Cultivate These Marketing Habits and Harvest Success

It’s nearing the end of summer right now and in many places across the country, that means farmers are hard at work growing our nation’s food supply. Home inspection business owners can learn a lot from farmers, especially when it comes to marketing.

Marketing plans, like successful farms, require careful planning, good design, and consistent attention to produce the best results. Today, I’ll share two “seeds” that you can plant as part of your marketing to grow your inspection business over the long haul. Both will take some careful cultivation to produce revenue for you, but both contain the potential to increase your income exponentially.

Seed #1: Expanding Your Agent Referral Base
Real estate agents are a top referral source for home inspection businesses. To keep the referral pipeline full, you have to provide value for your agents before you can expect them to provide valuable referrals to you.
As you research your agents to better understand which ones are your best producers, and which offices contain your rising superstars, consider who you’ve been connecting with lately. Are you reaching out to your best agents regularly, or letting the relationship wither on the vine? Do your best referral sources know they can count on you, and that you’re never too busy to care for them? If not, then start booking lunches and meetings to water and nourish these crucial friendships.

Seed #2: Hiring Additional Inspectors
Expanding your inspection workforce is related to marketing (and to our farming metaphor) because it allows you to focus on providing the same or better level of service to clients while expanding the number of clients you serve. The more “hired hands” you bring on board to help you, the more bountiful a harvest you’ll be able to provide for everyone (including yourself).
I know a lot of inspection business owners struggle to make the time to hire new inspectors. Here are two quick solutions that can help you find a great inspector within the next 30 days.

  • Establish or renew your relationship with pre-inspection schools. You and the schools have overlapping interests. Get to know the teachers, and prepare a proposal for hiring new inspectors once they’ve completed their training. Make sure these schools are aware of your reputation and professionalism so you’re top of mind when they have newly minted inspectors seeking employment.
  • Get to know your local fire department. Firefighters are physically fit, understand home construction, and spend their days closely observing various types of structures. Additionally, they have large blocks of time off each month, so they may be open to working for you as a side hustle.

Summer is often a very busy season for home inspectors, as it is for farmers. But just as is the case for farmers, if you don’t pay attention to your marketing “seeds” on a regular basis, they will be choked out by your competition, or fail to thrive because they haven’t received the care they need. A lot of business owners only focus on business building when they have a bad week, or a bad month. If you’re new to the home inspection business, you may spend as much as 70 to 80 percent of your time on marketing activities. And even if you’re a well-established business, I’d recommend spending anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of your time marketing, prospecting, or moving your business toward its next big goal.

Some of you home inspectors will claim your schedule is “just too full” to find time to expand the business, but that’s like a farmer not taking the time to water and tend to his crops. The easiest way to overcome this time challenge is to block out two four-hour “appointments” in your schedule EVERY WEEK for marketing and business-building tasks. What you fill those appointments with is up to you. You could meet up-and-coming real estate agents, establish a friendship with a pre-inspection school instructor or a firefighter, or you could draft a document that outlines what you’d expect out of the next home inspector you hire, and why you’re a great company to work for.

Home inspection business owners are fortunate right now that the sun is shining on the industry in terms of a robust real estate market. But don’t take your next harvest for granted. Plan out how you’ll plant new marketing seeds to keep your success cycle in motion, and your business can flourish … indefinitely.

Inspection Support Network Announces Strategic Partnership with BuildFax

Global Leader in Inspection Business Software Teams Up with Top Source for Property Condition Data in New Alliance

Inspection Support Network (ISN), the world leader in connecting, streamlining and automating all aspects of running any inspection business or organization, today announced a new strategic alliance with Build Fax, the leading source of the largest national commercial and residential permitting database in the country.

This latest union signals the continued strategic expansion of the ISN offering to its customers and the company’s enduring commitment to assisting its users in growing their businesses while maintaining their quality service offering.

“We’re excited to be offering what we know to be a tremendously powerful, and in some cases critical, tool for those in the inspection industry,” said Chris Schuld, CTO of ISN. “The BuildFax Report provides essential construction history to inspectors prior to any inspection. The kind of history and trusted third-party data that not only gives inspectors an advantage over their competition, but also provides an unparalleled level of transparency and piece-of-mind for those connected to the transaction and process.”

“The nation’s leading inspectors are on a relentless pursuit to modernize with best practices and best in class data resources,” said Holly Tachovsky, CEO at BuildFax. “Innovative inspectors have been using BuildFax data for years to enhance their processes and grow their business. The partnership between ISN and BuildFax enables us to fulfill this growing need in the industry.”

