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Lessons from a Service Business
by David Brauner, Senior Broker at OREP.org
You may not believe this but it’s true. This story could be considered mundane, unless it concerns your livelihood—then it’s very serious. I hope it helps you and your business.
I have an all-glass, frameless swinging shower door that slips and rubs at the threshold. In the 12 years we’ve lived in this house, and in an effort to get it to swing properly without dragging, I’ve tightened the screws, replaced the screws, glued the screws, stripped the screws, realigned the door and left it partially open for days/weeks at a time when it couldn’t be fixed correctly. All so that the door would clear the bottom, swing freely and close completely. It has worked smoothly for months and even years at a time after an adjustment but eventually it always slips again, making it impossible to close the door all way.
Recently, I had the brilliant idea to hire a professional to fix it once and for all (duh!)
I called three glass companies to get a quote. No one would fix it. They all wanted to sell me a new $1,500+ glass door. The glass is fine, I thought, why replace it? I decided to replace the hinges myself and priced them online. Finding the correct replacements is tricky in itself, by the way, unless you are prepared to drill new holes into the glass door/tile—which I was not. I priced them but did not buy them…maybe because I know my track record on DIYS home improvement (do it yourself). I called one more company.
The fourth glass company I called did not answer the phone, so I left a message. They didn’t call back. I called again. This time, someone answered. Let’s call her Sandy. She told me to email a picture of the hinges and they’d get right back. I did email the picture and after about three days of not hearing anything, I called again. I got Sandy again, reminding her of my issue. She said someone would call me back. No one did. I called again, got Sandy and was transferred to who I assumed was an owner or manager. We’ll call him Bill. Bill hadn’t taken a look at the picture of the hinge yet. He asked me to hold. When he came back, he said the hinges looked fine and that it was probably just the gaskets that were worn out, causing the slippage—a seven-dollar item. If it is the hinges—they are about $150 to replace he said. So now I’m happy. Persistence pays off right? It took a few more email exchanges to get a quote (instead of just quoting me right then). Finally: it appears labor is about $250 plus the cost of the hinges, if they are needed. I emailed back immediately to accept. He replied that Sandy would call to schedule me (instead of putting her back on to schedule me right then). In any case, I’m feeling good about my persistence paying off.
After about four days, no one called to set up the appointment. So I call. Sandy answers and says she is super busy but she’ll call me soon to schedule (instead of scheduling me right then). Amazing. Even more amazing, she does call back that very afternoon. The tech shows up on time about a week later, is very nice and professional and is wearing a mask! He replaces the gaskets in about an hour and the door is fixed! It no longer drags at the bottom. The hinges do not need to be replaced and all is well—better than well.
I ask the tech how he will take my payment. He says he doesn’t do that. That’s unusual I think, but I wait about a week for the invoice to be emailed—but nothing. So, I think maybe they are old school and still mail bills. I wait another week or so. Nothing. Now it’s approaching three weeks after the fix, so I email Sandy for an invoice. No response. About a week later, I call and leave a voicemail asking for a bill. Again, no response. I wait probably another week or more before emailing Bill directly, who you may remember, I believe to be an owner/manager. No response from Bill. Let me ask you dear readers and fellow businesspeople: are you shaking your head at this point? I sure was and it gets worse.
About a week later, I call again…just trying to pay my bill. This time “Mary” answers. She assures me she is right person to take care of this because she is the accountant. She asks if I’d wait on hold while she goes “upstairs” to ask. I instead offer my phone number for her to call me back. She says great, she’ll call me right back. Two weeks go by and you guessed it—no one called back—not even “the accountant.” Why wasn’t my order somewhere she could look up, give me a price and take my money right then? I don’t know over the years I’ve been pretty good about accepting payment when someone was ready to pay. Why don’t I just give up trying to pay? Well, they solved my problem when no one else would and I’m grateful.
(story continues below)
So what does this have to do with your home inspection business you may be asking—whether you have a home inspection business or are employed by one? Well, if you have your own business, you know you have to do more than perform a great home inspection to be profitable. Having someone competent to answer the phone, return calls and keep track of receivables is vital for the reasons I hope my story illustrates. This glass business has the staff, it seems, but something obviously is not working.
In my own journey, I have encountered businesspeople of every stripe who didn’t call back, didn’t show up on time or at all and who didn’t do what they said they would do, once they were hired—this includes landscapers, plumbers, contractors, electricians and professionals—dentists, attorneys and CPAs. I really believe this explains why so many businesses fail or just bump along year after year. My guess is that many of the businesses that fail, do so because they are run like this glass company that won’t let me pay them.
My advice, whether you run your own business or dream of doing so one day, is to take a look at your processes from time to time. Step away and look at it from your customer’s perspective. Do you treat people the way you like to be treated? My contention has always been that if you do, you will be on the right track.
After that, my recipe for success is pretty simple: do what you say and say what you do; never stop learning—be courteous and respectful of everyone, and when someone wants to pay you for services rendered, for goodness sake take their money!
Press time postscript: I called two more times to pay and left voice messages without any response. I just printed out the quote that was emailed to me and mailed them a check. Good luck to them and to you this year!
About the Author
David Brauner is Publisher of Working RE magazine and Senior Broker at OREP, a leading provider of E&O Insurance for appraisers, inspectors and other real estate professionals in 50 states (OREP.org). He has provided E&O insurance to appraisers for over 25 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) 347-5273. California Insurance License #0C89873. Visit OREP.org today for comprehensive coverage at competitive rates.
Free Risk Management Online Course Claims and Complaints: How to Stay Out of Trouble
Presenter: David Brauner, Senior Insurance Broker OREP
David Brauner, Senior Broker at OREP, shares insights and advice gained over 25+ years of providing E&O insurance for inspectors, showing you how to protect yourself and your business. Watch Now!
Note: The Winter/Spring 2021 issue of Working RE Home Inspector is mailing now to over 25,000 home inspectors nationwide. OREP Insureds enjoy guaranteed delivery of each print magazine and many more benefits.