HOW TO RECESSION-PROOF YOUR INSPECTION BUSINESS
28 Apr

HOW TO RECESSION-PROOF YOUR INSPECTION BUSINESS

Though there is some debate as to who actually said it, most of us at one time or another have heard the quote, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” For the home inspection business owner, there is little more important than this simple concept.

Whether an inspector is just starting out – building a brand, determining pricing structures, establishing a website, launching marketing efforts, forming a customer base, and much more – or an established inspector who is looking to grow their two-inspector firm into a thriving, multi-inspector business with sustainability power and an eye on a future acquisition, both inspection business owners MUST have a plan for how to turn their vision of success, into an assured reality. Without that plan, well, you know.

THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY & OUR HOUSING MARKET

There’s a lot being said right now by all sorts of “experts” regarding our economy. And of course, there’s plenty of speculation on what will happen with the housing market, and the impacts we’ll ultimately feel on our home inspection industry. Let’s review the topline.

The economy: A recent poll from Reuters found that one in four economists believe the U.S. will experience a recession this year, with that number rising to 40% over the next 24 months. While a recession is far from inevitable, there are several reasons why economists are increasingly leaning in that direction.

America’s economy unexpectedly shrank in the first quarter of 2022, with our GDP declining at an annualized rate of 1.4% between January and March. The Federal Reserve has been steadily tightening its monetary policy to tame surging inflation. Which, as of this writing, hovers around 8.5% – the highest US inflation since 1981. One method for tightening monetary policy has been to increase interest rates, which the Fed anticipates raising six more times this year. After the announcement about future interest rate hikes from the Fed on April 22, 2022, the Dow fell about 980 points, or 2.8% – signaling that investors are more worried that an interest rate spike will slow consumer spending and the housing market, ushering in the next recession.

Speaking of investors, they’re also jittery because of the war being waged in Ukraine. And rightly so. With the energy markets having to adjust to life without a supply of Russian oil while US gas and oil prices soar.

Our housing market: So far this year, the housing boom has continued from 2021, with home prices up over the past 12 months a staggering 19.3%. That’s impacting the available housing inventory, which is down 53% from pre-pandemic levels. However, rapidly increasing interest rates and inflated housing prices are beginning to drive more and more homebuyers out of the market – softening the home-buying frenzy. But maybe a bit too much.

Back in December, the typical American household would have to spend 24% of its monthly income to make a mortgage payment on the average-priced U.S. home. Today, that number is 31% – the highest reading since September 2007.

Few housing economists project a dreaded housing bubble this year, but most do feel a “correction” of sorts is coming – where sales will drop, and prices will follow in certain parts of the country.

PANIC IS FOR THE UNPREPARED

People. We tend to worry. Probably more than we should. Case in point: One in four economists believe the U.S. will experience a recession this year while 81% of adults said they think the U.S. economy is likely to experience a recession in 2022. The reality, like most things, is probably somewhere in the middle. We’ll see.

For inspection business owners, the possibility of an economic downturn is just another unfortunate bump in the road of being an entrepreneur. One potential reality that must be faced and dealt with – like so many others along the path to success, or downfall.

For any inspector, there are going to be great years for your business – years where you “feast” on the volume of business and the profits that positively impact your growth. Conversely, for some, there will be challenging years for your business – years of “famine,” where inspection volume is down, selling of ancillary services has declined, and business growth feels like ancient history.

A recession might happen. A downturn in the economy and the housing market might happen. But what separates the most successful inspection business owners from the rest is how they prepare for uncertainty, and certain difficulty. First, they don’t panic. They are equally as prepared for the feast as they are for the famine. They have a plan. So, no need to panic about failure – as any storm can be weathered.

FIVE STRATEGIES TO RECESSION-PROOF YOUR INSPECTION BUSINESS

While the following is by no means a comprehensive list, it does include some of the more important and impactful solutions for any inspection business owner looking to weather a down economy, a softening housing market, or even a full-blown recession.

1. Take a Build-to-Sell Approach

Not every home inspection business owner starts off with the intention of selling their company someday. Though many do. However, there are a lot of advantages to applying this mindset.

Very few inspectors we have met and worked with over the past 20+ years tell us they have no desire to grow their business – adding at least one or more inspectors along the way to increase profitability and gain more time back to do the things they want to do for themselves and their businesses.

That’s why the majority of inspection business owners should be building and operating a “business brand” and not so much a “personal brand.” A personal brand is built around you, the inspector – your personality, your expertise, your lifestyle, and your interests. That’s fine, right up to the point when you bring on other inspectors who aren’t you. If you are your brand, then it becomes more difficult to sell in the services and expertise of your employees that aren’t you.

On the other hand, a business brand is built around an identity you create for your business. You’re still inextricably tied to the business, but not in a way that creates doubt in a customer if you’re not actually performing the work. It also doesn’t create an unnecessary barrier to the future sale of the business.

If you take a “build it to sell it” approach to your business, that means you are truly focused on building a successful brand that doesn’t revolve mostly around you. It means you understand your business, your brand, the customers you serve, and what niche you fill. You’ve stepped back far enough to understand what systems and processes you need to put in place to make your business run optimally. And if you’ve done all that, you’ll be more than prepared to weather any financial storm that’s thrown at you.