Inspectors can use the BuildFax Report to validate major component updates like roof, HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems, and to offer an elevated standard of care for their customers. The report can also reveal unpermitted work like additions, remodels, and unfinished permitted remodels.

“From day one, the brand promise of ISN has been to create unmatched business tools and provide comprehensive support to empower our customer’s success,” added Dan Huber (@ISNDanHuber), CEO of ISN. “This latest partnership is simply a continuation of that promise. And it further demonstrates our dedication to providing our customers with progressive, state-of-the-art solutions that ultimately offer inspectors greater freedom, security and independence.”

 

About Inspection Support Network

The Inspection Support Network is THE world leader in connecting, streamlining and automating all aspects of running any inspection business or organization. For more than a decade, ISN has created software-based tools and solutions for residential, insurance and commercial property inspections. The company was founded in 2000 by Dan Huber and Chris Schuld. Learn more at inspectionsupport.net, follow @ISNetwork on Twitter, InspectionSupportNetwork on Instagram, and like InspectionSupportNetwork on Facebook.

 

About BuildFax

BuildFax is trusted by the biggest insurance and financial companies in the world to deliver deep insight into property decisions straight from the source – its massive building permit database of over 23 billion data points of construction and remodeling records.

Switch Up Your Business and Turn on the Income

Simple changes can maximize your profits as a home inspector

The home inspection industry has undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. We’ve gone from a largely unlicensed industry, with few clear standards of practice or blueprints for success, to one that is impacted by licensing boards, insurance carriers, and our all-important relationships with real estate agents and home-buying clients.

Today’s inspector must offer a competitive array of services and maintain proactive communication with everyone involved with the inspection process, and our business processes have to provide solid results for us and our customers from the moment we start prospecting for work until long after the inspection is completed. Luckily, it’s possible to leverage one of the biggest changes to hit the home inspection industry during the past generation – the use of computer software and web technology – to our advantage.

Using the industry-specific tools, services and technology available today, a home inspector who owns his or her own business can thrive if he or she is willing to make a few simple upgrades to the way business is done. As the CEO of the Inspection Support Network (ISN), I have the privilege of working with inspection companies from across the United States, Canada and Australia. I’ve discovered a set of “income switches” that have the potential to flip on a flow of additional income, regardless of whether you are owner of a sole proprietorship or a multi-inspector operation. These “switches” work consistently across locations and markets, and can bring profit and greater ease and satisfaction to your business.

 

Income Switch #1 – Realize it’s all about service.

Retooling your business operation to focus on customer service can sound touchy-feely or maybe even a little woo-woo, but it really isn’t. Your clients’ perceptions of how they’re being treated translates into dollars and cents. According to the RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report, 89 percent of consumers say that they have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. If that wasn’t shocking enough, a Bain & Co. report on business loyalty noted that a customer is four times more likely to buy from a competitor if they encounter a problem that is (in their eyes) service related, compared to being price or product related.

If you’re providing good customer service, the ripple effect can move outward and result in better referrals, better relationships with real estate agents, and more income.

 

Income Switch #2 – Choose your report writing program carefully.

The finished report you present is crucial to the success of your business. It needs to not only look and feel professional, it needs to convey inspection findings concisely and be understandable to the home-buying client as well as his or her real estate agent. It’s especially important that the report be easy for your client’s agent to understand and use, because he or she will be the person referencing the report in conversations with the client long after you’ve moved on to the next inspection. If it is too long or hard for the real estate agent to understand, he or she is less likely to recommend you as a home inspection provider next time.

This income switch is one that does, quite honestly, require some up-front investment of time and money to discover which report writing software will work for you and provide quality results for your clients. When test-driving programs, you’ll want to look for time-saving features such as the ability to create and modify templates, easily add photos to the report, and customize reports.

 

Income Switch #3 – Select a business software platform that offers end-to-end connectivity.

One of the reasons that your choice of business software is so crucial is because a well-designed system saves you time as you deliver your business services, which in turn saves you money.

One of the productivity-boosting aspects of a software package such as ISN’s is that users are able to insert order information quickly, using mapping, data bases and more. Information you enter once shows up in other areas of the platform – without retyping or reformatting data, which can save you hours a day, and thousands of dollars per year. Your platform software should have the capability to push that entered data and information to any report writer you choose as well as any part of your customer-facing or internal operations, now and in the future.

 

Income Switch #4 – Hire a professional answering service.

