One of the difficult decisions facing inspectors today is choosing a reporting system. If you're in the market to upgrade to electronic reporting or are shopping around to replace your existing system, you know how many choices you have.
Determining which software will work for you today can be difficult, but the real challenge comes in choosing software that will meet the needs of a growing business.
Most companies will allow you to use a demo version of their inspection reporting software or at least have a limited trial of the product. If a company does not, but its software comes highly recommended or has a feature you like, you can keep it in the pool of potential providers, but it will be more difficult to assess.
There are several key issues in determining what software fits your personal needs and works best for your company long term.
Here are questions to ask before investing in reporting and/or scheduling software:
What hardware can be used with the reporting software?
• Some software is limited to a desktop or laptop operating system and does not have the capacity to be used with devices such as hand-held computers, tablets or iPads.
What residual costs are involved?
• Will there be costs for technical support?
• Will there be charges for updates?
– I would encourage you to go one step further than just asking that question. Request a list of updates over the last 12 to 18 months for each system you're considering to see what the trend has been.
– I believe a software company needs to be quick to adapt, but not to change unnecessarily.
• Will you be charged additional licensing fees for adding inspectors, and is there a charge per inspection report?
– You also may want to look to the future by considering what the costs would be if you expanded the services you offer or created an additional company to deliver those services. For instance, what would it cost if you wanted to use the same software for your separate company doing commercial inspections?
What type of technical support is provided?
• Don't take the company's word for it. Find several current users of the product and send them an email, asking when it might be convenient to speak with them to discuss the product. Ask them what they like and dislike and, most importantly, find out what their experience has been with technical support issues.
– One of the worst situations I've been in was standing in a kitchen, ready to print a report for a customer, and losing the inspection report I just spent three hours creating. Luckily, I called the software company's support number and was able to retrieve my data.
• Does the company provide training for new inspectors you bring on after the initial purchase?
– Most companies will not offer this since support is one of the biggest expenses a software company incurs. Consider it a bonus if you get it.
• Does the company have work scheduling or office management software?
• Is the reporting software compliant with the laws that govern inspectors in your area?
– For example, Texas has strict guidelines for reporting, so the software must allow you to prepare reports that comply with these parameters.
• How easy to use is the software?
– Determine how easy it is for you to learn to use it. Remember, as you grow your business, you'll be responsible for teaching others how to use it.
When I was shopping for inspection reporting software for our company, I didn't know I should consider all of these factors, and I neglected to think long term.
Must-haves if multi-inspector company is in your future
If you want to be a multi-inspector firm, give serious consideration to a software company that offers a scheduling tool independent of the reporting system. There are several very reputable companies that offer this, both as a package and the components a la carte. This allows you to add on as your revenue increases. Here are some things to consider when you are looking at the scheduling software.
How is the data stored?
• Some scheduling companies don't give you easy access to your own data. The database may be password-protected or you may have only limited access to data. Also, the data might be stored in a cumbersome format that will be difficult to move to different scheduling software. I look for something that can be converted easily into an Excel spreadsheet or .txt file. This is a basic file format that I can use on its own, and it is common enough that most software companies could import my data if I decided to make a change.
– If your data is stored off site (at the provider's server), be sure you are confident the company is stable and able to maintain its equipment. This is an asset as you don't have to worry about the additional headaches of data storage, but, as with all data, you should have a backup plan in effect.
– Is your data secure? Do you have it in writing that the software provider will not share your data or allow others to use it?
What type of correspondence does the software provide?
• One advantage to industry-specific scheduling software is the capability to email confirmations to clients and realty agents, as well as the inspectors. This eliminates confusion about dates and times, and helps get a signed contract or agreement prior to the inspection.
• Some companies offer Web-based scheduling, which allows realty agents, clients or inspectors to view their schedule real-time. This powerful tool can help your inspectors stay abreast of ever-changing schedules.
Does the software offer any marketing tools?
• Some scheduling software will automate the process of creating thank-you notes or other correspondence. At the least, you can easily track your records to see who is in need of a thank-you card or a small gift card.
• Also, consider how to track referral sources.
• If the software provider also is a home inspection company, it may provide marketing materials. Check around.
Can the software be used on a network in real-time?
• Remember, you are a growing business. You have to envision three different people answering the phone and scheduling inspections at the same time. Imagine the potential for chaos.
How easy to read is the calendar?
• Your customers are going to be in a hurry when they call and busy agents want an answer right now. As your reputation grows and more people call to schedule an appointment, you will need to immediately provide answers about availability. Intuitive calendar software makes it possible to do so.
• Consider software that accommodates online booking. It enhances your credibility, saves you time, and when an agent can check your schedule and book an inspection online, the transaction can move forward even if the deal is signed on at midnight on Saturday.
What Works For Us
I am a business owner who wishes someone had warned me about the pitfalls when I first chose inspection-reporting software for my company. I had to learn much of this the hard way. There are several great companies out there that fit the bill for all of the factors discussed here. We now use Horizon for our home inspection reporting and scheduling software. It provides us with the ability of real-time scheduling for booking multiple appointments and the flexibility to do it from anywhere we have cell phone coverage or an Internet connection.
I strongly encourage you to contact current users of the products you are considering to see how the software worked for them. And, I hope what I learned from my experiences will help others choose software that best meets their needs.
Top reporting software companies offer office management and/or scheduling software that will communicate with its reporting software. This allows the people at your main office or those answering the phones to enter the data for the inspection and complete a lot of the general information fields. When inspectors download their schedules, all the background information is there for them, eliminating double entry, which saves time and limits entry errors.