February, 2017
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Service Philosophy: Customer-Centric Business

ALAN CARSON



I
n our recent article “Service Philosophy: Strategizing Excellent Service” (ASHI Reporter, December 2016), we discussed developing a customer service blueprint by creating a point of contact and strategic investing. In this article, we will describe building a customer-centric business by thinking from the customer’s perspective.

We’ve previously encouraged you to describe benefits, rather than features, in your marketing pieces. Benefits highlight your service from the customer’s perspective. This perspective should pervade all that you do, ensuring that the big picture encompasses a customer-centric philosophy.

Remember that the customer may include real estate professionals of all descriptions, as well as anyone else who might send business your way.

You should evaluate everything you do with the following thought process:

• What’s the benefit, or perceived benefit, to the customer?

• What can I do to make the benefit, or perceived benefit, more visible?

• Does this benefit result in a significant marketing advantage to me?

Perceived Benefits Have Greater Impact
Before we continue, let’s define the term “perceived benefit” because it goes to the root of a customercentric business. A perceived benefit is something that may or may not be a real benefit to your client, but is something that the client thinks it is important.

For example, take the idea of uploading the client’s report to a secure website with lots of bells and whistles. Is this a benefit to the client? Isn’t it simpler for the client just to get an emailed report? An email does the job and saves the client the added step of going to a website. But the client may perceive the web based system as being superior.

What Does Your Client Want?
How can you know what your client perceives as a benefit? Stop thinking like an expert and start thinking like your client. If you don’t know what your client is thinking, ask. We will look more closely at how to obtain clients’ thoughts and opinions later in the article.

An Example
Our report-writing system is a 400-page binder. When we do a seller’s inspection, the report and the book are supposed to be left in the home for the person who ultimately buys the home. But we have found that many sellers want to take the book with them to their next house, even though the report’s contents are about the home they are leaving! Although our clients’ perceptions are not what we expected, we have to respect them.

Four Levels of Service
The figure below summarizes four aspects of service for which you should strive.

Create Superior Service
The idea here is to impress your customers in such a way that they will come back to you over and over and also refer you to others. A good home inspector does his or her job well and consistently. A good home inspector arrives on time and delivers a professional report. Believe it or not, many home inspection companies can’t even deliver on these basic services. If you deliver a consistently good performance, you will be a contender. But a contender is not what you want to be. You want to be in the top-selling group of building inspectors.

A Little Effort Goes a Long Way. The fact is, to become part of the elite 20 percent requires being only a little better than the crowd. If you can analyze your service and figure out how to do it just a little bit better, you’ll go far.

Do you know how much faster the winning time in an Olympic 100-meter sprint is than the fourth-place time? Would you guess 20 percent? 15 percent? 10 percent? It’s actually about 2 percent. Yet, the person in fourth place receives no medal, gets no parade or endorsements, and may be remembered for this achievement only by family and friends.

This example plays out even more dramatically in business. The most impressive home inspection company gets the order with 100 percent of the rewards and there is not even a silver medal for the second-place finisher, who gets nothing.

What can you do? Perhaps instead of being simply “on time” for an inspection, you could arrive 10 minutes early. That way you can inspect the roof before your client and the agent arrive.

Does anyone really notice? During a presentation to a real estate office, an agent commented, “One thing I love about Carson Dunlop is I know when I arrive at the house with the client, the home inspector will have already finished inspecting the roof. The first time Carson Dunlop did an inspection for a client of mine, I was concerned when I got to the house at 9 a.m., and the inspector was not there. I called the Carson Dunlop office and they told me to look up. Sure enough, I saw the inspector finishing up on the roof.”

You can’t buy that kind of advertising. Special touches that make your service consistently better are enough to put you into the elite 2 percent. And what does it cost you to arrive a few minutes early? Nothing!

Give Customers What They Want
How do you know what your customers want? Ask them. What’s the best way to ask them? There are lots of ways, but we have found that surveys are the most effective. And if you survey your client on site during the inspection, you get a 100 percent response rate. You can provide a clipboard with a pencil attached, along with a simple questionnaire.

Tips to create a good questionnaire:
• Keep it short (two to four questions only).

• Keep it simple.

• Don’t ask questions to which you know the answer.

• Don’t ask personal questions.

• Ask only questions that can be translated directly into a business decision. (In other words, ask yourself, “What am I going to do with the information?”)

• Don’t ask yes/no questions. (You want people to give you a better idea of how they feel about your question than a “yes” or a “no.”)

Create a Distinctive Service
Creating a distinctive service is often the result of how well you do at the other three levels of service. Over time, if you stay consistent in your good service, high-quality service will become your trademark.

Another way to help create a point of distinction for your service is to come up with unusual offerings, such as the following:

• Provide each client with the use of a digital camera during the inspection, and offer to email them the photos they took after the inspection.

• Deliver cookies to a real estate office once a month and while you’re there, offer to do an educational seminar.

• During the inspection, find out the closing date for the transaction. Send a welcome letter to your client that will arrive on the day they move in. The letter should invite them to call you if they are unsure about how to operate any aspect of the home.

Give Your Clients More Than They Expected
You can achieve customer satisfaction simply by delivering what the client was expecting. However, if you deliver more than they were expecting, you not only have a satisfied customer, you also have someone who will comment to others about your great service.

Many home inspectors take this to mean they should show off their technical expertise during the inspection. But what you do technically during your inspection is lost on most customers. They probably won’t understand it and they have no way of knowing whether another inspector would have done the same thing or something more.

Good Service Needs Creative Thinking
So, what does it take to offer a service beyond expectations? It takes imagination. And if you think it also takes a lot of money, you’re wrong.

Here are a few examples of things we do at Carson Dunlop that cost little to no money at all:

• Send customers a follow-up email asking if they were happy with the inspection.

• Send real estate agents a thank-you card (from the home inspector) for referring our service.

• Tell our clients that they can call us any time about questions they may have about the house.

Courtesy Is Invaluable
Acts of courtesy, such as follow-up calls, cost nothing at all. The difference between you and the next inspector could hinge on something as simple as returning customer calls within three hours of receiving them. That kind of service has a tremendous impact on the customer and it costs you nothing.

Lest We Forget
Once again, let’s review that good service is not defined by the home inspector; rather, it is defined by the customer. Earlier in this article, we talked about giving your customer a survey, but we didn’t focus on what questions to ask. We suggest that you consider asking this one important question:

“What could we do to make the home inspection experience better for you?”

 Or, if you are really bold:

“What else could we do to help you?”

That is the essence of a customer-centric business.