Some (of the) People. Dealing with Unhappy Clients

There’s an old saying that applies to customer satisfaction in your business. Is says that if you make an honest effort, you can please about 90% of your customers. Of the remaining 10% of your customers, it will take twice as much effort to please half of them. Of the remaining 5% of your customers, it will take twice as much effort to please half of them. Of the remaining group of customers…

Obviously, you can see where this is heading.

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

John Lydgate
feeling like you are looking through a tunnel trying to reach a good home inspection client

In business, as in life, you will never be able to please everyone. If you spend your time trying to please everyone, whether in your business or in your life, you’ll end up frustrated, unhappy and worn out.

We all know someone that’s never happy. Maybe it’s your aunt who’s never missed an opportunity to complain at the restaurant during those family outings. Maybe it’s that friend-of-a-friend that (somehow) always shows up at your social gatherings and has never uttered one word that wasn’t a complaint about the food, the venue, the entertainment or the company. Maybe it’s even your spouse, who, despite your continued best efforts, always seems to find fault in everything you say and do. (And if that’s your situation, I’m truly sorry; have another cocktail and put it on my bill.)

We all have these people in our lives. When it’s friends or family, we simply grin and bear it. We say, “Oh, that’s just the way Aunt Judy is, don’t worry about her,” or we smile when we’re near them and try our best to stay on the other side of the room whenever they’re around.

There’s always going to be someone that’s not going to be happy, no matter how much effort you put forth. In business, as in life, your best strategy is to rid yourself of them as soon as possible. Offer an apology, telling them that you’re sorry that you were unable to meet their expectations. Offer them some type of compensation for their time, wish them good luck, and run away from them as fast as your little legs will carry you…

running away from a bad home inspection client

As professional home inspectors, we’re often saddled with the unrealistic expectations of our clients. It may be due to real estate agents building up their expectations (“the inspector will find every problem and if anything ever goes wrong with your house, he’ll pay to fix it”), clients watching ‘Home Inspectors’ on television demolishing things with sledgehammers, or it may be our own fault for not making sure that our client’s expectations aligned with reality. Regardless of the reason why, the hard fact is that every one of us will eventually find ourselves in a difficult situation, dealing with an unreasonable client.

And face it, these difficult clients can be the worst part of being a business owner. They grate on our nerves, draining on us physically, stress us out mentally and cause emotional turmoil in our already over-taxed brains.

I’ve already got enough stress in my life just running a business. I don’t need this kind of crap!

So, what’s an already stressed out small business owner to do? Is there anything we can do that can help eliminate this needless suffering? Are there some steps we can take so that we never have to deal with this “special” kind of client?

Unfortunately, there’s not a vaccine that will make us totally immune to problem clients. We can do our best to target a certain segment of the client base, aiming for higher-end clients and agents. We can use pricing to weed out some of the lower-end customers who want a Mercedes for the price of a two-door Kia. We can focus our marketing on customers and vendors who are more likely to understand and appreciate the product that we’re offering. We can put forth our best effort at all times, aiming to please the vast majority of our customers.

Even if we do all of this, and do it successfully, every once in a while Aunt Judy is gonna slip by our defenses and land squarely in our laps.

What we do next, how we respond to this stressful situation, can have an over-sized impact on our future happiness and our future business success. The best way to respond is to anticipate these types of situations (because you know that they’re eventually going to happen) and have a pre-planned course of action already in place to deal with these problem clients.

Confidence is always in direct proportion to preparation.

Daren Martin

Often, the best course of action is to try to put the situation behind us as quickly as possible. As I stated earlier, offer an apology. Even if we did nothing wrong, apologize for the fact that we were unable to meet their expectations. By empathizing with our disgruntled clients, we show them that we understand their disappointment, possibly enabling a connection on a basic human level. Some people simply want to know that you understand their frustrations, and can appreciate their point of view.

If appropriate, offer some form of compensation to lessen the blow of their frustrations. This shows that you understand that their time is important, and you’re willing to do something to demonstrate this value. My home inspection contract limits my liability to a refund of the inspection price paid by the client, so this is where I start negotiations.

As I make an effort to verify that each of my clients understands the limits of my inspection and my responsibilities prior to the inspection, most of them are aware of the contractual limits of my liability. Therefore, most of them settle for a refund of the inspection fee.

It is recommend that you have a document ready to use in these types of situations. Every business owner should have some type of “Receipt and Release” (R&R) form drawn up by a trusted local attorney. By signing this form, the customer acknowledges that they are receiving compensation and releasing the inspector from any future liability. Have the client sign the R&R in duplicate, providing them with a copy and keeping a signed copy for your records. Never give a refund without getting a R&R signed by the customer. Without a signed R&R, the inspector is still contractually bound to their customer.

judge ruling in a lawsuit involving a home inspector

There’s on old saying that you can be sued by anyone, for anything, at anytime. However, you are (legally) in a much better position if you have a signed R&R from your customer.

Putting forth your best effort will keep the vast majority of your customers happy. For the remaining disgruntled few, quickly take care of them, minimize your stress and maximize the distance between you and your (potential) problems.

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.

Colin Powell

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector