Figuring Out a Client’s Potential Problem Score

As small business owners, we all have a love/hate relationship with our clients. Obviously, we love when clients are paying money for our services, which (ultimately) pays for everything that we enjoy in life: food, shelter, transportation, vacations, and that new 85” 4K ultra-high-def TV. But we hate it when some of those same clients turn into vile-spewing demons, bent on causing problems and giving us high blood pressure, ulcers and more sleepless nights than we care to remember. Wouldn’t it be great if they were required to wear little signs around their necks, letting us know whether they were nice customers or ones that we’d rather pawn off on that one certain competitor that we really can’t stand?

signs showing home inspection clients' potential problem score

Wouldn’t our life be so much easier if our clients had a “potential problem score” that we could easily check out online before working with them? That would certainly make our jobs a whole lot more enjoyable!

While dreaming about problem scores is certainly fun to do, it won’t get us any closer to our real dream of having fewer problems in our business. Just wishing that we had fewer problems isn’t enough; we’ve got to actively put in the work necessary to achieve that lofty goal.

The Golden Rule

If we stop to think about it, the way we treat our clients has a tremendous influence on the way that they treat us. Think back on “The Golden Rule” that we learned as children: treat others the way we want to be treated. It’s the basis for almost every successful human interaction throughout time. When we treat others nicely, they tend to reciprocate in kind. Treat someone like crap and we’re bound to get it right back tenfold.

While following The Golden Rule is certainly a wonderful way to go through life, when it comes to our business and our customers, platinum trumps gold every time. In his book The Art of People, author Dave Kerpin espoused that we follow The Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would want done to them. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie illustrates The Platinum Rule this way:

Personally, I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So, when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: “Wouldn’t you like to have that?”

It’s common sense that we should use the right bait while fishing for customers. In order to do this, we’ve got to take some initiative and do the hard work necessary to turn our product into exactly what our clients are looking for. We’ve got to ask questions, listening carefully to what our clients have to say. Not only must we work to adapt our products and offerings to better serve our clients in general, but we’ve got to be flexible enough to change on the fly. We’ve got to be accommodating in our business, modifying our product to serve each individual client in a way that best suits them and their needs.

So Needy

So, what are our customers’ needs? How do they evaluate our services? What benchmarks are they using by which to judge us and our products?

Our clients assess us and the services we provide based on how well we meet their built-in expectations. If we exceed the expectations that they have coming into the transaction, we’ll be judged as having provided them with outstanding service. If we fall short and fail to meet their preconceived expectations (no matter how off-base they are), we’re judged as having provided them with horrible service.

To make matters even worse, all our clients come into their business transaction with different expectations, and in some ways, each customer is unique in what they’re expecting to get from interacting with us and our business.

I know what I’m doing

If we’ve been doing our job for any appreciable length of time, we know exactly what it is that we’re offering to our clients. We know our job backwards and forwards, and (hopefully) do our best every time do deliver exactly the service that we’ve been hired to provide.

All this stuff about expectations can seem pretty ridiculous to us.

Why can’t I just do my job? I know what I’m doing!

It’s very easy for us to focus on what we’re doing, especially when we’ve been doing it so long that we could do it with our eyes closed. We can even hear that little voice inside our head, murmuring “Just leave me alone, damn it, so I can get my job done!”

It’s all too easy for us to fall in love with just doing our thing. The hard part is remembering that our clients aren’t us, and don’t have the benefit of having gone through our experiences. That client standing in front of us hasn’t been on hundreds (or thousands) of home inspections before, and they have absolutely no idea what’s about to happen. Most of them have no idea why a home inspection is about to happen, anyway.

Sales without customer service is like stuffing money into a pocket full of holes.

David Tooman

Each of them is coming into their transaction with some type of preconceived notion about what’s going to happen. They’re heads have been filled with ideas from friends, relatives, Realtors, television and social media regarding exactly what it is that we do. And these expectations run the gamut, ranging from perfectly reasonable to way out in left field.