2. Don’t Dial Back Marketing. Dial it Up!

Marketing. It’s often the first thing to go when a business is looking to cut costs in an economic downturn. In the aftermath of the recession in 2008, ad spending in the U.S. dropped an average of 13%. This, despite the fact, that decades of studies have continuously revealed the advantages of maintaining or even increasing ad budgets during a weaker economy. Those advertisers that maintained or grew their ad spending actually increased sales and market share during a recession and afterward.

The urge to trim on marketing when times are tough can be a strong one. Resist the urge. During an economic downturn, the noise level gets turned way down in our home inspection industry. This is the time to let your brand and message push the front of the line by gaining more awareness and ultimately gaining more market share. See it as an opportunity. Because it is.

The cost of advertising often drops during a slower economy – creating a “buyer’s market” for an inspection business. Take advantage of cheaper rates and consider creating promotions that incorporate partial discounts on your inspection services that might appeal to those also on a tighter budget.

During an economic downturn, people will still be searching for inspectors to do home inspections and perform other ancillary services. So, it will be critical to keep your brand top-of-mind with your current customers while still marketing to new targets. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to do it – just make sure you do it.

3. Strengthen Your Customer Relationships

Your current customers. When things start to get a little worrisome in the inspection industry, a loyal customer base can be the one thing that stands between keeping the lights on and shutting the doors. While it’s always smart, strategic, and necessary to seek out new customers, it’s equally important – perhaps even more so during a down economy – to keep the ones you already have.

Now is the time to think about the customer experience. What can you be doing to make sure your current customers are feeling like your inspection business is the ONLY place to be when they require the services you provide? How can you boost referrals? Talk to them. Really focus on building loyalty with them.

Show your customers they’re a priority by adapting your services to really suit their needs better, as well as offering them incentives. To give loyalty a little boost, consider the after-sales service. Think about what more can you do to thank them for their business while gently reminding them why they should continue to support you over your competition.

4. Take Control of Your Cash and Give Yourself Some Credit

If you are an inspection business owner that doesn’t have a good handle on your cash flow, you’re not alone. Sadly, some don’t even know their numbers. So, is it any wonder that in a study by U.S. Bank, it was discovered that 82% of businesses fail because of cash flow issues?

A lot of entrepreneurs conflate revenue with cash flow – not realizing that to grow and thrive, even during an economic downturn, it’s not so much about revenue, but profitability. Sure, you have to earn enough revenue to cover all your costs, but it’s how you think about profits throughout the lifetime of your business, and how they are applied to your vision of success that makes all the difference. This is your profit plan – a key ingredient to the larger financial plan.

Having a profit and financial plan, and being able to adhere to them, means you know your numbers right now, and are in an informed position to expand or contract depending on market conditions, and without jeopardizing the future stability of your inspection business. If you see there are likely some stormy waters ahead, like now, it’s not a bad idea to start building a cash reserve. Most business analysts advise on having at least six months’ worth of essential business expenses tucked away. For small business owners, that may sound like a lot. If so, then it’s probably time to get up close and personal with your business spending habits. Are there ways you can cut costs without sacrificing quality? Can you renegotiate contracts with vendors and suppliers? Identify strategic and nonstrategic spending. Where can you selectively trim costs to improve the return on operating expenses?

Finally, don’t wait until you are really in a cash crunch to look for additional financing. We are just now wrapping up an extended period in the U.S. of relatively “free money” from lenders. We all enjoyed the zero or next to zero interest rates while they existed, but that time has quickly passed. So, before lending standards tighten too much, secure new financing for your business. Even if you never touch it, it’s better to have it and not need it, than the other way around.

5. Refine & Strengthen Your Approach to Customer Experience Management (CXM)

Here are a few statistics to get you thinking about the state of customer service these days and the expectations of your average consumer:

  • 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is just as important as its products or services – McKinsey & Company
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer FEELS they are being treated – McKinsey & Company
  • 67% of customers say they would definitely be willing to PAY MORE for a great customer experience – McKinsey & Company
  • 51% of customers will never do business again with a company after just one negative experience – Forrester Research
  • 33% of Americans say they will consider switching companies after just a SINGLE INSTANCE of poor service – American Express 2018 Customer Service Study

Most home inspection business owners understand the concept of providing great customer service and the benefits that come from its application. However, the customer experience – the perception of your customer on all of their interactions with your company – is a little harder to wrap your noodle around. Because it involves how your agents and clients perceive your brand from the moment they first interact with it, all the way through the inspection lifecycle process – including the final delivery of the report, that last follow-up email, and a thoughtful holiday card. That’s the “experience.” How you effectively manage that experience is what separates the average to good inspection businesses, from the truly exceptional.

And it ain’t easy! Because the inspection industry has been changing. A global pandemic and seismic changes in where (and how) people work, have all contributed to a massive rethinking of commerce and how people interact with businesses and brands. Add to that the challenges we’re currently facing, and it’s no wonder that the quality of customer service is down across the country. In fact, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®), customer satisfaction in the US is at its lowest level in 15 years.

