Episode 22 – Part 1 – How being relatable and approachable can prevent claims with Marion Ellis

In this week’s episode we are speaking with Marion Ellis from Love Surveying.

Across the three parts we discuss relatability and approachability and how these can be the keys to a successful surveying business.
Marion has over 20 years of experience in the residential property sector and has seen the profession from every side with a focus in much of her career on customer complaints and claims. 

In Part 1 of this episode we’re looking at how being relatable and approachable can help you prevent claims. We discuss:

🏡 The importance of understanding the home buying and selling process

👩‍🏫 Marion’s experience of transitioning from corporate to coaching

☎️ How approachability and relatability result in better communication

😱 The challenges and fears of surveyors

🙋 The importance of asking questions and seeking help

😡 Understanding a complaint is usually due to a number of issues
👂 The importance of empathy and understanding when dealing with complaints


The following transcript is autogenerated so may contain errors.


Matt Nally  00:24

On this week’s episode, we have Mary analysis, the director of love surveying. So thanks for coming on.

Marion Ellis  00:44

You’re very welcome to speak to you. Always.

Matt Nally 00:48

For those that don’t know, you, and I think most people probably well, but you want to give us a bit of background as to what you do at law surveying?

Marion Ellis  00:54

Well, it feels like a hobby, sometimes my, my work wasn’t my husband says, I coach surveyors, you know, my background is in defect and valuation claims as a residential surveyor, that taught me a lot about how things go wrong, how I don’t set up for success that surveyors don’t set out to do a bad job. And yet, sometimes it just all goes really wrong. And so in doing that work, it taught me your how you set yourself up for success. But then also the other side, the whole customer journey side, and we’ve talked about about that, and another work the work that you do. And when I left my corporate role a few years ago, I couldn’t, for health reasons do problem with my neck, so I couldn’t lift off like hatches and things like that, I thought it’d be off more than I was on. So I just explored different avenues. And, you know, the best thing I ever did was given myself time to be curious about the different things that I could do and explore. And that led me to coaching, coaching and mentoring specifically small businesses, or career change surveyors. So I love it, you know, so I run a mastermind I do some one to one consultancy, but I really do get the luxury, whatever I fancy doing. And whatever time allows with my family and the work that I do so. Yeah, but I’m pretty. I do like survey, I am a bit of a dt, even though I don’t practice it. As they say, yeah. Although I feel like I practice answering the questions a lot, you know, as to what’s this, and what’s that? But yeah, so a bit of a long answer. But I have a bit of fun in my business.

Matt Nally 02:38

But that’s important, I think, isn’t it? I think that’s probably part of it. We’ll come on to today’s three auto fixes. Hi, have a bit of personality in there and enjoy what you do as well. But I suppose the topics for today that I think we were looking at were relatability and approachability and how that ties in to having a successful selling business. And as part of our first topic we’re going to cover I think it’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought of it from this perspective. But how does relatability and approachability prevent claims? I think before we discuss that, John to explain what we mean by what you mean by relatable relatability and approachability? And what that is.

Marion Ellis  03:16

Well, you came up with that title, Matt? Did I forgotten? Yeah, they sound like? Yeah, I think what I think, you know, when you when you run a business, in particular small business, where you work for yourself, you are your business. And a lot of people you know, the only experience we have is being in a corporate and so we leave our corporate roles, we set up our own businesses, and we we become many corporates. And actually people buy from people, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling. If they like the look of you, they like the feel of you, they like the you know how you you make them feel rather than, you know, they bite into you as a person. And so the more that you can be relatable to your client, even if you’re, you know, chalk and cheese, then the more likely they are to be able to engage with you. Similarly, you know, when it comes to, to claims, one of the things I see is just that clients are just sometimes too scared to talk to surveyors. But guess what, so surveyors are too scared to talk to clients because they might ask a question. Or you might not know the answer, or they might be difficult and but being able to be approachable means that you know, if you’ve if you’ve got, ultimately for having a good relationship with your client that they can ask you those stupid questions they can ask, they can tell you about the fears and worries about buying their property or the work you’re doing for them. And it means that you can prevent things you know, you can nip things in the bud if you’ve missed something you can address it. If they’ve thrown you a curve ball they didn’t at the start, then you can tackle it. And so, yeah, those things are really fundamental. And yet we we overlook them totally.

