January, 2014
Ethics
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Handling Complaints

ALAN CARSON

Handling Complaints- Part 2

By Alan Carson
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd.

IN A PREVIOUS ARTICLE, WE INTRODUCED THE CONCEPT of handling complaints as a way to market your business. We discussed how complaint resolution is more of an art than a science and that a “one-size-fits-all” approach usually does not work. We outlined the importance of first being clear on your business philosophy and how to turn a complaint into an opportunity. This is really where the marketing side comes in.

In this article, we will get into the nitty-gritty of it by discussing strategies to avoid complaints from the start. Ultimately this strategy can help set the right expectations for your business and enhance the experience of your customer and real estate professionals.

Avoiding Complaints
Explain the Scope of Your Inspection

Obviously, the best way to deal with a complaint is to prevent it. Some novice inspectors say the best way to avoid complaints is to never make a mistake. The fact is you don’t have to make a mistake to get a complaint. Many complaints we get are not the result of inspectors making mistakes; they are a result of clients not understanding the scope of work. When clients book an inspection, they have their own idea what their $400 gets them. They often think they paid you $400 to ensure they would not have any problems with the house. They don’t know that the $400 will get them a specific scope of work that excludes a number of areas.

So let’s discuss the ways to avoid complaints.

1. Have a good contract
In our opinion, the main purpose of the contract is not to limit liability but rather to ensure that the client understands what we do and don’t do. In other words, we set up a contract so that the client and the home inspection company can agree on the scope of the inspection.

You need to consult your lawyer when it comes to designing your contract. The problem is that most of the contracts we see are designed to stack things in your favor should you end up in court or in a legal dispute with your client. While this approach protects you, these contracts often do little to avoid the problem in the first place. Most complaints do not go to court, and many do not involve a lawyer. You handle most complaints face to face with your client. You should consider how your contract helps in this situation.

2. Booking the inspection is a risk-management opportunity
Booking the inspection is an opportunity to ask the client some risk-management questions. This is a great time to ask about and document specific concerns. Concerns outside the scope of the inspection can be identified at this stage, and clients can be advised about where to get answers to these questions. We prefer to avoid telling clients, “We don’t inspect for that.” We try to tell them where they can get answers to their specific issue. We also make it clear that when clients ask for things outside our scope, we inform them that this is not part of a professional home inspection. We don’t want to leave the impression that other home inspectors may perform those services and that they have chosen a poor firm

3. Encourage clients to attend
We have found that most of our complaints come from clients who did not attend the inspection. Having the clients with you helps them understand the scope of the inspection. For example, if they are following you around, they will see that the basement floor is finished and that there is no way to verify if there is a floor drain. When the basement floods, you and your client can commiserate together that you were unable to verify the presence of a drain. The client who was not present during the inspection may say, “All I know is that I paid you to make sure something like this didn’t happen.” This statement is completely unfair and suggests you are that all-encompassing insurance policy that no one has ever seen.

4. Stay within your scope
Don’t underestimate the in-scope, out-of-scope problem. A classic scenario with home inspectors is that the inspector is a hands-on expert in one area of house systems. For example, the ex-electrician will spend far too much time inspecting the electrical system and perform tests well beyond the scope of the inspection, often citing code references. If you spend too much time on one area, you may create an expectation of extreme inspection for the other systems of the home. The client could then come back later and ask why you did not strip down the furnace and find a crack in the weld where the primary heat exchanger joins the secondary heat exchanger.

5. Don’t overpromise
If you promise too much, you raise the client’s expectations too high, and your client may use it against you later. For example, if your brochure says that you offer “complete peace of mind,” your client might come back later and say, “You promised peace of mind, and what I have is a stress-inducing money pit.”

6. Disclose your errors and omissions insurance with care
Many home inspectors say you should not advertise your errors and omissions insurance. Talking about your insurance may seem tempting if it distinguishes you from your competition. For instance, if inspectors in your area don’t have insurance, you may use your insurance to demonstrate that you are a professional company, looking out for your client’s best interest.

But advertising errors and omissions insurance can be like a lightning rod. People who never would have considered blaming you for a mishap may do so because they can justify that it’s “just business.”

Summary
We have just briefly touched on some of the things you can do to mitigate complaints in the first place. There are many others including:

  • Ask clients about their concerns
  • Documenting any special limitations
  • Always deliver consistent information
  • Don’t guess on anything you don’t know
  • Don’t ignore things you are not sure about
  • Don’t show off your knowledge
  • Remain impartial at all times
  • Consider offering a home warranty from a third-party provider
  • Offer a prepossession checklist

We will discuss the items above in a future article.

Complaints are inevitable. We encourage you to do further research and also learn how your peers manage complaints. Although you can never eliminate them entirely, they can be significantly reduced with the right strategies and approach. Addressing this crucial side of your business will ultimately increase your reputation and your bottom line.