Experiencing a more than decade-long stagnation in customer satisfaction means opportunity! Take time to really think about the experience a customer has with your brand. Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • How often are your agents referring business to you? Has that been increasing over time or decreasing? Either way, do you know why?
  • Does your website give the impression you will provide them with a great experience, or does it overwhelm them with details?
  • When their call is answered after a few rings, does a friendly voice greet them, giving the time to answer all their questions about one of the biggest purchase decisions they may be making in their lives?
  • Are your marketing materials friendly and engaging?
  • Are you handling leads, offering your services, and booking inspections in a helpful, easy manner?
  • Is handling special requests a non-issue?
  • After the inspection, how would you describe the reaction of your customer?
  • How are you addressing questions or concerns they may have?
  • What are you doing post-inspection to make sure the agent and client received the best possible experience?

Customer Experience Management requires a fair amount of thought and effort. However, with most businesses placing too little importance and applying too little attention on developing a solid approach, it leaves plenty of opportunity for those inspection business owners, willing to go the extra mile, to gobble up market share – growing and thriving, even during down times.

The Importance of Customer Experience Management (CXM)
22 Dec

The Importance of Customer Experience Management (CXM)

[This article recently appeared in Working RE magazine]

You own a home inspection business. Congratulations! You are a rare individual representing less than 10% of the U.S. working population who is taking the risk to own their own business. It is not easy being a business owner, but it can be an extremely rewarding experience for you and those you help with your business on a day-to-day basis.

You also chose a very competitive industry tied to the real estate market. Depending on where you live, it might only require a simple business license to start a home inspection business. Even in licensing states, the barriers to entry are relatively low when compared to other businesses. According to IBIS World, there are over 32,000 inspection businesses employing almost 50,000 inspectors. This includes sole proprietors, multi-inspector firms, and franchises. The good news is that most home inspection transactions are at a local level. The not-so-good news is that, at a local level, you might be competing against both well-established inspection businesses as well as the newcomers hoping to score big by lowballing prices (which is not good for anyone in the industry).

Real Estate: Not Following Typical Cycles
In addition to a competitive home inspection industry, we have a non-traditional real estate market, where inventory has been at record lows for a considerable amount of time. Add a pandemic on top of the seasonal market cycle and many regions are seeing an even lower inventory—new housing starts are well above median home prices and a shortage of low-income and affordable housing. This can make it very difficult to predict what is next for the housing market! Despite all of that, 2021 was a record year for many businesses while others had to shut down. While there is still expected to be a lot of volatility in the market, 2021 is projected to see existing home sales up seven percent and single-family home housing starts up nine percent (https://www.realtor.com/research/2021-national-housing-forecast/). IBIS World is forecasting that 2021 will end with an over eight percent increase in home inspections over 2020.

What’s going to happen in 2022? Nobody has a crystal ball, but Freddie Mac is predicting that while home price increases will moderate or slow in 2022, home purchase mortgage originations will increase from $1.8 trillion (2021) to $1.9 trillion, with the number of home sales transactions remaining relatively flat at 6.9 million. If that prediction holds true, it means 2022 should see a similar number of home inspection transactions as 2021.

Competitive Landscape
2022 will see a potentially flat market, coupled with new inspection businesses starting in most regions along with some churn with your agent/customer base. These factors could have a significant impact on your bottom line if not anticipated. If you have an established business plan and are hitting all your business goals, great! If not, there are ways to improve.

There are several aspects of your business you should evaluate to see if they are at the level you would expect:

  • Branding – Do you have a personal brand or a business brand? Is it clear, concise messaging? Do people know your company and what it stands for?
  • Business Development and Marketing – Are you doing regular agent and customer outreach? Are you engaged online?
  • Lead and Sales Management – Are you educating clients, booking and upselling your services at the highest possible level?
  • Inspections – Are there opportunities to increase efficiencies with your existing systems?
  • Customer Experience Management – What are the experiences for the agents and clients who engage your company? Are you considering the experience from before they reach out to you to well past the inspection report and summary?

The rest of this article is going to focus on one aspect of your business that can have a tremendous impact: Customer Experience Management.

Importance of Customer Experience Management (CXM)
You may have seen some of the following:

  • 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is just as important as its products or services – McKinsey & Company
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer FEELS they are being treated – McKinsey & Company
  • 67% of customers say they would definitely be willing to PAY MORE for a great customer experience – McKinsey & Company
  • 51% of customers will never do business again with a company after just one negative experience – Forrester Research
  • 33% of Americans say they will consider switching companies after just a SINGLE INSTANCE of poor service – American Express 2018 Customer Service Study

How you treat your customer, from the moment they first contact you and throughout the entire experience, is paramount in not only retaining your agents and clients but is critical to growing your business. In today’s world, it is what separates you from the other inspectors around you. Assuming you already have a solid marketing plan in place, it can be argued that CXM is now one of the most important business growth tools a business owner can deploy. Controlling and managing the customer experience from the very first call (when they are making the decision to use your services) and beyond will make for a happy client, which will translate into a happy agent, which will turn into more referrals, increased positive reviews and more!

