Client Complaints – How We As Home Inspectors Can Handle Them
None of us ever like that phone call: “Hi, you inspected my house 6 months ago and now…” and you can insert the rest. It’s stressful – especially if it is your first complaint. It gives you that drop in your stomach and you can feel your blood pressure go up.
But before you respond right away, consider a few things that I have learned over many years of inspecting when dealing with an upset client that will help you as well.
1) Don’t Respond Right Away
When we get that phone call or email, we may go over the facts in our head real quick and come up with “the perfect response”. But responding right away is one of the worst things that we can do in most cases. Oftentimes, listening to the person and being as calm as possible is the best initial way to handle it.
For instance, not too long ago we performed an inspection for a client and they sent an upset email stating they wanted to “file a complaint”. As soon as we saw it, we started to hypothesis about what it could be about. The client was upset when they wrote the email – which is one reason we wait to respond. When we responded a few hours later, she was calmer, and so were we. It turned out to be a small clerical issue that was corrected in a few minutes.
It’s the same when someone calls upset. It is best not to respond right away and just listen instead. We may think we are calm, but instead, we often say or handle things in a way that we later regret, or escalates the issue.
2) Don’t Ignore Them
This should go without saying, but I see so many inspectors ignore clients that have complaints. Just because we apply point #1 above, doesn’t mean that we ignore them. Generally, this just makes people more upset. Then they start leaving bad reviews, or make them feel pushed into getting legal help. Each situation and client complaint should be addressed one way or the other.
This is by far the most important part in my opinion. My daughter is little, and I tell her that sometimes when people get upset, its not at you – they are upset at a lot of different things in life – and they just take it out on you. It’s very true though. It’s the reason someone yells at a checkout girl when there are pickles on their burger. It’s why people cut off a little old lady in traffic.
Very likely, the client is upset at many things, and they are just venting on you. For instance, we had a client who was upset because their dishwasher broke well after the inspection – but that wasn’t the issue, it was just the last straw. The mortgage was higher than they expected, their HGTV-type remodel wasn’t as glamorous as they wanted, and a whole host of issues.
So why is listening so important then? Because when we listen, we find out what is really bothering them and we become someone they trust instead of someone to take things out on.
To illustrate, I once had a seller threaten to kill me. No joke… I found a leak in their shower and mold in their basement. So we use America’s Call Center and he called several times and graphically described how he was going to murder me. The police got involved and stated he had a criminal record and that I should take him seriously. So you know what I did? I called him. We must have talked for almost two hours. At first it was cursing and profanities, more death threats (with descriptions), etc. But then as he talked I listened, and asked thoughtful questions. I found out about his PTSD, his family troubles, his struggles reintegrating with society, and more. It got to the point that he said thank you and that he considers me a friend now.
That’s an extreme example – but it makes the point. Many times, listening is the best answer to these situations. We have often found that they were not upset at us at all – they were just taking it out on us.
4) Make a Visit
This has always been effective for us. Many times an inspector doesn’t want to visit the site again, and may even worry about a confrontation. But just the opposite usually happens. I remember one time I was upset at a contractor for leaving some material laying around my job site. I worked myself into a lather and got all angry for a couple of days. But then he showed up – he smiled, apologized, and cleaned up his stuff, and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to come back – it totally disarmed me. I was ready to give him a piece of my mind – but that’s not so easy when someone is pleasant and helpful.
We have found the same response when we have had an upset client. A client that found it easy to write an angry email or yell at us on the phone tend to have a much calmer demeanor when we are there in person. Often times they would say “oh, wow. I didn’t expect you to show up”. And that usually takes care of it.
Be calm, pleasant, and as helpful as possible and the client will often appreciate just that you were able to handle the situation with dignity for yourself, and them.
4) Make a Repair? Yes or No
So what if you get there and you actually missed something – should you make a repair? Well, we have found that it depends. First, in reality, unless you are just not caring or doing your job, its hard to actually miss something you could have found. I remember an inspector recently feeling bad that he didn’t find a major roof issue – but it was in a corner of the attic under insulation. How could he have found it? He would have had to either know it was there with x-ray vision or have moved all of the attic insulation (which we don’t do – because it is a visual inspection). So he would have needed to break his SOP or develop super powers. If we can’t see it, we can’t inspect it.
99.9% of complaints come from things that either weren’t there when we inspected, are not really an issue (usually some contractor trying to get work says it is an issue), or we couldn’t see it. So does that mean we never make a repair? Sometimes it is good to in my opinion – as it is good advertising, and makes for a happy client.
I had a client once many years ago that complained that his drains were leaking in his basement and made a huge stink with the agent before calling me very angry. I noticed in the report that I said there were improper supposrts for the drain, but instead of pointing that out, I showed up to take a look (which immediately calmed him down). I looked and those supports were gone (i.e. he must have removed them). I pointed it out (after listening) and also noticed he was remodeling his bathroom himself and made some mistakes. So I took an hour and fixed his leak, and helped him get things back together. That 1 hour calmed him down and he referred me to all his friends. The agent also called and thanked me, and referred all her clients to me for years to come. And you know what – I like fixing things, so it was kind of fun.
Sometimes making a small repair or two, or paying someone to, is a helpful thing to do. Being “in the right” and making the best outcome for the situation are two completely different things. Don’t worry about being in the right – worry about getting the best outcome.
Client Complaints – Not The End of the World
Complaints happen. We can’t see through walls as home inspectors, we can’t please everyone all the time, and if we do enough volume of inspections – client complaints are bound to happen. I would say “stay calm”, but for most of us, we care too much about what we do to truly be calm. So just do the best you can. Like we mention above, we would always wait before responding so we could calm down, not ignore the situation, listen, and be as helpful as possible. How we deal with a complaint is the true measure of us as a business owner and a professional. And as we saw in one of the examples above, it also brings in more work and helps us grow our business if we handle it properly.
You may also like: What to do When a Client Won’t Pay for the Home Inspection or How to Handle Price Shoppers