The most popular question I’ve been getting via phone and email recently comes in a few different formats, but the meaning is usually the same. “What is the average cost of a survey?” “How much does a survey cost?” And, my favorite incarnation: “I’ve been told by a trusted source that I spent too much on my survey. Can you tell me if they are right? I mean, all they did was throw up a few markers.”
This begs the question: As a surveyor, is customer education worth your time? After all, you’re the professional. You put the time, money, sweat, and tears into getting your PLS. Shouldn’t they just trust you that you know what you’re talking about? Yeah, ideally. But let’s switch hats for a minute. Let’s say you have a big project that needs to be done concerning a subject you’re unfamiliar with. The stakeholder who assigned you the project has told you that you need to get it done, but you don’t know the first thing about what it involves. What is the first thing you do? If you said “go to the Internet,” you would be like almost everyone else in this scenario. So, when one of your clients who knows nothing about land surveying executes a Google search, what’s waiting for them?
We know there is a whole lot of information—and misinformation—out there that creates as many problems as solutions. For example, Bob Villa’s site lists that the maximum cost for a homeowner survey in the 97224 zip code should be $1,500, with the national average being $504. Clearly Bob’s team put a lot of research into providing this information, right? Well, they pretty much took it from Home Advisor. What does Home Advisor say?
Evidently, most professionals charge per square foot, averaging $0.50 to $0.70. On the plus side, Home Advisor goes into more detail about what land surveying is, different types, etc. It even tells you how to get a free or cheap land survey…admitting of course, that it won’t be recognized or official. Angi (formerly Angie’s List) is like Home Advisor—nearly identical. Both go into how many different scenarios there are, yet still maxing out at $1,500.
In the not-so-distant past, this has been an annoyance. But what happens to the actual professionals doing the work when the bill costs over that magical threshold? Their customer starts telling people they were charged too much and that can also lead to another fun element of the Internet: anonymous online reviews. Reviews written by people who don’t know what they are talking about. They just heard, they felt their brother was cheated or nobody bothered telling the customer what was involved in coming to that cost.
There are many examples of companies having to handle negative reviews on apps like Yelp and Google. A recent example is a couple in Vancouver that left a one-star review for a roofing company and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. They wanted the report on the assessment the company made on why the roof was leaking. The problem? They were the renters and they hadn’t hired the roofing company—the landlord did. Per company policy, the renters weren’t entitled to the information.
The more you go into the facts, you learn that they weren’t told that they weren’t going to be able to have access to the report directly, or that they should simply follow up with their landlord. Hence, rudeness happens on both ends, roofing company demands they take down the reviews, residents refuse to take down something they felt was true, and it all led to a lawsuit. I don’t see the outcome playing out well for either party. This isn’t exactly positive coverage for the company, and despite what Hollywood seems to think, not all coverage is good coverage.
So, you tell me. Is customer education worth your time? Yes, it is. First, it’s important to understand the difference between customer education and marketing. Marketing is about persuading someone on an emotional level that they need your service and you’re the company that is best suited for the job. Example: avoid costly mistakes when adding on to your home or building a new fence. Hire a land surveyor. Customer education is the Joe Friday of Dragnet—it sticks to the facts of the project, giving the potential client all the information they need to make a proper decision, including ways they can possibly save money. What are the benefits of customer education? Here are the three key aspects, as I see it.
Transparency Builds Trust
People are more apt to hire someone who they feel has their best interest at heart and will take the time to make sure they understand what’s at stake. Not returning phone calls or vague answers because you’re out in the field and can’t focus on their future project makes sense to you. To them, it just feels like you don’t want to take the time, and what does that say about the value of your work?
Building Trust Reduces Complaints
People like to know what’s going on. You’ve taken the time for them to understand the difficult elements of the project, what can affect the price, and the process you’re at. Are there a couple of solutions they can choose from? Giving them the decision to spend more money if something isn’t quite necessary puts the onus on them. If it’s not inherent to the project, but will 100 percent add to the value and integrity, let them know that and why. If someone knows the information beforehand, they aren’t surprised and don’t feel taken advantage of. In other words, they won’t think all you did was throw up a few markers and call it day.
Trust Means Loyalty; Loyalty Brings Referrals
When customers know and understand what went into the making of your survey, realistic expectations are formed and met. With these ideas in mind, what are some ways to educate your customer?
Before the survey, make sure they have all the information that goes into building your quote and the basis for which you charge. Perhaps a check list is included: lacking municipal information, property terrain, foliage, water boundary, etc. Or perhaps putting the time and thought into a one sheet explaining what goes into building a quote, what you charge for your time, etc.
During the survey, make sure to check in and provide a status after you’ve done a portion of work. If you charge by the hour, let them know how much time you’ve put in so far.
After the survey, sum up the information you gave in the beginning of what could affect the price to what actually did. If you do get a bad review, use the same medium to address the situation through education. That means, leave the emotion out of it.
In the example of the roofing company, thank them for their input and politely explain that they are unable to share information with anyone but the person who hired them. In this case, the owner of the home. Would it have solved the problem with that customer? Maybe not, but the real point was for future customers to see how you handle a disagreement.
Some of these ideas may be adding work to an already overloaded schedule. Perhaps you can alleviate that just using your office staff in another way. The more they learn about this process, the more helpful they can be on the phone with a client. And that just may help you save time—and a lot of headaches.