Windows, Doors and the Sticky Trick

Everyone just loves Google! It is like a warm chocolate chip cookie and a cold glass of milk! When you ask someone “why do you love Google” they will typically respond “because it just works” or “because it is simple!” How true; the warm chocolate chip cookie is not nearly as much fun if the glass of milk were to burst on the first dunk! If you ask me why I love Google, the geek in me will agree to that love and append another morsel of thought “they are effectively transparent and, yes, their technology just works!”

googleThe need to be transparent in today’s business atmosphere is now a requirement. We no longer live in a world where we wonder if there is a better price for a widget or product down the street. Today you can grab your iPhone scan the UPC (barcode) and in 10 seconds know how far you have to walk to buy it at a better price. A new car salesman can tell you how much your car is worth and how much the wholesale price is of the car you are going to buy but chances are you know what both numbers are anyway! If not; our friend Google will tell you! Hiding and sneaking is no longer accepted nor easy. We now live in a truly transparent world with non-complacent consumers.
Google shares their technology and their technical notes: any consumer can read about their techology! Want to use Google Maps or Google Charts in your website. Google will show you how on their blog. In fact they support all of their tools in a public forum. At Inspection Support we do the exact same; we desire to be as transparent and publicly available as we can be. Our customers benefit from it as do other consumers of highly communicative products. You will always find our release notes, new builds, features and updates publicly displayed on our web site!

Transparency and informed consumers cause all types of thoughts for property inspections and inspectors. Let us focus on two areas: quoting and scheduling; and the tools we use!

First thought, do you quote early or late in the process of scheduling and what is more transparent? At Inspection Support we are currently developing our new “public schedule” system and although at first glance you might think a scheduling system is simple but it is a giant can of disgruntled worms ready to react!

One might think “if I just give a customer a quote they will check with my competition and take the lowest bid” this is an extremely real fear so do you let your website show your customer a price? “If I do not give them a price am I not being transparent and will I lose the job anyway?” Somewhere hidden in the opinions, minutia and second guessing is the answer and so here we sit working on your tool! It is imperative we make the best decision and there are hundreds of opinions which is the best way; but what is the “best way?” Furthermore, we will get asked that specific question! My team is relied on to make the best decision for everyone but what is the right decision? This is where the stick and friction exists!

Years ago before all of this transparency and information availability the friction was high and the stick was… well… sticky! If you walked into a retail store to buy a widget and the store had the widget in stock you picked it off the shelf but thought to yourself “I wonder if this is less expensive across the street?” In retail the friction wins; chances are you picked the widget off the shelf and paid for it because the pain of getting back in your car and driving across the street only to find it more expensive on the other side of the street provided a massive amount of stick and you handed your credit card over and walked out. Friction wins!
wd-40Bye bye sticky, hello Internet. The Internet is the ultimate WD-40 for the consumer. The friction is gone now. If you are in a web store and you find the widget you can look at the other store in 30 seconds before you buy the widget to see if you are getting the best price. The stick and friction are gone and replaced by a subtle array of new challenges. Have you ever been in an online store and either did not like what you saw or what you experienced and just left with a click of the mouse? You bet I have! Have you ever bought something on Amazon.com and thought “that was easy… almost too easy!” Yes, they know that and that is why it works! Amazon has figured out the subtle nuances of the online game. On the Internet you must get the customer right away with no friction or they are out the door with a swift tap of their mouse. We must have web WD-40.

Welcome back to our can of disgruntled worms and our new online ordering system! Our new online ordering system must be frictionless, transparent and just work. And work fast! And it will! Because our common end user and common customer is a Real Estate agent who probably is still using Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6, on a computer they don’t know how to use anyway. (yes, yes, I know they are not the client but they probably did order that inspection) Let us face it, we know your customer well and so do you and the customer’s knowledge pool is vast. We must successfully interact with the above mentioned agent and with the agent with ten great web sites, two blogs and remote connection to MLS! The process needs to handle every edge of the customer spectrum.

So the question becomes are you (and we) being transparent and do you want your web-based order form transparent and low friction? If so we must get the price and availability in front of the client in a rapid and extremely accurate fashion. If not they are going to click on your competitor’s web site and order that inspection. They may never use your competition again but if they chose you from the start you will probably have a client for life!

If you are using the ISN you will love the new order form… why? Because we understand your customer so well and we are a collection of brilliant geeks who understand stick, friction and acting transparent! Our current order form is great but the new version will be outstanding! We will get you that order online because your competition is probably sticky! If your current order form requires passwords, usernames or “stuff I have to remember” you have lost your customer! Let your competition use those tools! If you are using the ISN you do not have to worry about this and the new order form is only going to improve your capture rate! There is more of a science to the process than throwing some forms together and calling it done!

Use great, simple and transparent tools and you’ll have returning consumers! Look how many of us return to Google to search!

When you review your business tools make sure you are using transparent windows and not opaque doors. Doors slam shut and you cannot see through them easily! Make sure your information belongs to your company; ask yourself who owns it? Can you get to it? At Inspection Support it is my job to make sure we, as a company, stay transparent and we will! On the ISN the data is yours and you will always find your information is a few clicks away. If you want to download your clients, your agents, or all of your data… have at it! It is yours!

As we continue to make the ISN even better know we are looking at every aspect of the business and the online experience to bring to you the best possible solutions. I know you provide your customers with great inspections and we will continue to provide you and your clients easy to use solutions! Stay away from those sticky doors!

Bye bye friction and stick, hello ISN!

If you are not using the ISN and want to check it out keep in mind you can try it for free for 60 days!

If you have thoughts you want to share about the process of ordering inspections online please do so by commenting below! We are always interested in feedback and your thoughts!

Feeding the Business Meter with Email

In the property inspection industry general business logic tells us we need to keep the Real Estate Agents informed about both our existence and the quality of our work so the Real Estate Agents continue to use our services. The million dollar questions become; at what point does the communication transform from information to annoyance and at what point does the annoyance equate to a loss of business. Everyone of us have a threshold before we begin to think “oh come on, take me off your list!” The question is how do you determine the “oh come on” threshold and how do you create a business system that applies to the masses?

parking_meterConsistency is key. If you park your car in any city with parking meters there is a general understanding of the system. Insert coins and the time you are allowed to park without penalty increases. Wait awhile and the system needs more time and thus more coins. The penalties are obvious as well. Opt not to feed the meter and end up with a penalty. Now, what happens to the system if we have a meter with random results? What happens if you cannot see the meter to tell how much time is really left? Now there is a communication breakdown between you and the meter! Now, you literally have a system you cannot easily read. Add one of these random meters for everyone of your customers and you have a street full of unique challenges with inconsistent results. Can you feed a street full of random meters with the same consistent process and keep them happy?

Communication is an awesomely unique challenge. Most of us now live in a world where email is truly becoming the dominate standard for communication (for now anyway – if you disagree watch the 10 minute video on Google Wave). Even as early as five years ago the clunky fax machine dominated the internal real estate system and it still plays and important role but has taken a back seat to a faster system. What about other systems of communication? The simplicity and remote availability of email has created a lot of questions: are facsimile and direct mail a dying breed? Is there any power in direct mail at all anymore? Who uses fax and direct mail?

Does everyone want the same type of communication now? I bet the farm the answer is No!

I am a firm believer that communication style has a direct correlation with the recipient’s age at a gross level. My father recently sent his first text message and has fantastic email access, however, he would rather fax an invoice for his business than email it. A quick query to him yields “it’s just easier and that is what I know, why?” A student in college or someone buying their first home in their mid-20′s would look at a fax machine and think “you are kidding, right?” There is even a joke in our company that the paper files are not in Chris’s office. This near cultural separation creates a huge complication on how to market, especially with email.

