Has it ever happened to you? You are going about your home inspection business. Your clients love you and praise you – in fact, it seems like you are the best home inspector in the world. Then one day, you open your computer and there it is – a bad review.
If you are like most home inspectors in that position, you likely got a sinking feeling in your stomach. You might have read the review over and over again and stressed over every point. Then you start to worry about your inspection business. How will this affect your business? Your reputation? One home inspector I know even considered changing the name of their company!
Most review sites, like Yelp, Google, Home Advisor, and others allow you to leave a response to the reviewer. In the heat of our emotion, we come up with “the perfect” response to completely smash what they are trying to say about us online. But before you click on anything and start typing, sit back and think about how to respond. A bad review can even bring you more work and a better reputation than a good review.
Before we talk about how to respond, let’s talk about how a bad review can be beneficial for you (with the right response of course).
Bad Review – Big Rewards
It seems counter-intuitive to even think a bad review could be good for you. But no matter how good you are, no matter how hard you try, people leave bad reviews. It is just a fact of life nowadays. But think about it this way: My wife and I were looking for someplace to eat on a trip recently, so we started on Yelp and looked at all the reviews we could. We ended up going to a restaurant with 4.5 stars. Why not one with 5 stars? Because all the 5 star reviews looked fake, like employees and family left them or something. Whereas the one with 4.5 stars seemed to have real people.
But what struck us was that for every review of the restaurant that was 3 stars or lower, the manager left a response. His response was always polite, sympathetic, and always offered to give the chance to make them happy. He did this no matter how irrational the reviewer was. And there was the key – his polite and rational response (that did not attack the person or their opinion) made the reviewer look like they were in the wrong.
We went to that restaurant and were thrilled – and it was packed in there. So remember, just because you have a bad review (or even a couple/few of them) doesn’t mean it is all bad. It can actually be a good thing. Studies show that people read the bad reviews of a company far more than the good ones – so it is your time to shine.
So let’s talk about how to respond to three different types of reviewers. We will use real life examples, and see how you can turn the tables on these situations. The three types we will discuss are 1) a seller or agent leaving you a review, 2) your competition, and 3) your client.
Sellers or Agents Leaving Reviews
This happens quite a bit more often than I ever imagined it would. In fact, most of the bad reviews that any of my clients or any of my own home inspection companies received (we have ever only had 3 in over a decade) came from sellers and/or an agent. These can be frustrating for a couple of reasons.
First of all, we feel like “what gives them the right?”. Then we may get upset because that is all sellers really need to do to “get back at you” is just leave bad reviews online. But in actuality, these are by far the easiest to handle. Please note that the principles below apply to when either a seller or an agent leave a bad review.
First, decide if you want to keep the review up. Why would you do that? Well, when a seller left a bad review for my company because she thought my report was too full of defects, that actually brought me more clients. People want a home inspector that is thorough and doesn’t care about what the seller says – but instead looks after their client’s best interest. After she left that review, my online leads increased from those venues. So consider leaving the review up with maybe comments like this: “Thank you very much for the feedback. Unfortunately we see that you are not our client, but instead are the seller. While we appreciate your feelings, we report on what we see and make sure that our clients know about every possible issue and every inch of their possible new home. Our intention was not to insult you, but to report the truth, and we take this review as a compliment that we are doing our job. Please feel free to contact us and we would be happy to provide you with a thorough inspection as well”.
In the above statement, remember who your audience is. That seller is not going to hire me, so I am not interested in what they think. That statement is for potential buyers of other homes who are looking to hire me. Write your response and read it from the perspective of other future clients.
Be these three things when responding: 1) polite, 2) professional, 3) proud of your work. In any case, no matter what, how, or who the review is from, NEVER show anger, use profanity, or even give a hint that you are upset or disturbed by the review. This can be hard though, especially if they have left the review on multiple sites (which they often do).
Your second option is to try and have the review removed. This can be advantageous for various reasons. In the real life example I gave above, that particular seller started working with the agent to make the review sound worse and worse. They started accusing me of illegal activities, and it got serious. So i decided to try and get the review removed. In the case of an agent, a quick call to the agent’s broker usually brings it to a stop.
In my case, I called the seller’s agent and let her know (very politely) that those accusations are very serious and that my attorney will be involved and that I am sure that her broker, and any potential brokers, would not be very happy with this. She then removed herself extremely quickly.
As for the seller, I wrote her a nice letter asking her to take down the review. After she didn’t, I actually contacted my attorney who wrote her a very strongly worded letter, after which she removed the review (after he sent her a list of court cases showing how she cannot accuse me of illegal activities etc.). She then took down the review. I don’t recommend going that route unless you have to though.
People are entitled to their opinion. If they don’t like you, then they don’t. If it comes down to the situation above though, do what you feel you need to do. Just be careful. If you don’t like a bad review, and they have not claimed you did something illegal or made up crazy things about you, then you are asking for that person to just get more angry and leave worse reviews – and this time they will tell everyone that you will try and sue them if you leave a bad review.
On another note, some venues allow you to “contest” the review. For instance, a gentleman left a horrible review for a company on Google. He said some pretty terrible things about them that seemed unfounded. When I read it, I felt bad for them and I reported the review to Google. I was surprised when I saw that Google actually removed the review. Also, Yelp has been known to do this at times too. Remember, they have parameters to this though, and they don’t do it often.
If you do decide to write a letter for defamation reasons, InterNACHI has a great letter to stop online defamation from sellers.
Now let’s talk about the next type of reviewer – a competitor.
Competitors Leaving Reviews
This one really gets to me. We are home inspectors, we work in the same field. Sometimes we feel like the whole world is against us – sellers, agents, attorneys, contractors, etc. Then, all of a sudden, someone who is supposed to be on “our side” stabs us in the back and leaves us a bad review.
