Surviving The Slower Season: Customer Experience

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Home inspection volume on a national level continues to be softer than normal compared to recent years around this time. Mortgage rates have nearly tripled since this time a year ago, yet housing prices remain high, and according to the National Association of Home Builders, which publishes the Housing Market Index, the housing market is officially in a recession.

As many of us brace for the chillier months of winter, countless home inspection business owners are bracing for future inspection volume challenges due to sustained issues in the housing market and an uncertain economy in 2023.

Turning the corner

We all know the late fall and winter months are traditionally a slower period for most inspectors across the country. However, if they aren’t careful this year, they could easily see a slower season turn into an economic blizzard for their business.

There will continue to be no shortage of speculation on what our housing market is going to do next year, but most housing market prognosticators do agree that things are going to be a lot slower in 2023 than they have been in the past few years. And yes, that downturn will obviously have an impact on inspection volume. Yet, it’s what inspection business owners do during this downturn that will truly separate the success stories from the failed and forgotten. Here’s how to pivot now and improve your odds of becoming a success story when the tale is told.

CX & Speed

As incoming leads become scarcer and home inspection business owners are forced to compete more with each other, they must:

  1. Close more leads and keep customers sticky by leveraging the power of customer experience (CX)
  2. Focus on this primary approach to improving the customer experience – SPEED

We know inspectors have heard a lot of perspectives and ideas on what they can be doing right now to help their businesses manage through this slower inspection cycle. And there’s some solid actionable advice and insights out there – including the other methods and approaches we cover in this series that can help home inspectors not just survive during these slower times, but actually thrive. However, a lot of it is tactical. This is helpful when looking for specific actions you can take to help your business better cope with what we’re experiencing right now, but never as effective and impactful, long term, as when they are associated with a comprehensive plan. A strategy behind those actions. And one strategy for truly changing your future as a home inspection business owner from questionable success to a rock-solid, thriving brand, is to sharpen your focus on: CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

Uncovering your competitive advantage

When the housing market was going gangbusters, there was more than enough inspection volume to go around. However, as the housing market continues to correct to better fit with current affordability, demand and supply, inspectors are struggling to gain a competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive landscape.

As difficulties persist, some inspectors start thinking about price. Maybe charge a bit less for an inspection. Or they start thinking about their services – offering up free ancillary services and creating more promotions to entice customers. Or they even think about quality – potentially altering or refining their approach to how they perform inspections, the reports they provide, the manner in which they provide them, and more. These approaches aren’t necessarily wrong, but the tough reality is, it is extremely difficult to build and sustain a competitive advantage rooted entirely in price, services, or even quality. However, it is entirely possible for an inspection business to be the best at how it makes customers feel. And THAT is the game-changer for your business that you’ve been looking for.

The game-changer: CX

Just how likely is it that you’ll close more leads and create more loyal customers simply by focusing more on customer experience (CX)? Extremely. Could it really be that simple? Absolutely! Here’s why.

You might have seen some of these statistics in an earlier post in this series, but they definitely bear repeating:

  • 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

At this point, some of you might be thinking, “We always provide great customer service to our clients. It’s something we really pride ourselves on.” And it’s at this point we must make a brief, but critically important, distinction between customer service and CX.

The main difference between CX and service is that experience incorporates every touchpoint a customer can have with your brand, and customer service is one single touchpoint. CX doesn’t require interaction with a representative, but customer service usually does.

Experience is also proactive, while service is reactive. With experience, you can delight your customers without them even having to reach out to you. While service usually begins when a customer initiates a conversation when they need a home inspection or other ancillary services you might provide.

When you start to think about the difference, you realize it’s much easier to provide great customer service than a great overall customer experience. And we often hear many business owners speak highly and confidently about the quality of their customer service. But why then, according to a 2018 report by New Voice Media, is poor customer service costing U.S. businesses more than $75 billion a year? Is it possible those businesses who think they are crushing customer service, really are not? The answer is “yes” and “no.”

Many home inspectors do an outstanding job performing inspections. And the reports they ultimately provide can be well-organized, insightful, comprehensive, and easy to digest. Many inspectors also quite often interface with agents and customers on-site – and do a fantastic job interacting with those agents and customers. But those three important touchpoints don’t make up the entirety of the home inspection process lifecycle. Meaning, it’s possible to positively crush those three customer service touchpoints, but absolutely fold like a cheap suit on other fronts.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI®) reported this year that customer satisfaction in the U.S. is at its lowest level in 15 years. So, when you think about all those statistics that clearly outline the massive benefits to businesses simply by focusing on providing a better experience to their customers, why do businesses continue to do it so badly? The more important question we pose to home inspectors is, “Don’t you see a massive opportunity staring you right in the face?”

Whether referencing studies done by the Temkin Group, research performed by SuperOffice CRM and Walker Information, or a dozen other sources that cite data about the importance of customer experience for businesses, the conclusion is crystal clear: Investing in CX initiatives can dramatically increase your revenue.

And where does this revenue come from exactly?:

  • A great experience leads to customers spending more: When customers feel comfortable and confident with a brand, they tend to spend more.
  • A great experience creates loyalty: Creating a “sticky” customer means repeat business. And retention can be a powerful boost to your bottom line.
  • A great experience results in customers sharing their experiences with others: Word-of-mouth marketing is arguably one of the best ways to grow a business.
  • A great experience builds trust: The cornerstone of fostering long-term relationships and repeat business.

The need for speed

As we noted, knocking it out of the ballpark when it comes to providing great customer service on a case-by-case basis is a far shot easier than providing an exceptional, end-to-end customer experience every time. But if you’re REALLY looking to gain a competitive advantage right now and set your inspection business up for success in the near future and beyond, then it’s time to really up your game by investing in CX.