What is Customer Experience Management (CXM)?
CXM has been defined as: The discipline of understanding customers and deploying strategic plans that enable cross-functional efforts and customer-centric culture to improve satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. (Gartner.com)

Stated more simply…

  • Customer Experience (CX) – The perception of your customer on their interactions with your company.
  • Management (M) – The process of identifying how well (or not) your company is meeting the customer expectations with each interaction between the customer and your company and putting plans in place to maintain areas that are currently positive and improve areas that are not.

Perception is a key word here. You’ve heard the adage “Perception is Reality” and that is very true in this industry. You may believe your customers have the best customer experience, but you really don’t know unless you ask and get honest feedback. And that perception is across all aspects of your business. The customer is building a perception of your business and your brand from the moment they hear about you—whether from an agent, a website search, or that first call. Does that first impression set the stage for the rest of their experience?

For example:

  • Do your agents say “You need to give XYZ Inspections a call, they will take great care of you!”?
  • Does your website give the impression you will provide them with a great experience, or does it overwhelm them with details?
  • When their call is answered after a few rings, does a friendly voice greet them, giving the time to answer all their questions about one of the biggest purchase decisions they may be making in their lives?

And it goes on from there. Are you focused on delighting the customer at every step of the process? Are your marketing materials friendly and engaging? Are you handling leads, offering your services, and booking inspections in a helpful, easy manner? Is handling special requests a non-issue? After the inspection, how would you describe the reaction of your customer? How are you addressing questions or concerns they may have? What are you doing post-inspection to make sure the agent and client received the best possible experience?

How to Develop a CXM Strategy
Here is a four-step process to help you develop a CXM strategy.   

1. Understand Your Customer
2. Create a Customer Journey Map
3. Develop an Emotional Connection
4. Capture Customer Feedback

Understand Your Customer
There are several ways to better understand your customers. One of the best is to consider the different types of customers you have experienced, so you know how to market to them. Typical profiles include the first-time homebuyer, the down-sizer, the up-sizer, the investor, etc. Write them down, then create “personas” for them. A persona is a fictional representation of the customer based on what you know about them. A first-time homebuyer might be “Melinda Millennial, who saved up enough money for a down payment, has a steady job and two dogs, and is nervous about homeownership.” Once you capture some of the key characteristics you can tailor your marketing accordingly.

Create a Customer Journey Map
Here is where you want to capture:

  • The Buying Process
  • User Actions
  • Emotions
  • Pain Points
  • Solutions

There are multiple templates on the web that you can select and tailor to your needs, the important thing is to capture all the different areas where the customer interacts with your “brand,” how they move from one experience to another (initial contact, booking, delivered inspection, post-inspection follow-up, etc.) and what they experience at each step. This may feel like a lot of work that you inherently “know,” but the exercise is well worth the effort. You’ll probably be surprised at the new insights it will bring to your business and brand.

Develop an Emotional Connection
This can be challenging, especially during a pandemic. Still, at the most basic level, when a client or agent is interacting with you, your business and your brand, you want them to feel:

This person/brand/company is honest, has integrity, and I can trust that they will do their best for me throughout the entire process.

If they are not feeling a connection, develop an approach that will get you there. Brands that gain that reputation will be the ones experiencing the growth.

Capture Customer Feedback
Research from Bain & Company shows that 80% of companies believe they are providing great customer service. Only eight percent of their customers agree with them! That’s a big gap. How do you capture customer feedback?

  • Send a follow-up email
  • Initiate surveys via text/SMS
  • Create physical survey forms
  • Conduct customer interviews
  • Monitor social media channels
  • Offer incentives for feedback
  • Host social media contests
  • Use feedback monitoring sites
  • Use a reputation management service
  • Reach out to agents who have stopped using you

Bottom line, if you are not asking for customer feedback on a regular basis you probably don’t have a good idea as to what they are really thinking.

Conclusion
Customer Experience Management will require both thought and effort, but once you have a system in place the benefits will far outweigh any costs. And you are not alone—everyone associated with your brand, including your inspectors, office staff, and partners, has a role to play and can help with the ongoing efforts. In the end, if you have a brand that is perceived to be delighting its customers, you will see more business, more revenue, and more satisfied agents and clients.

How to Keep Growing During Busy Season
07 Jul

How to Keep Growing During Busy Season

[ This article, authored by ACC President Paul Zak, originally appeared in Working RE Magazine ]

Your inspection business is booming, and you are finding yourself stuck between a rock and hard place – you want to grow, but there is not enough time in the day to do anything but work your business and maybe get some sleep.

What is consuming all of your time? Typically, all aspects of the inspection lifecycle, as you are focused on delighting your customers during every step of the process.

  • It is critical to answer the phone, might be a future client!
  • It is critical to book the inspection, spending the time to make sure you get everything you need while educating and upselling your services.
  • It is critical to travel to and perform the inspection.
  • It is critical so spend the time to review the findings with the client.
  • It is critical to produce a high-quality inspection report.
  • Again, all the while trying to keep the agent and client happy.

[For a refresher on a customer-centric focus, check out our blog here (How Customer-Centric is Your Home Inspection Business? – America’s Call Center (americascallcenter.com)]

So how do you find time to do something different when you are already spending 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week working your business? The first thing you need to do is make a conscious decision to do something different. Invest your time and money in the short term to get the benefits long term.

