of ironic that now, in our current digital age, your permanent record is a real and tangible thing. There really is a place where everything you do and say ends up recorded for posterity, available for anyone with curiosity (and a smart phone) to view. Your entire life is being kept in the cloud. What you say and do, and what other people say and think about you, is there for the taking. All your comments, posts and reviews are easily accessible to anyone with enough smarts to know how to look.

And we thought our parents were making this stuff up…

Social media, cookies, tags, Facebook pixels, Google tracking IDs; we’re being watched, tracked and categorized everywhere we go. Soon, our physical movements will be cataloged by location tracking, license plate readers and facial recognition software. The internet knows everything, and it’s often all too eager to share that information with anyone with the knowledge (or money) to access our data.

paying money to access our home inspection data online

While personal privacy matters are certainly a big concern, as business owners, we’re more concerned with the image presented by our immediately available personal record. What are our customers likely to encounter when they’re doing preliminary research, checking us out to see if we’re someone that’s worthy of their business?

While we may not have considered this before, it’s important that we ask ourselves a few questions:

What is it that our customers see when the Google our name?

What kind of presence do we have on the web?

Do we have a top quality website?

Is our social media presence professional?

What do our past clients say about us on these platforms?

These are all important questions, and ones that must be addressed if we’re to have a chance at running a successful business in the digital age. It’s unfortunate that a few bad reviews can have a detrimental effect on our business, but that’s the reality we all face in today’s digital business world. Without an overall strategy for how we deal with our digital presence, we’re leaving our future business success to chance. Considering that most of us have (at least some) plans for the other areas of our business, it’s hard to imagine that we’d roll the dice with this important part of our marketing.

We often advise our children to refrain from doing anything online, like sending compromising photos, that can come back and haunt them later in life. Why is it then that we often ignore the same basic advice when it comes to our own business?

It’s important to remember that every interaction we have with the public, whether they’re a client of ours or not, could potentially result in someone posting a review of our business on social media. Nowadays, everyone owns their own publishing company: they all have access to social media.

And they’re not afraid to use it.

They’re important clients.
Why not treat them that way?

If someone feels slighted, offended, or put off by us, they’re quick to let the world know, right there on our home page. And while this can sometimes result in untrue or unfairly represented items making their way onto the web, it’s a reality that we can’t avoid. People can post anything they want online. And even though there are slander laws intended to protect us from blatant untruths, the wheels of justice turn slowly, while the negative effects of a bad review are often immediate. Fighting to have a negative review taken down is often a drawn out process, and in the meantime, everyone is still seeing it and deciding (rightly or wrongly) whether or not they’re going to hire our business based on that information.

It’s clear to see that some type of intervention is needed. While we’ll never be able to stop all negative reviews from happening, there are certainly some steps that can be taken to lessen their occurrence and mitigate their effects.

The most important thing we can do is to be sure that we’re meeting (and exceeding) our client’s expectations. When people enter a business transaction, they’re coming in with certain preconceived ideas about what they’ll receive for their investment. If we exceed those expectations, they’re going to be happy with our service. If we fail to meet their expectations, they’re going to be disappointed.

People are much more likely to leave a negative review when they’re unhappy than they are to leave a good review when they’re pleased. Therefore, it’s imperative that we try everything in our power to maximize the possibility of our clients leaving our business transaction with a smile on their face.

really happy with the results of their home inspection

According to an article by Inc magazine, there are three important points for us to remember when trying to maximize our customer’s experience:

  1. Product quality
  2. Customer service
  3. Educating the customer

If we provide our client with a high-quality product, they’re more likely to be satisfied with their purchase and less likely to have complaints. If we’re getting a lot of follow up questions from our buyers, agents and sellers, then we’ve still got some work to do on the quality of our product. My favorite mantra related to this point is that it’s important to under-promise and over-deliver. By keeping our clients happy, we can greatly reduce our future headaches.

Quality customer service is an essential part of any small business, and the inspection industry is no exception. Being accessible is an essential part of running a successful business. If we rarely answer our phone, don’t quickly respond to texts and let our emails languish for days, we can expect to have unhappy customers. But at least we won’t have to worry too much, because those customers will soon stop bothering us because they’ve moved on to someone who’s easier to reach.

It’s called customer service for a reason. If we don’t provide them with service, they won’t provide us with business.

Making sure that our customers are educated about what it is we do and how our product works is an incredibly important component in pleasing our clients. Making sure their expectations align with our service is a vital part on keeping our customers happy. If they’re expecting something that we’re not delivering, it’s a recipe for certain disaster.

Just as important is making sure that our clients know what’s coming, when it’s coming and how to use it. If they’re expecting the report to be delivered that evening but we don’t let them know we’re sending it tomorrow, we should expect a phone call from an irate client. If we think our software is the easiest one we’ve ever used when it comes to inputting data while on the inspection, but our clients can’t figure out how to navigate it when they’re working on their response form, we’ve already lost the battle.

client frustrated by computer problems with their home inspection report

I’m a big proponent of making everything we do fool-proof. That way if we do happen to be working with a fool, they’re still able to understand what’s happening and how everything works. Don’t forget, fools like to leave reviews too…

Working to please our clients, ensuring that they’re satisfied with our product and our service, is one of the best ways to invest in the future of our business. Everything that we do that goes above and beyond the basic level of quality is considered marketing, and there’s no better way of marketing our business than to produce happy customers.

Happy customers leave good reviews. Good reviews lead to more business, and more business eventually leads to a happy business owner. And isn’t that’s exactly what we want to see as part of our permanent record?

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector