March, 2015
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Service Philosophy - Fix Mistakes Fast

ALAN CARSON

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We have found that if you make a mistake

and solve the mistake to your client’s satisfaction, your client will sing your praises more than if you never made the mistake in the first place! Unless you are a machine, you will make a few mistakes over time. When you do, deal with them quickly. Let’s say a client calls back because he/she hs just moved into the house and discovered a problem that you missed. Here are a few tips to approach the situation:

Tip 1: Think about it from your client’s perspective.

Your clients have just invested all of their money in this home and are committed to spending more than they can afford every month for the next 30 years. They might even be experiencing buyer’s remorse.

To you, this is just another house. To your client, it’s their home, their nest egg, their retirement, their future. It’s part of who they are. To the client, the value of the house is greater than the price tag alone.

Imagine after the emotional drain of moving that, on their first day in the house, they discover a problem with the house. You now have an idea of the
emotional state the client may be in.

Tip 2: Empathize with the client.

Empathizing and sympathizing are not the same. To empathize means to understand them; to sympathize means that you share their feelings and opinions. At this early stage, you want them to know that you understand completely, but you don’t want to tell them that you agree with their conclusion. Notice the qualitative difference between the two:

Empathetic response: “I know how discouraged you must feel.”

Sympathetic response: “I agree that the leak in your skylight presents a big problem.”

In the first response, you are not providing a diagnosis of the problem over the phone, nor are you agreeing that it’s a problem. You are just telling them you can understand why they feel upset. In the second response, you risk making a wrong diagnosis, alarming the client and making a mistake.

Tip 3: Don’t comment on anything until you’ve reread the report.

Here is a common scenario: Your clients call you on your way to an inspection and tell you they are having a problem getting fire insurance because it turns out that the house has knob and tube wiring. The clients are in a panic because the insurance company has given them three months to rewire the home. The clients got three quotes that range from $6,000 to $10,000 for rewiring. The clients say this cost was unexpected and now they are concerned that they have just purchased a “money pit.”

You try to down calm the clients by telling them all about knob and tube wiring. You say that it’s unfortunate the insurance company is taking this position because there is nothing inherently wrong with knob and tube wiring. As long as it has not been inappropriately spliced, it’s perfectly good. It does not matter that it is an ungrounded system because today most appliances are double-insulated and don’t need a ground connection. The only areas that really need a ground connection are the kitchen and a home office.

This line of reasoning is unlikely to appease the homeowner because it does not solve their problem. You give up because you have to do your next inspection and you don’t really remember the house anyway. You tell them that you will call them back in the evening to discuss what can be done. The client is unhappy with your response and with you. You now have an adversarial relationship with the client.

When you get home and flip through the report, what do you find in the first paragraph of the electrical section? You see the following paragraph:

During the inspection, we identified knob and tube wiring throughout the house. While there is nothing inherently wrong with knob and tube wiring, if it has been tampered with there is a potential safety concern. During the inspection, we identified a number of areas where the knob and tube wiring was inappropriately spliced. In addition, many insurance companies will not insure a home with knob and tube wiring. You should contact your insurance company to find out what their position is on the matter and contact an electrician to quote on repairs or replacement as required.

Do you think you should have looked at the report first? You bet! You should have empathized with your client by saying something like, “I can understand how discouraged you must feel. I’d like to give this problem my full attention, so I’ll call you back this evening when I get back to my office.” Now you have given yourself an opportunity to reread the report, remember the home, and make a plan of attack.

If you think this scenario is contrived, that nobody would call and complain about a problem clearly identified in the report, guess again. This scenario is more common than you think and here’s why: The inspection was done about three months before your clients moved in. Neither you nor your clients remember the details. Your clients have forgotten about the knob and tube issue because they had so many other things to deal with during the transaction. They were not worried about it because the agent offered at the time to give the client a list of insurance companies that insure a home with knob and tube wiring. Finally, your inspection report is still packed in a box with just about everything else your client owns. So the clients didn’t reread the report before they called you.

The bottom line is this: Empathize, but don’t get into any details until you have had a chance to go through the report again.

Tip 4: Most callbacks and complaints have nothing to do with the scope of the inspection.

For example, if the client finds a problem while renovating the home, you are
probably not responsible because you advised your client before the inspection that a home inspection is visual and nondestructive. Again, the client doesn’t remember this. You will have to remind him/her. Your best strategy in this case is to diffuse the situation:
  • First, empathize with the situation.
  • Then, explain how these things are impossible to detect during a visual inspection.
  • Tell the clients that their satisfaction is your prime concern.
  • Finally, ask what you can do to help.

More often than not, what the client asks for is less than what you imagine. We have used this technique many times and had the clients say, “I just want you to advise me on what we should do next.”

If you feel that asking this question presents too much of a risk, why not qualify it? “Because inspecting the clothes washer is not part of a home inspection, I don’t feel that I could buy you a new one, but is there anything else I could do that would help you?” If you are still worried about an unreasonable response, offer some reasonable suggestions that you can live with and that would make your client happy.

Tip 5: Get to the house before the lawyer does.

There is usually a way to deal with a situation to everyone’s satisfaction if you do it quickly. Once a lawyer is involved, it is never easy.

To summarize, the key thing is speed. It takes no more time and costs no more to handle a callback quickly than to let it drag on. And with every passing hour, your client’s frustration level rises, and your chances of an amicable resolution drop. Deal with it!