You have decided to make an investment to grow. Great! So, where do you find the time?

You could try working even more hours, but that is difficult to sustain, especially if you are doing 2-3 inspections a day. Instead, block off time on your schedule (typically an existing inspection slot) to specifically work “on” your business instead of “in” your business. Yes, you will be losing that inspection revenue, but the return on investment will make it worth it in the long run!

You blocked off some time, now what? Start by thinking about how you are going to repeatedly find the time to do something different. To oversimplify, the options generally come down to:

  1. Work harder
  2. Work more efficiently (saving time)
  3. Offload / delegate some of your current responsibilities (buying back your time)

All while keeping in mind your priorities…

  1. You must keep the business running,
  2. While always providing your agents and clients the best possible service,
  3. As you are trying to grow your business.

If you are doing things in your business that do not fall within those priorities, stop doing them!

Work Harder

This might be an option for some, and this can take on a couple of different forms. The simplest is to add some extra hours to your workday not slotted for inspections. Just keep in mind that family and sleep are general viewed as important 🙂 Or spend some time on your day off to spend some of that time working “on” your business, identifying ways to eventually buy that time back.

Work Smarter

This encompasses looking at ways to become more efficient and effective in running your business, which is essentially saving or buying time.

Have you optimized your inspection process and maximized the capabilities of your report writing software? There are many extraordinarily successful inspection businesses that provide high-quality, on-site or next day reports. Even if on-site is not a part of your business model, if you can have most of your report done on-site you could save hours or more a day. Have you optimized your comment libraries or are you writing custom novels for each report? (And sorry to say, very few people are willing to sit through a 120-page report – it is hard enough to get agents to read the summary!) Are you using the native capabilities of your device for photos, etc. so you are not having to waste time simply moving data around? If you do not know how to optimize your report writing software, you should take advantage of the software’s support team and the various community forums that are available.

Are you taking advantage of your business management software? Have you automated all your agent and customer notifications? Have you automated your invoicing and integrated with a payment processor? Do you have secure, automated report delivery? Are you taking advantage of online scheduling? Are you using your business management software to help drive your marketing activities? There can be a good amount of effort required to initially set up your business management software, but once up and running that can save you even more time during the day, as you are not having to spend your precious time on details that can be automatically handled. Taking the time to learn and utilize the tools you have available now will reap many benefits down the road.

One subtle time killer, that many inspectors do not consider, is an overcomplicated pricing structure. How does this impact your time? If you have 5 different water quality options, 4 different air quality options, different prices for add-on services based on base inspection types, etc. that builds in unnecessary complications in having to understand or explain the differences. In most cases the client or agent does not care, they just want what they need. While there are some areas that are highly price sensitive, most consumers are willing to pay a little more for simplicity. Offer packages, keep your non-mainstream services off your online scheduler and have commonality across add-on service pricing. These are all ways to simplify, saving you time and possibly even increasing your average inspection fee.

Now look at where you are spending your time. If you are making $100-$150+ per hour per inspection, doesn’t it make sense to hire out some of the job functions that are important but probably would not cost you $100 per hour?

But “nobody can do it as good as me!” Ah, yes. That argument. Prepare for your balloon to be deflated because, guess what – that just is not true. While another person might not do it exactly the same way you do, there’s plenty of proof out there that others can do just as good a job as you and sometimes better. There are countless inspection companies in our industry that are extraordinarily successful who do NOT do it all themselves. If you are an “only I can do it” person, you will always be your biggest limiting factor. And unless you get past that, you will be greatly limiting your growth.

Hiring People and Partnering

You recognize that there are resources out there to grow your business. So where do you start? The easiest “go-to” is to hire another inspector to increase your capacity. You will have to make sure you have enough volume to keep them busy, have a plan for a training and a compensation program, and a good general rule of thumb is that if you are repeatedly at 80% capacity or more, you should start hiring now. And as the new inspector ramps up and starts working on their own, you should have more time to further work on your business. Though recognize this also comes with some overhead – as you must find the right person, train them and actively manage them. While in principle it sounds easy and is very necessary, be aware it can consume quite a bit of your time at the start. Talk to your peers who have been successful at this and borrow as many of their processes as you can that make sense for you.

The biggest return you will get is trading your time to find and engage the right partners. For example: Do you have somebody helping you with your taxes? Do you have somebody helping you with your insurance? If you are running your own business, the answers should be “Yes!” which means you already have a couple of business partners.

You have already made the decision to not spend your precious ($100+/hour) time on those activities, now think of where you are spending time in your business that does not absolutely require you to do the work. What might be helpful is to put it into context.

  • Would you pay someone $100 per hour to handle your marketing on a regular basis?
  • Would you pay someone $100 per hour to handle your website, social media, etc.?
  • Would you pay someone $100 per hour to answer your phones, handle your emails?
  • Would you pay someone $100 per hour to book your inspections, handle access, etc.?
  • Where else are you spending your valuable time on activities not generating $100+ per hour?