Stop answering your phones from the attics or rooftops of your clients! It’s understandable that if you have a base of long-standing clients and referral partners, you want your business to retain a personal touch. However, utilizing a professionally managed call center provides a continually accessible resource to your customers where call representatives can schedule inspections, take orders, sell ancillary services and answer basic client questions, as well as act as a dispatcher when necessary.

Contracting with an answering service allows your company’s employees to focus on what they do best – inspecting homes. They don’t have to lose valuable time becoming derailed by special requests, scheduling snafus, and the like.

 

Income Switch #5 – Enable your company website to accept inspection orders.

This is a huge income switch. This action, just like hiring a professional answering service, allows more income to flow to you because it makes it easy for a client and/or his or her real estate agent to order an inspection any time, day or night.

During a typical home sale, the contingency period is short and everyone has hectic schedules to work around. Clients and agents need to confirm a time quickly. Anything you can do to shorten the amount of time your clients and their representatives have to wait to hear from you will increase the likelihood they’ll be satisfied and recommend you to others.

 

Income Switch #6 – Make your business operations mobile friendly.

Your customers are making purchasing decisions via mobile devices – including their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. According to statistics compiled by eMarketer, the percentage that American adults spent on mobile devices each day increased four-fold from 2008 to 2015, from 12 percent a day to 51 percent. Can you keep up with them?

Home inspection, by its very nature, is a business conducted “in the field.” Your business platform software should allow you to see your calendar, have clients sign an agreement, send an invoice, accept credit cards, pull up your business stats, view and send past reports via your mobile device. Consider this action as an extension of the decision to take orders on your website – the future of business is mobile, and you need to be a part of it in order to maximize profits and client satisfaction.

 

Income Switch #7 – Create a real estate dashboard for your agents.

If you have a truly robust business software platform like ISN’s, then you possess the must-have and valuable feature of an integrated real estate dashboard developed for the individual agents your company works with. ISN’s Real Estate Dashboard allows agents to quickly see your inspection availability, order an inspection, contact you by phone or email, or view past inspections they have been part of (with client approval), all with a few clicks.

This income switch has already proven to be very popular among both agents and inspectors. Agents love that they have so much information at their fingertips and can schedule inspections with their favorite inspectors at the touch of a few buttons. Inspectors who utilize the dashboards report that they’re able to obtain more in-office presentations at real estate offices, as they have something new and fantastic to demonstrate that will make the real estate agents’ lives a little easier.

 

Income Switch #8 – Hire a marketing professional.

If you’re spending all your time attending to current clients, you can’t prospect for new ones. If you’re a small operation, or just starting out, you don’t have to hire a full-time marketer. A part-time marketing specialist who puts in 15-20 hours a week can help a great deal. You could also hire a marketer at a lower hourly fee and provide them with a small bonus for every inspection from real estate agents who have not previously used you, or when they exceed a benchmark of a certain number of inspections each month or quarter, for an established office.

If you already have all the business you can handle, it’s time to train another inspector … and then you’ll need to hire that marketer so you can fill their schedule (and your bottom line), too.

 

Income Switch #9 – Know your numbers!

The home buying market changes rapidly, and you can’t make sound business decisions if you’re relying on last month’s or last quarter’s data.

Can you compare this month’s business income with last month’s, or with the same month last year? Can you determine the average price of an inspection in your market quickly? How many inspections did each of your inspectors do this month, and how does that compare to last year? How many inspections per week or per month are you getting from your most (and least) productive real estate agents and offices?

Your business platform software should enable you to pull up all this information quickly, regardless of whether you need it on a mobile device or your desktop. Do some research and make sure your software package can provide you with key data points on demand.

 

Income Switch #10 – Become or stay involved in local, state and national associations.

This is another income switch that requires investment, but pays off over the long haul. Attending technical classes keeps your skills sharp and enables you to retain your license and certifications. Business classes offered through professional associations can provide you with valuable networking opportunities and improve your professional knowledge and standing, as well as open up referral sources you might not have access to otherwise.

 

The home inspection industry offers a lot of fulfillment and profit to a person who is willing to invest in his or her enterprise. These income switches will allow you to capitalize on existing and emerging opportunities, and reap the benefits.

You may have noticed that a lot of these income-improvement tips revolve around upgrading your computer software platform, and that’s not an accident. Home buying is increasingly transacted electronically, and home inspectors must follow suit, to meet client and real estate agent expectations.

The world of business now requires vendors to be mobile, accessible, and service-focused. By following these 10 income switches, you’ll be ready to face that world, and stand out as a highly sought-after inspection provider.