This is further complicated by what I call the Internet patience reality. An older audience group would be thrilled to sit down with a newspaper and page through it. A younger audience will start a fire with it and seek the Internet. The terrific decline of the newspaper media outlets is proof of this. In my neighborhood, the Tribune automatically delivers the weekday paper to my wife and I for free (a last ditch effort for readers?). Everyday, it goes into my recycle bin with the rubber-band untouched. We simply do not want to read it and we are not alone, (besides you get ink on your fingers)! Younger users are simply impatient, they even have an acronym for it TL/DNR which stands for Too Long / Did Not Read. Keeping in mind the younger audiences are impatient…

Interesting facts (figures are from 2008):

  • We all know our substitute customer is a real estate professional. The average age of a real estate agent in the United States is 51.
  • The average age of a home inspector in the United States is 51.
  • The average age of a home buyer in the United States is 39.

Thus, if I am only partially right on my hypothesis of communication systems as a function of age (f(age)) we have a problem at hand. Our substitute customers (ex. the agents) enjoy our desired model of communication but a majority of our new and real customers like a “younger” style of communication.

Ok, now Insert $200

Recently, I have read about marketing campaigns that will email your customer over 20 unique times over a period of time. Is this a successful approach?

ohnoFrom my perspective: if someone emailed me twenty times they are going in my “annoying pile.” The service provider is now in the “annoying pile” not because they did a poor job but rather for the fact they started to annoy me at the smallest level. Certainly, I will probably call them again, however, subconsciously I will entertain… “oh, yeah, they are going to annoy me; I may call someone else who my friend recommended to me.” Am I odd, am I unique? What is the answer to this question? We need to know because if it works; every customer we work for we should be hammering with emails over a studied time period! However, if it does not work we may slowly, but surely, be annoying our customers away from us.

Guessing what the Meter says

If you tell someone about an upcoming service’s date and time and inform them on the service you are going to provide there is literally zero chance you have annoyed them.

If you perform a great service and later thank them for allowing you to perform the service there is literally zero chance you have annoyed them.

Warning; now entering the Grey Area…

If you ask 60 days later for additional business you start down the path of feeding the blind meter! Did the time expire? I know for a fact this is when I start looking for the unsubscribe button; so… did I already subconsciously think “oh man, come on Inspector Bob, leave me alone already!”

I am, however, a firm believer you can ask for the additional services down the road after the event of your service is out of the short-term memory of the client – a significant time period from your last service. I have a water filter company who reminds me each year about service; perfect! However, if they would have reminded me about how great water tastes every 30 days there is a chance I may try a competitor if I hear about a different company! Besides I just subconsciously thought “that company annoys me and if I call them again I have to deal with their annoyance!”

Yes, I could have simply deleted it; besides what is the friction in the quick swipe of the delete key. But the core problem has already occurred, I mentally associated the service provider with “annoying!” Not so good if you are the service provider. Furthermore, there is no chance at all I am calling the service provider to share my experience with them so they are left with another random meter they fed incorrectly.

Uniquely, the Inspection Support Network (ISN) will let you do anything from sending a single email to sending an email every day after the inspection. Heck, the ISN will let you send no emails! The ISN does not lock you to a single model at all and it will let you feed your meter the best way for your business! We have VERY successful clients who feed their meter a single time per inspection and one client who sends emails each month after the inspection. Both successful; both feeding their meters with different ideas!

Inspectors often ask my personal opinion on how to setup the ISN to inform their customers. Here is the model I suggest:

  • Two hours after you book an inspection tell the client, the buyer’s agent about it. Waiting two hours is smart in this case as it allows the dust to settle for two hours after the inspection is confirmed. We have all had the agent who calls back frantically realizing they have a golf game scheduled the same time as the inspection!
  • Four hours after you book an inspection tell the seller’s agent about it. This provides another two hour buffer after the buyer’s agent and client have been notified.
  • Twenty-four hours before the inspection remind everyone of the appointment.
  • Two days after the inspection thank everyone for the inspection and ask the seller’s agent for business.
  • Eleven months after the inspection ask for additional business from the client (maybe because their warranty is about to expire).

That is my recipe for notifications. Low annoyance, great communication about you and your service, and a clean follow-up to ask for additional business. Low impact, high visibility, a good attempt at feeding the random business meter!

If you have a better idea, let us know! I would love to hear it. My musings are designed to get everyone thinking about their models and not a provision of fact! How are you feeding your business meters?