There might be some items that you are not willing to give up (like marketing), which in some cases could be okay, but be cautious. Remember, it is about the ROI. Far too many people fancy themselves marketing “experts;” when in reality, someone can do just as much harm as good by engaging in the wrong marketing activities and spending limited advertising dollars on tactics that simply don’t pay off. The best-case result from this is simply wasted time and money. While the worst-case result could be damage to the brand and your bottom line.

As the president of ACC, I can say without hesitation, that in my 20-plus years of experience in the home inspection industry, one of the other most difficult things for inspectors to give up is answering their own phones and managing incoming leads. Again, the most common argument is “nobody can do it as good as me!” And that very well may be the case; but how can an inspection business grow if the owner never relinquishes that part of the home inspection process lifecycle? Bottom line – they can’t.

However, after two decades of refining our process at ACC for home inspectors, I’ll comfortably put any of our talented customer service agents on the front lines for our inspector clients and their businesses. Because our customer service agents know this industry and they utilize our proven customer-centric growth approach. In fact, our customers see an increase of 15% – 30% in revenue after starting services with us while only paying an average of $2 – $5 an hour for those services. Sure, I’m clearly biased, but that’s a huge value for the dollar.

ACC isn’t the only solid ROI partner out there for which inspectors should seek to engage if they want to grow. There are plenty. Just make sure you spend the time to find the “right” partner. Start by asking yourself a few key questions:

  • Do I have reasonable expectations of my partners?
  • Am I willing to invest in making the partnership successful?
  • Am I looking at a “quick fix” or a long-term partnership that can grow as I grow?
  • Am I willing to adjust my business to get the benefits of bringing in a partner?

Too often new business owners (and even some experienced owners) bring a “only my way is the right way” mentality when developing a new partnership – which is unfortunate. They do not look at it from a perspective of “this potential partner has been doing their specialty for 5, 10 or even 20+ years; I might be able to learn something from them.” Not viewing the potential arrangement as a partnership puts the partnership in a death spiral from the start, as more than likely the partnership will be deemed a failure with the first potential mistake, probably based on an unreasonable expectation.

If you approach it from a perspective of “I want to find a strong, experienced partner who will work with me to grow” and “I need to figure out how I can take the best advantage of the partnership, even if it means change” you will find an abundant return on your investment. It does not mean that there will not be hiccups along the way, but when they are encountered, how you and your partner work through them will set the foundation for a solid, long-term partnership that will more than pay for itself over time.

Lastly, once you have developed a partnership, make sure to give it enough time to draw the right conclusions. It probably took longer than a month or two to dial in your business processes and to get your phone ringing off the hook. So, make sure you give any partners you decide to work with the same grace you gave yourself. If there are obvious signs that this new partnership simply is not a fit, then by all means call it quits quickly; but otherwise, realize the partnership is an investment on both sides. Consider reviewing your partnerships on a six-month basis, evaluating if you are saving time, saving money, and/or even making money with them. If so, great! If not, are there things that you or your partner can be doing differently to turn that around?

So, what’s next?

Your time is your most precious commodity, so you need to use it wisely. Make sure you are focusing on the bigger picture (remember, return on investment) and are intentional about your business goals. Then make the decision to find the time to work more “on”, and less “in”, your business. Once you have made that decision, are you going to work harder or smarter? Going down the smarter path means you will be bringing on people or partners or both. While they have different sets of challenges, the partnering path (outside of actual inspections) can help bring you positive returns more quickly than hiring, as you are gaining the advantage of having an experienced team you do not have to directly manage. As a business owner, asking for help is a sign of strength, as it shows you want to see your business be successful. If you are content with your state of your business, you probably would not have made it this far in the blog, which is also an indication you are ready to invest in your growth. And with opportunity abounding in the world of home inspections, now is the time to do it!

Top 5 Things You Cannot Afford to Ignore When Busy
04 Jun

Top 5 Things You Cannot Afford to Ignore When Busy

Your business is booming, with you and your inspectors doing two to three inspections a day, and little time for anything else. That’s okay, right? A full schedule is the best schedule to have for any inspection business. When things slow down you can simply pick up all those things that you stopped doing when things were slower, and all will be well.

For those business owners that want to maintain a healthy, stable business during the periods when the total volume of real estate home inspections slows down, there are five things you want to make sure you are always doing – yes, even when things are busy – to ensure your business stays top-of-mind when the market begins to slow.

#1 Don’t ignore educating new customers.

With changing home buyer demographics, there are a significant number of first-time home buyers who do not understand the value of a home inspection and the services that are typically associated with them. And depending on their agent, they may not realize they need a Radon test, a sewer scope or some of the other additional services you provide. When you are busy, it is easy to think “I do not have the time to deal with this shopper and I am busy enough; so, I won’t really miss the business”. While in the moment that may be true, you run the risk of losing a potential long-term customer. Further, there’s a strong chance you won’t be referred by their agent as a company that focuses on giving the best customer experience.

So how do you spend the time when you don’t really have any to spare? Bring on additional resources to help you.

There are several options available, from hiring an office staff that will cost $15+ per hour per person (who typically work 40 hours a week, and you have to train and manage) to partnering with industry experts to handle your front office (like ACC) that typically costs significantly less, with more hours of coverage and fewer management headaches.

#2 Don’t ignore your website and social media.