How do I pull this off?

How in the world are we supposed to provide excellent service to our customers, and be everything to everyone, when our clients are coming into these transactions with an unlimited number of expectations?

Unfortunately, this type of situation is a problem for every small business owner, no matter what industry they serve. Customers’ unrealistic expectations can be traced to most of the problems that business owners experience. Failing to meet a clients’ expectations will quickly land us a one-way ticket to Problemsville.

One by one

So, what can we, as business owners, do to address this problem before it gets out of hand? Is there any way that we can make things go more smoothly?

The answer to this age-old business problem lies in how we manage our clients’ expectations. We need to start by realizing that every client is unique, and we must attempt to gain some insight into each clients’ mindset. We’ve got to be prepared to ask probing questions, attempting to establish exactly what it is that they’re looking for from this transaction. We’ve got the be ready to actively listen to what it is they’re saying and make an honest attempt to understand them and their position if we’re going to be successful in providing them the service they’re looking for.

Managing the expectations of our clients is paramount to our business success, but it’s impossible to do if we don’t take the time to discover what those expectations are.

Managing expectations is a difficult proposition for most business owners. Figuring out what our clients are thinking and moving them back to reality is a demanding task. It’s best done using a multi-pronged attack, and it starts before we even meet our customers. We’ve got to start each business interaction by putting reasonable expectations front and center in all our marketing materials. Make sure that our website, brochures, social media posts and any other marketing materials references the standards that we adhere to in our business. Making sure that we’re not making any over-the-top claims (“The best inspector in the state!”) that can’t be substantiated.

While grabbing the client’s attention is certainly an important point in any marketing campaign, setting them up with unrealistic expectations from the very beginning of the business relationship is often setting us up for failure.

Lather, rinse, repeat

Reemphasizing our goals and standards throughout the process (in emails, paperwork, contracts, reports and interpersonal interactions) can go a long way towards setting proper expectations. Constantly repeating the same message to our clients, hammering home those standards over and over again throughout the process, can help focus our clients mind on exactly what type of product it is that they’re actually getting.

After being in business a while, we’ll start to develop an understanding of the expectations of our average client, knowing what it is that most of our customers are looking for when doing business with us. Armed with this valuable knowledge, we can begin to shape our product offerings, emphasizing the things that our customers value. Investing time and energy to figure out ways to do those things at an incredibly high level will pay dividends for our business far into the future.

Don’t get set up

While it’s important to set proper expectations, we’ve got to remain on guard for setting ourselves up for failure. It’s vital to remember that our clients are human, and as humans they tend to hear the parts of our instructions that they want to hear. If we tell them that their home inspection report will be delivered in one or two days, they’re certainly going to hear that they’ll be getting their report delivered tomorrow (even though we clearly said one or two days.)

It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Instead of telling them one or two days and upsetting them when it takes two days to get their report, it’s best to tell them it’s going to take two days to get their report and delivering it in one day. That way they’re impressed that they received the report more quickly than they were expecting, instantly upping our credibility and setting us up for a better client/vendor relationship. And all for doing something we were likely going to do anyway!

Focus on the customer

Creating a customer-focused culture in our business isn’t a one-time thing. We can’t do it with a gimmicky social media marketing campaign, a cool new brochure, a bonus prize give-away or a sweet, new vision statement on our website. Creating this type of culture in our business takes time, dedication, and persistence. It’s up to us to make the decision to move our business in this direction, realizing that creating a customer-focused business model is a never-ending process.

chart of steady growth in your home inspection business

Even if we’re the best home inspector that ever lived, and our bedside manner is outstanding, eventually we will have a problem with one of our clients. If we’re in business long enough, it’s inevitable that something will go really wrong. It’s just the nature of business; there’s nothing we can do about that part. But how hard we work to make sure that our clients have the best experience possible can go a long way to reducing the number of other problems we have in our business.

I’ll take a little more work for a lot less problems any day of the week.

I welcome all feedback (both positive and negative) on this post.
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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector

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