Earning a Seat at the Table

The 4 Keys to Marketing to Realtors® at Sales Meetings

Marketing to real estate agents and their offices can be one of the most rewarding ways to grow your home inspection business. Agents are the ones who drive the real estate market, no matter where you are. And it’s a sizeable market: Realtor.org reports that there are about 2 million active real estate licensees in the United States, who are working for about 86,000 real estate brokerage firms, and who are selling some of the 115 million occupied housing units in this country.

 

Obviously, Realtors® make good referral partners for home inspectors, but how do you reach out to them? I’ve operated a successful multi-inspector company for 15 years and I’ve discovered that there are four key strategies for developing mutually beneficial relationships with agents and brokers.

 

Before we get to the strategies, it’s important to note that two challenges often stand in the way of home inspectors tapping this lucrative referral source. One is simply a difference in mindset between practitioners of the two professions. Real estate agents are typically very social people – the constant contact with people in their daily work life is often what draws them to that industry. Inspectors, on the other hand, are typically much more analytical, which is what helps us excel at our work. This difference of worldview can lead to friction, although it doesn’t have to, if you put yourself in the real estate agent’s shoes when doing outreach.

 

The other obstacle to referral success with Realtors® is simply inertia on the part of the inspector. It’s easy to keep doing whatever you’ve been doing to get new business and not try new marketing strategies. But the time to plant crops is not when you’re hungry, to use a farming metaphor. The time to plant those marketing “seeds” is when your field (the real estate firms) are the most ready to grow with you.

 

The 4 Keys to Real Estate Sales Meeting Success

 

The first, and by far most important, principle to keep in mind while marketing to agents is to:

I. SHOW THEM RESPECT

As with home inspections, the process of assisting clients in buying and selling property is much more complex than it appears at first glance. Real estate agents are very perceptive (there’s that social intelligence I alluded to earlier!) and it is very important for them to know that you respect them and what they do.

 

One of the easiest ways to show respect is to do your homework, so that you truly know your audience. Before you meet with agents from a particular firm, take a look at its agent rosters, whether you find them online via Multiple Listing Services (MLS) or simply examine data about them collected by your business management software system. Robust custom reports, such as those offered by Inspection Support Network’s system, can tell you which agents are your top referral sources. You can also discover if specific agents who used your services in the past are no longer doing so.

 

When you’re doing your market research and determining which real estate firms to work with, select a small group of offices or franchises that are considered respected (in terms of sales and customer satisfaction) in your area. By focusing on these top firms in your area, you will be getting referrals from only the best types of agents to work with: those who are both professional and productive.

 

Once you’ve done your homework and gathered enough information to show your audience respect, the second key is to:

II. USE A MULTI-FACETED MARKETING APPROACH

Developing brand recognition among your referral partners requires that they receive consistent, positive interaction with you on a regular basis, through different kinds of platforms.

 

One of the most effective ways to gain exposure in the real estate market is to make presentations at sales meetings within a specific company or office. Connecting with agents in their offices has become especially important, as more and more real estate offices are limiting contact with outside service providers to those who are on a “preferred vendors” list developed by the company or franchise. Typically, some kind of fee is charged to attain preferred vendor status. While I acknowledge this type of operating practice for brokers is not universally followed – and in some states it’s specifically prohibited – it can be a very significant part of an inspector’s marketing arsenal if it exists in their area and they choose to take part in it. Understand, also, that paying a fee to a brokerage to gain access to agents is a very personal choice. For it to be successful, there must be a good ‘fit’ between what the preferred vendor program provides, and the needs and level of participation of each individual inspector or inspection company. Brokers have various methods of allowing you access to their agents and what support they expect in return if you become a part of their preferred vendor list. Monitor the amount of exposure to agents you get within a firm – if it doesn’t meet your needs, look for another firm. If you are able to find a good ‘fit’, the results received can far outweigh the costs of being in the program.

 

Once you can make a presentation at a sales meeting, set goals in terms of your network within that firm and identify which agents you wish to further your relationship with. Go to sales meetings early, and be professional in your appearance and demeanor.

 

The third key to reap the benefits of sales meetings is to:

III. BE APPROACHABLE AND FUN

Marketing is a chance for you to mix, mingle, and allow the agents to see your personality. Show your human side at the sales meetings.

 

Don’t take yourself too seriously, and use a little ice breaker or inject a little humor into your presentation to help agents relate to you. Tell a funny (and relevant!) story, ask a question about their work, or find a compelling quote that frames what you have to say. Have fun, and think of it as “show time” if that helps switch your mind­set into performance mode!