Unfortunately, this area is often the first to get ignored when times get busy. Why are these important?

  • Relevancy – In most regions of the country web searches to find inspectors are increasing; so, keeping your website updated with new content and active SEO (Search Engine Optimization) will help you push to the top of any searches. Google Ads can help as well to expand visibility and relevancy.
  • Brand – Your website and social media posts reflect you and your brand, and potential customers will often go to your website to determine if they want to use your company. Is your website clean, simple to navigate and easy to understand? Or is it cluttered, with way too much information and challenging for a new home buyer to figure out what you do, what makes you different, and ultimately, why they should use you? Do your social media posts reflect your concern for your client? Are the posts informative, helpful, and valuable? Start by considering how you want to help them with one of the biggest purchases they will ever make and most social media posts will take good form.
  • Security – If you are managing your own website this can be a challenge. While typically the home inspection industry is not a target of hackers, it’s important to stay diligent – as too many companies have been compromised through vulnerabilities on their website.

Partnering with a company that specializes in website and social media management can relieve the business owner of most day-to-day management of this important aspect of the business, boosting business while removing headaches. Industry forums (InterNACHI, ASHI) are great places to look for recommendations, as you will want a partner that is focused on the home inspection or real estate industry and not a generic “we’ll manage your website for $19.99” company (you get what you pay for!)

#3 Don’t ignore your pricing.

This can be a sensitive area for some inspectors, and it really shouldn’t be. You are providing a valuable service and it is worth every penny to give the potential homeowner a thorough understanding of the home. There are right ways and wrong ways to raise your prices; so it is important to plan ahead before you do it. In general, if you are booked two+ weeks out or are having to turn away business, you should increase your prices (and hire more inspectors if you want to grow).

Consider this: Home values increased 11.6% in 2020 and are projected to increase another 11.8% in 2021 (per Zillow). If you are averaging $400 per inspection and do a small 5% increase ($20), you could bring another $10k a year to your bottom line. And do not limit yourself to only doing it once a year. There are many successful inspection businesses that use a variation of the two+ weeks out rule who have raised their prices more than 3-4 times each year! It’s simple supply and demand, and it often ends up being a non-issue with agents and clients as they are getting a great value for the money spent.

#4 Don’t ignore your customer follow ups.

Always relevant, but even more so in hot markets. There are many reasons why customer follow ups should be a part of creating an exceptional customer experience, and if they are not, you should consider adding them. In hot markets, while you hear “agents are waiving inspections,” it’s typically the good agents, working in the best interest of their clients, who are not. And these clients may be making offers on multiple houses during their home buying journey. So, if you follow up with them at the start, asking if they have any questions, checking in on how things are going, and simply showing that you care, you’ll create a customer who will want to use your services again. There have been reports of some inspection companies doing 6-8 inspections for a single customer in a single month! With the customer continually coming back despite the all-too-common frustration these days of not being able to buy a home. Those companies are clearly focused on delighting their customers and agents. If you ignore the follow ups, it is too easy for that client to think “Just another home inspection company. Maybe I should shop around since I’m going to be doing more of these things” and move to a competitor.

#5 Don’t ignore your agents.

It is too easy to take your top-performing agents for granted, as you have their business today. But as many successful inspectors know, agents can be a bit fickle. And despite years of working with your company, just one mistake, one little whoops, can result in that agent not using you anymore. And you do not realize it until months go by, when you have time to sit and look at your numbers and realize they are no longer a top agent. Are you staying in touch with your agents? Are you including them in your approach to providing an exceptional customer experience at every touchpoint? Are they aware at how well you are taking care of their customers? Are you thanking them for their business?

Obviously, you do not want to overwhelm them with overcommunication, but you don’t want to think they are forgotten either. There’s an obvious balance to be struck here, but make sure you are doing some of the basics right. Are you dropping them a handwritten “Thank you” note once a month? Are you consulting with them on potentially challenging clients? Are you serving them at the level they need?

And do not forget about your other agents and new agents. While they may not feel critical now, as the markets start to slow you will benefit by having a larger pool of agents who want to use your services. And they can be instrumental in helping you sustain your inspection volumes even during the slower periods. By paying attention to the different areas above, you are setting yourself up for success in the long-term. Ultimately, the home inspection industry is all about relationships, which take time to create, nurture and grow. If you don’t have time to do it yourself (and in many cases, you probably shouldn’t!) be sure to find the right partners with the right experience who will work to help you grow your business. Again, the solution may be to hire part-time or full-time office staff, tap marketing experts, or outsource the management of the bulk of the inspection process lifecycle to an industry specialist like ACC (America’s Call Center) – but whichever partners you choose to bring on, ensure they fit with your vision for sustained success and the strategic path on which to attain it.

How Customer-Centric is Your Home Inspection Business?
21 Dec

How Customer-Centric is Your Home Inspection Business?

In today’s home inspection industry, competition for customers is more intense than ever. And there exists a multitude of marketing tactics any inspector can employ to reach a variety of demographics. However, while marketing is incredibly important, studies continue to show that an enhanced customer service experience quite often surpasses those marketing tactics — and serve as a powerful marketing tactic in its own right. In the following, we’ll take a look at the importance of providing exceptional customer service — and how it can actually boost your home inspection business and its bottom line.

