Have you ever wondered what accounts for the difference between a good home inspector and a great home inspector?  Why do some inspectors seem to get a higher frequency of referral business while others have to put in twice the effort for the same amount of business?  As with many questions in our industry, there may not be a silver bullet answer, but there are several factors that we can examine a little closer to gain some insight on this very important question.
For starters, any inspector should have the proper training through a trusted industry source (Axium Academy and iGo Academy are two of the top recommended industry sources for excellent home inspector training across the country).  Some states requite a license while others hold little or no standards in place.  This reality can make it challenging for clients to understand what they need to be looking for when selecting the individual or organization to evaluate the property they are in the process of purchasing.  State specific licensing requirements aside for just a moment, having the necessary training and certifications (and associated knowledge) is a good baseline.  Being able to show a prospective client that you have the appropriate credentials and industry knowledge will go a long way in putting client and agent minds at ease and make it much easier to gain commitment so that they will trust you with what is most likely the largest purchase/investment of their life.  Holding additional certifications to perform value added services such as mold, wood destroying organism, asbestos, lead based paint, well water, septic, infrared and/or electromagnetic frequency inspections can also go a long way toward improving your perception in the eyes of clients.  Along with experience, becoming a Certified Master Inspector can put you head-and-shoulders above your competition and can even contribute to higher per job earnings. 
Next let’s look at the appearance of the home inspector and the image he or she projects at the subject property.  Think for a moment about your pre-inspection routine.  Did you just roll out of bed, throw on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, grab a cup of coffee and hit the road?  Is your tool box neatly organized?  Are you wearing the proper identification when you show up for your appointment?  What is the condition of your vehicle (is it clean on the inside and tidy on the inside)?  Can you transport your tools, ladder and the necessary paperwork from your vehicle to the property in one or two trips?  There are many, many questions home inspectors would do well to evaluate before ever leaving their home base for an inspection.  All of these elements contribute in some way, shape or form, to the likelihood that you will be able to generate future business from referrals and to the direct satisfaction of your current client.  Having a clean, professional uniform along with an organized assortment of professional grade equipment is what most clients expect to see when their inspector shows up to perform their property evaluation.  Appearing unkept, unorganized or otherwise unprofessional is not going to go very far in creating a high level of confidence in your services despite the actual skill or proficiency of the individual home inspector.  I’ll never forget the advice of my high school wrestling coach who frequently told the team, “You look sharp, you are sharp.”
When asked why many new and experienced home inspectors chose this profession, a common response is due to the flexibility this type of work allows and the earning potential it can provide.  This is absolutely true, however, it’s easy to fall into a ‘convenience trap’ and restrict too tightly your scheduling availability or responsiveness to requests.  The most successful home inspectors often have a great understanding of the importance of these elements and use this to their advantage.  Having too rigid of a schedule and not working with prospective clients in terms of when you are available for inspections can easily get you passed up for the next inspector on the list.  Once that opportunity is gone, the client (especially if you are coordinating with a real estate professional) can cost you all of their future business and referrals.  Likewise, not answering incoming calls or having a back-up call center in place to schedule jobs when your attention can’t be shifted will help ensure you are meeting the needs of your clients while not diverting business to your competition.  On the same side of the coin and very similar to flexibility, your overall schedule availability will directly contribute to how satisfied your clients/agents are with the entire process.  Our function as home inspectors directly intersects a point in the client’s life that is full of deadlines, appointments, meetings, uncertainty and loads of stress that outside of this transaction wouldn’t normally exist–any addition to the already stressful situation that can be avoided will increase your chances of getting a referral, a positive review and/or future business.
Scheduling the appointment, arriving on time while dressed professionally, having the appropriate professional grade tools is a good start, but certainly not a guarantee that your clients will leave having a 5-star experience.  An inspector meeting all of these criteria still has a critical hurdle to overcome and that is the follow-through and making sure the inspection report is professionally written and provided to the client within the understood time parameters.  If the client is expecting the report by 9:00 PM that evening, anything outside of meeting that obligation is almost certainly not going to be advantageous to referral business or overall satisfaction.  An often overlooked portion of the inspection that generates more customer service calls/issues is how the inspector handles the inspection review (assuming the client(s) are present for the home inspection).  Here perception is absolutely everything.  This is where many of the topics discussed earlier can accumulate with either a positive or negative outcome.  One of the most common issues raised by clients has almost nothing to do with the quality or thoroughness of the property evaluation itself and more to do with the demeanor of the inspector during the client review.  If the client/agent senses the inspector is rushing through the review or giving too many “that is out of the scope of a home inspection” responses to general questions, they may leave with a negative perception of the work performed, regardless of the actual quality of the final report.  This is an area that can take a good home inspector to the next level.  Of course, a portion of this does relate back to scheduling and making sure enough time is allocated for a thorough inspection and ample time for the client to have his/her questions adequately addressed.  An even larger portion boils down to self awareness and the needs of the client.  It is critical that in this stage of the experience the home inspector is asking the right questions and taking the time necessary to address the questions and concerns of your client.  Often the review can make the difference between a long-term partnership and a one-time interaction and in our industry like many others, you only get one opportunity to make a great first impression.
Last but not least–asking for a referral.  Once you have confirmed the client has all of their questions and concerns addressed as they relate to the home inspection and they are thrilled with the services you provided, let them know that the greatest compliment you can receive is an online review and you would appreciate if they recommend your services to anyone in their sphere of influence in need of the services you offer.  Having referral and/or business cards available to hand them is professional and will lead to more long-term referral business.