 

Here is the most important thing about presenting at sales meetings: stay for the entire meeting! In my experience, most other marketing reps will leave immediately after their presentations. Staying for the entire meeting demonstrates your respect for the firm, and allows you to learn more about their side of the business. Understanding some of the challenges they face, changes in regulations or operating procedures, and just being more in tune with the market all help you to provide a better foundation to be perceived as a true expert in your field. Additionally, by remaining until the end of a meeting, it allows the people who don’t want to ask questions in front of their peers to see you one-on-one afterward. It also allows you to network with others throughout the office afterward.

 

Showing up at sales meetings on a consistent basis is crucial. Attending meetings once a month or (at the very least) once every quarter is recommended.

 

The fourth key is to:

IV. PROVIDE AGENTS WITH HIGH-QUALITY, CAN’T-DO-WITHOUT INFORMATION

Become their source for answering questions of any kind relating to property inspections, construction, condition issues, etc. Some real estate agents think they just need to get a property inspection from you, but with increasing professional liability of Realtors®, more and more they really need a professional who can consistently provide them with accurate information about the inspection process, to help protect them from a negative outcome.

 

Focus your presentation on topics that are directly relevant to agents, such as energy efficiency, new construction techniques, new legislation, or environmental concerns. Don’t let the sharing of your expertise be limited to sales meetings, or even the inspections you perform for your agents. Assist them in any way you can. You will become the expert in their eyes, and referrals will follow.

 

If you’re able to utilize these four strategies and demonstrate respect at sales meetings by attending the entire meeting, visiting the same offices on a regular basis, being personable and approachable during your visits, and becoming their primary source of information about property inspections, you will set yourself apart as THE inspector to ask questions of, and refer clients to, for many years to come.

 

Now is the time to make appointments to visit real estate agent sales meetings. Many inspectors are extra busy now as the market has strengthened, but to keep your referral pipeline full, you must make time to create and maintain relationships within the Realtor® community. This work is an ongoing part of being a successful business owner.

 

 

Home Inspection Scheduling Software

Every inspector must accept an inspection order in some form or fashion: yellow pads, basic document, a web form.  Google Calendar and other digital online forms get the job done; but not efficiently.  Scheduling software must be efficient, must save you time and reduce the need to type and enter information over and over.  Additionally, the solution needs to be trackable and provide a breakdown of changes to the order and information.  Furthermore, you need a solution that can take information from your website, Facebook, mobile solutions and automatically push the information to your report writing solution, your calendar, your mobile phone and more.  You need to have a single location for your business information.

From the single solution you should be able to create confirmation emails for clients and agents, create SMS/text reminders, manage your agreements, interact with your report writer, and any outside services you use.  (i.e. Home Owners Network or RecallChek).

The information from your scheduling solution must “push” the information to every part of your business, including business reports for marketing and tracking.  Inspectors choose Inspection Support Network because the scheduling system is so customizable.  It can be used in the field, in the office and at home. Inspectors soon understand the power of having their entire business connected, automated and trackable all in one system.

Having a scheduling program is a great start but to stand apart in today’s fast paced, information driven, ever changing inspection industry, your scheduling solution must be part of a connected solution for your entire business.

Learn more how the Inspection Support Network can be the integral scheduling solution for your team.  Check out our videos, give us a call and we can personally show you the power of the complete connected package called ISN.

Let the Inspection Support Network help you connect to your next level of success.

 

Empty Signatures and the Supermarket Problem

The Inspection Support Network easily allows you to capture signatures for your pre-inspection agreements in a digital fashion. The customer can literally use their mouse to show their intent to do business with your company. It is a wonderful feature of the ISN and allows you to really and truly “go paperless.”

grocery-store

However, there is a unique drawback to this technology. I like to refer to it as the supermarket checkout problem. We’ve all had to run into the store to buy something last minute like milk or bread. In a hurry have you noticed you can just tap “Accept” and not sign the panel at all? Yup, it is true, in most point-of-sale (POS) systems you can simply tap “Accept” and approve an empty signature. The ISN allows your clients to do the same thing. Ergo the problem.

At Inspection Support we agree with you… how do we stop this from happening! There is a lot of technology that goes into grabbing that signature off of your customer’s web browser and stuffing it into those completed PDF files which I know everyone loves. Rest assured we are looking into ways to stop this, until we come up with the platinum solution please know as inspectors & inspector offices you have the same challenges your local supermarket has on getting those signatures.

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?