In an article on Forbes.com, contributor Shep Hyken states that customers expect above-the-bar service with every experience, and they make decisions such as repeating business or taking their patronage elsewhere based on just one subpar experience. Hyken writes, “Your customers no longer compare you just to your direct competition. You are being compared to the best service they have ever received… Customers now know what great customer service looks like, and they expect it from you.” Sound a little unfair? Sure does! But if your customer is riding high off of their amazing meal from last night at that local five-star restaurant with the best, most charming, attractive and attentive wait staff in town, well…you better be ready to meet (and maybe exceed) those customer service expectations they now have fresh in their mind and will be comparing to your approach to customer service.

Excellent customer service even outranks quick service. Shocked? I mean, who doesn’t love quick service? We’re Americans! We want everything yesterday. However, turns out, we’re willing to sacrifice a bit of time for excellence.

After being faced with an onslaught of “potential spam” calls on their smart phones, automated call services that give them the runaround, and online chatbots, Glady.com’s 2018 Customer Service Expectations Survey found that customers prefer a personalized customer experience far more than speedy service: “Sixty-one percent of the people surveyed felt they were treated like case numbers rather than people. The survey found that 59% of customers said being treated as an individual was more important than how fast the issue was resolved (53%).”

Is it any surprise that after so many years of companies making “progress” on how fast we manage the sales and service process – sacrificing that personal touch and those basic human interactions called “conversations” – that we’re now experiencing a shift back to a more human-to-human approach?

As customer service continues to evolve, staying on top of (or rather ahead of) what customers want most when it comes to their experience is extremely important. Meeting and exceeding the needs of your customers will often land you in a strong position to charge more for your services. How so? Because consumers are even willing to pay a premium to ensure they receive the kind of high-quality, no hassle customer service they expect. In his Forbes article, Hyken notes that customers will “reward the companies they enjoy doing business with by coming back – and paying more.”

And the Glady survey results back that claim, indicating that 68 percent of survey responders would pay more to the company that provides great service. The majority of the surveyors (27 percent) would pay 10 to 20 percent more and eight percent would even be “willing to pay over 20% more if the service was great.” Another study performed by McKinsey & Company reported that 67 percent of customers say they’d definitely be willing to pay more for a great customer experience.

So, ask yourself this: What would it cost you in time, money and resources to better ensure that your inspection company could provide exceptional customer service at every interaction and impression point your customer has with your business? Are you doing it already? Is it completely effective or do you need to make some improvements and tweaks? Whatever the case, once you’re truly dialed in, not only would you be able to charge more, but you’d immediately set yourself apart from the competition who believes they are already providing exceptional customer service – when in fact, they quite often are not. And that “not,” can come at a high price.

One of the biggest issues saddled with not providing superior customer service in today’s world of online reviews and social media, is that word spreads like wildfire…

According to the American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer, “Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.” That same study also reported a whopping 33 percent of Americans will consider switching companies after just one single instance of poor service. More alarming yet, Newsvoicemedia.com reports that “U.S companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service.” A lot of inspectors today can’t afford to take the risk to lose even one customer due to poor service – let alone experience a wave of new or repeat customer losses as a result of crushingly negative online reviews.

Whether it’s the home inspection industry or not, companies that interact with customers in any capacity should consider themselves in the business of people — of making them happy and retaining them. This in itself can make a vast difference in a business’s bottom line. Bain & Company reports that “increasing customer retention by five percent increases profits anywhere from 25 to 95 percent.” There’s likely not a company out there that couldn’t benefit from increased percentages like that by refocusing their efforts on providing excellent customer service.

Now, back to that question of how much time, money and resources should you invest to ensure you are providing an unparalleled and consistent customer service experience with every customer interaction. The benefits of providing awesome customer service are clear, but the time, money and resources required to make it happen are probably still a bit muddy. The answer is: It depends.

There are many shapes and sizes of home inspection companies and no one inspection business owner operates completely the same. Further, depending on what business lifecycle phase (the progression of a business in phases over time) your inspection company is in, will dictate what kind of approach to take and/or changes you should consider making on the customer service front. In addition to that, you must really examine the severity of the issues that may or may not be hampering your ability to provide beginning-to-end exceptional customer service. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a far better idea of just how much time, money and resources will be required to make critical alterations and course corrections.

Now more than ever, home inspectors need to be providing a level of customer service that is truly exceptional. Your customers demand it, are willing to pay more for it, and they’ll tell others all about it. In today’s highly competitive, highly automated world, good old-fashioned customer service is king. And to achieve long-term, sustained success…you must do what’s required to earn the crown.

5 Proven Customer Service Tactics to Level Up Your Home Inspection Business
10 Aug

5 Proven Customer Service Tactics to Level Up Your Home Inspection Business

Providing excellent customer service has become one of the most highly effective ways to increase business. Consumers have time and again recognized the value of this component — and are willing to pay a premium for the kind of customer service they have come to expect, and nothing less. While it may sound like a daunting task, providing unparalleled customer service can be easier than you think. Here are five customer service tactics to help you take your business to the next level.
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