If you accept that CX is the best way to close more leads and gain and retain customers, then the next step is to determine what processes you must stop, start, or change to markedly enhance CX. But candidly, that can be a tall order for any business. There are nearly infinite ways a business could alter its behaviors and approaches to enchant customers and prospects, but it turns out…there is just one that matters most: SPEED.

But first…the “must-haves”

Before we dive into why “speed” over all else, let’s make sure you have some basics in place when it comes to optimizing for customer service at multiple touchpoints. It’s investments in these basic initiatives that will serve as the foundation for dramatically altering your CX and bolstering your competitive advantage in your market.

  • Know thy customer: Understand and document your customers’ needs, and those of critical partners such as real estate agents
  • Be helpful: Make sure to position yourself and your staff as helpful experts – especially on the phone
  • Automate: It’s important to find the right balance between automating appointment follow-up and logistics support as much as you can while leaving room for the human element. Your customers still want to speak to a live person in many cases.
  • Get data: Track, analyze and understand data about call types and order close rates
  • Get feedback: Make it easy for customers to provide feedback so you can act on learnings
  • Make it easy: Create multiple contact methods for your customers – phone and text, social media, your website, referral sites, etc.

The state of speed

Responsiveness. Your customers want you to be responsive to their outreach and requests. And they want you to be quick about it.

In many scenarios, business responsiveness has been imperiled by the pandemic and its aftermath. Thankfully, this isn’t a scenario that is overly prevalent in the inspection industry. Nonetheless, customers have been forced to wait in ways that would largely have been unthinkable pre-pandemic. And now, customers are, well, over it.

According to a national Consumer Patience Study performed by StatSocial this year, nearly three in 10 customers expect businesses to be MORE responsive than before the pandemic, at least in terms of response time. This includes when a lead or customer contacts a business via email, text, live chat, social media, or messaging applications. Just how responsive? According to HubSpot Research, 90% of customers rate an “immediate” response as essential or very important when they have a customer service question. And 60% of customers define “immediate” as 10 minutes or less.

How speedy do you need to be when you’ve got a lead or customer on the hook? Speedy!

Speed and revenue

Being faster than your competitors isn’t just a nice attribute to possess. It can be the difference between success and failure for an inspection business owner. Why? Because your potential customers are voting for fast when they make purchases, or when they choose not to do so. In fact, 64% of customers say speed and responsiveness are as important as price when they decide where to make a purchase. (The 2022 Consumer Patience Study)

Consider the following. How likely is it that someone who calls your inspection business and gets a voicemail will simply move on to the next inspector or inspection business on their list? According to a study by Consumer Reports, 75% of callers who can’t reach a live person at a business will not leave a voicemail. Maybe this number is less for your business, but do you know what that number is? Your repeat customers and agents are more likely to leave a voicemail, but will new business leads?

More than half of all customers (52%) have willingly paid more when making a purchase to work with the business that responded FIRST. (The 2022 Consumer Patience Study). That number alone should be a huge motivator to enhance the rapidity of responsiveness for any inspector.

Speed and loyalty

Customers will come back again and again to those inspectors that are consistently fast. According to research performed by Salesforce, an overwhelming number of customers (85%) say that speed and responsiveness are key components of their brand loyalty. Conversely, that same study shows brands that take longer to respond than customers believe they should face a meaningful loyalty decay.

The impact of speed on loyalty covers the full range of the buyer’s journey and home inspection process lifecycle. Whether answering questions for a new business lead, addressing issues during the inspection process, or responding to inquiries about a report, speed becomes a critical factor in making a customer “sticky.”

Speed and how it makes your customer feel

One of the main reasons speed or lack of speed correlates to revenue and loyalty is that being faster (or slower) than your customers expect creates strong and meaningful feelings within those customers.

Face it, we’re in a time where customer service is often mediocre at best. So, when we get immediate attention to our customer service needs, not only are we a bit surprised, but we’re often downright giddy. It feels great. Refreshing for a change. When asked how a customer feels toward a brand or business when they respond to you faster than expected, 56% said “appreciated,” 53% said “valued,” and 41% said “respected.” (The 2022 Consumer Patience Study).

CX & Speed: 5 ways for improving business now

  1. All inspection companies should track their actual average response time per contact mechanism, and work to reply faster than customers expect.
  2. Don’t focus solely on digital channels. Customers still prefer telephone over all other contact channels. Also, customers expect replies via email and contact us forms within one day; so, do not allow those communication methods to have sluggish response times.
  3. Look at how fast (or not fast) your business is at all stages of the customer journey and look for areas to speed up. It should be in several areas. Customers care deeply about rapidity at all stages.
  4. Determine all the scenarios when customers have to contact your business more than once to effectively resolve an issue. Work to eliminate these, as a second contact is the single most frustrating situation for today’s consumers.
  5. In any competitive situation, place great emphasis on being the first responder. Nearly half of the time, customers buy from the first business to reply, even if the price is higher.

ACC (America’s Call Center):

ACC is a fully integrated customer service and communication-handling solution exclusively for home inspectors – no matter if you’re a sole proprietor or a multi-inspector firm.

ACC has 25 years of experience and knowledge of what it takes to successfully navigate more challenging economic cycles. And when budgets are tight, it’s good to have a partner that has a history of producing an increase of 15% – 30% in revenue after inspectors begin services while only paying an average of $2 – $5 an hour for those services. That’s a big boost for such a small investment! We are inspectors’ smartest approach to growth and the essential partner that will make all the difference for your business. During this shift in our industry, make a shift for your business. Make a shift to ACC.