There is a bright side though – this doesn’t happen very often. Most home inspectors are pretty honorable. And the ones that aren’t, are usually too scared to leave a bad review for another home inspector because defamation laws and other legal issues. But even though it is rare, it does happen. So what can you do?
The first thing is to be calm. There is an ancient proverb that says “an answer when mild turns away rage”. In other words, if you stay calm, it tends to calm others down too.
I find that the best thing to do in this situation to to calmly call your competitor and ask them to take it down. Most of the time they will, and then the matter is over.
Sometimes though, the review may be under a false name, or maybe one of their relative’s names. Maybe they don’t answer their phones and don’t want to take it down. What then?
Well, in that case you can either leave it up or call an attorney. Not great choices, but there is not much else to do. Fortunately, the vast majority of the time it can all be settled quickly.
I had a competitor not leave me a review, but instead started emailing agents about me trying to win them over (really weird marketing strategy that didn’t work obviously). An agent showed me the email, I called him, and calmly reasoned with him. After that, it all went away.
In any event, if a competitor does this, you can have other inspectorscall him, or even one of the associations you belong to. Another thing to try is have one of the agents that like you call on your behalf. The last thing that inspector wants is agents upset with him.
Now though, let’s tackle the big one: Your Client.
When Your Client Leaves a Bad Review
This is the big one. You did an inspection, everyone seemed happy, and then all of a sudden you get a bad review from that seemingly happy client.
Many times the situation is not only stressful, but also infuriating. They may post a complaint about something you couldn’t predict – like a heating unit failure 3 years later. Maybe they are upset because they found mold in their basement – but they didn’t even hire you to test for mold. Or my favorite, a “contractor/expert” told them that you should have flagged something that you didn’t.
When this happens: STAY CALM. That is the biggest thing, especially because it is personal and easy to get upset. One of my inspectors was told that he missed something once. When he went back to check on it, it was very obviously made up. But the buyer insisted that he was incompetent and missed something. Unfortunately my inspector took it personally and started arguing back – which only made things worse.
We straightened it out eventually though. But don’t get mad – even when people are being seemingly completely unreasonable. The buyer finally admitted to just wanting money and that there was no issue. But we could have got there without arguing (and only did after we approached it calmly).
On the other hand, another inspector in my area (who does not work for me) did the exact opposite. He actually missed a deck issue, a foundation issue, and a bunch of other stuff (about $40,000 in missed defects that my company found later on) and his clients were upset… very upset. It was interesting though. He came back, re-inspected, was calm, empathized with the people, talked through it, and spent a couple of hours really trying to help them.
In the end, he returned his fee and they signed a release! I couldn’t believe it. They even spoke highly of him in certain ways. His calm, comforting demeanor turned a potential lawsuit into a completely different situation. I feel terrible for that family, but they seemed satisfied with the outcome.
So how you approach the client is very important. Remember back to earlier in this article though. You can choose to leave the review up, or you can try to do something about it. Either way, approach, respond, and talk calmly and kindly.
If a client is upset, and you can fix it, that would be the best. I had a client complain because he broke a pipe in his house and thought I should predict that he would bump into his pipe and break it (can’t make this stuff up). So on my way to an inspection I stopped in and fixed his pipe in less than 30 minutes and for a couple bucks in materials. That took care of it – no bad review and he loved me afterward (and so did his agent).
Sometimes people are just upset though. I had a client who didn’t leave a bad review, but left a comment in their good review that I missed the fact that pipes froze when their heating unit died (a year later). So I could have said in response to the review online “Well, I said in my report that your unit was about to die, you didn’t get it serviced like I said, and of course your pipes froze – your heating unit died because you didn’t do what I told you to”.
That response would have been true, but would have turned new clients off. Instead I said something close to this “I appreciate your feedback and for giving us a relatively good review, despite some dissatisfaction. I looked over your report and see here that your unit ran at the inspection, but needed servicing and I recommended that happening immediately. Did you have that done by any chance? We try to put those in the report twice, but sometimes during a real estate transaction (which is a busy time in life) those points can be missed when you are reading over your report. We are always working to make our reports clearer and our inspections more thorough though. Is there something we can do to help you?”
I got a lot of work from that response, and the client eventually removed those comments and appreciated my response (which she told me in an email). But what if you want the review removed?
Well, as we talked about earlier, it is easier said then done. The difference is that your client has a right to review you and leave their comments. So getting the review removed is unlikely. In fact, trying to get it removed can make the situation worse. Sometimes it is best to leave calm, kind comments and leave it at that.
There is a fine line though. If the person claims you did something illegal or something very serious, then contact an attorney. There is precedent for taking it to the next level according to Mark Cohen and others. But tread carefully here. Once you go down that path, it is hard to come back.
Then there is the simplest, easiest, and most intuitive thing you can do when you get a bad review – bury it with good reviews! Get every happy client you have ever had to leave you a good review wherever that bad one is. That way the bad review is still there, but the good reviews shine through instead.
So in conclusion, when you get a bad review, the operational word is “calm”. Easier said than done, but still extremely important. Most of the time these situations work out. And if they don’t, get some good reviews from past clients to bury the bad one.
Also, there is a lot to be said about talking to the person who left you the review and seeing if you can address things in a reasonable way. Sometimes a face to face conversation works best (as long as the situation is not heated).
If you choose to go the legal route, that is your choice. But sometimes patience shows that even bad reviews can be good advertising by how you respond.
Disclaimer: I/we are not attorneys. These are just my/our opinion. Please consult an attorney.