Everyone who is in a service industry knows that their business lives or dies depending on how well you treat clients. Our business is no different than others who heavily rely on referrals from satisfied clients. For example, over 90 percent of our new business over the past few years has resulted from past client direct referrals to their families, friends and business associates.
Doing Our Homework
Most of our new client project assignments begin by discussing the project, first on the phone, then through emails and then at the site. Before the initial site visit, we ask new clients for available reports or plans and photographs of the concerning issues. We also perform research on Google Earth and property information websites to determine construction dates, topography, and other pertinent data about the property.
Some building departments have online resources that can be consulted for building permits, building plans, soils and geology reports and grading plans. Over the past 10 years, building departments have placed a vast amount of information on properties that can be accessed from our desks, which helps us prepare ourselves thoroughly before we meet face-to-face.
What To Expect
Our initial in person meeting and site assessment is the first step in the process of developing a repair program, if warranted. In some cases, we determine that repairs are unnecessary or are premature, but require periodic re-inspection. We do charge a fee to conduct a property review and prepare an estimate because of the extensive research required to address structural issues in-depth and explain why you need to make repairs to avoid further damage.
Our initial site assessment is like a “house call” that doctors used to perform, which includes an initial diagnosis that might include further research or inspection and when necessary a follow-up report. The final “diagnosis” after the initial site visit is either a “clean bill of health” (no serious problems, do not worry) or a “prescription” (a list of repairs or further study recommendations).
A large share of our business involves repairing deficient property and structural conditions, such as foundation movement, landslides, fire damage repairs, impact damage repairs, slope creep and water damage repairs. We are often referred to the client by a contractor or inspector who has identified a potential deficiency. During the initial site visit, we observe and document conditions, discuss the history of the property and any past issues with the client, and determine the client’s objectives.
Coping With Bad News
Most of the time, clients are accepting of our findings and opinions. Some clients, however, become agitated if they do not agree with our recommendations, particularly if the repair costs are significant. We truly understand how stressful these situations can be. We also recognize that some clients need additional, patient, explanations of technical subjects.
When the news is bad, it is important to remain calm so that everyone’s stress level remains as low as possible so we can work together to discover the best possible outcome. In such situations, we remind ourselves that our role is predominately as a teacher to educate the client about the risks of various options in responding to the property conditions. Staying “hopeful” is helpful.
One possible option is always to “do nothing,” except in cases where it is unsafe. We also remind ourselves not to become defensive when our opinions are questioned. One of the most rewarding parts of our job is to help property owners determine the best way to address potentially scary situations on their property in a cost-effective, technically grounded way.