Matt Nally 05:08

Yeah. Yeah. I suppose that the aspects of that as well, then you get more out of your customer at the very beginning of the process, if they feel comfortable to ask you, or tell you what they’re concerned about. Yeah, sure. What do you think stops people from building that? Sort of, I suppose engagement with the customer, or that, that that trust

Marion Ellis  05:30

in terms of in terms of surveyors, I guess, yeah, I’ve never, I’ve never had to do it. You know, so if you think about corporate work, or getting work from a panel, it served to you on a plate, to say, just Yeah, turn up at this property, do this, you know, let’s speak to the customer beforehand, if you can get hold of them. You know, and so you’ve never had to never had to do it. So it’s something that you need to learn to do. recognise the value of it, for sure. And, but on the other side of it, as always, if you’ve got a huge fear, there’s a fear culture and surveying of fear of being sued, you know, fed fear of, you know, being too big for your boots, as soon as you think you are, you’re an ASRock, fr ICs. And, and all of that malarkey, you know, it can be quite judgmental, and, you know, professions like that, where it is all about technical qualification, things, you know, we are judgmental of each other. You know, it’s how we, we’ve compared each other, you know, where do we where do we fit in the hierarchy of things. But all of that creates fear. You know, and we’ve you got to shake that off. If you’re, if you’re a business owner, you need to be in front of your business, not hiding behind it. Yeah.

Matt Nally 06:52

Does that mean that we have potentially a bit of a trust and relatability or approachability issue between surveyors as well. So in terms of being able to if you don’t know the answer to a question, or you want to get a bit of a second opinion? Is there are there barriers there that that people feel being able to talk to each other? Because whether it’s the sort of examining thing, or whether it’s other factors?

Marion Ellis  07:13

I don’t necessarily think it’s the qualification levels, and I think that just muddies the water, really, you know, some of the best surveys I know, on our ICS survey, as you know, yes. So I think that’s a in many ways, a red herring, it doesn’t doesn’t really, really help. But do you think about back in the day, before mobile phones and tablet technology, were used to go out and do our inspections, go back to an office and have a chat with the guys in the office? About what we’ve seen in a day how we’d report you know, as a, as a graduate students, what I did, I built it my call of confidence to ask those stupid questions. But equally, you know, there was still a culture of, if I was doing an evaluation, and I found some comparables on file, I wouldn’t use his because, you know, he’s not very good or, or, you know, I would always use his because he does better. And I say he, because generally, he used and they were in my office, you know, so, but at least you could break that down by the office manager coming in saying, sort yourself out and all talk to each other, or you’d have CPD sessions or whatever. And we just don’t have that we just don’t have that physical aspect. You know, lots of offices were closed down, people work from home. And we’ve all had to learn to engage digitally. Now. COVID was a blessing in some ways for that, because now everybody knows what Zoom is, for example, whereas a lot of people hadn’t, you wouldn’t do that in your role as a surveyor typically. So we’ve all had to learn to do it. And I run the surveyor hub, which is a Facebook group for surveyors. We started it before the pandemic, and it’s sort of grown. And it’s been a real learning experience. It wasn’t set out to, you know, give technical advice, or, or things like that. It was really just to engage with people and to see whether it would work part of that curiosity piece, I guess, that was talking about before. But what we’ve learned through that is that some people don’t know how to talk to each other, somebody will take either getting the wrong end of the stick. You know, we have lots of arguing and grumbling people are very judgmental, but they all watch it because they you know, they check it every day because they want to see what’s happening and to feel part of something. And I think being in forums like that, whatever they are mean that you’re more likely to go out and reach out for help when you need it. You know, I get a lot of private messages from surveys saying I’m really stuck, but I’m too scared to post or I don’t know where to where to ask skinned, you know, by other people sharing like that, you know, sorry, posting in forums and things like that gives permission to others to say, It’s okay to ask the stupid questions, it’s okay to reach out for help. And so it’s like a learned behaviour, I think that we’ve got to, got to re engage with. It reminds me actually a little different, sorry, everyone’s got two totally different font that I remember when, when my babies were little and speaking to a health visitor into breastfeeding clinic. And so this health visitor, and she said, the thing is, you know, we don’t really, we don’t really need people who we need to help people like you because you know, to come here is the people that we never hear of that we want to find. And that’s how we manage our resources. And I think there’s something powerful in that of, you know, who don’t I know? And who, who doesn’t appear anywhere? Not that there’s anything wrong, but what support do they need? Because a survey is, you know, we have to keep, we think we have to keep a lot of information in our head when actually we just need to know where to ask or to look most of the time.

Matt Nally 11:07

Yeah, and actually, that you’re no one’s expected to know everything. And you should always be coming across something new, and therefore, asking the questions is appropriate, and the right thing to do, but it’s interesting, what you said there about the people having a way of speaking and discussing things. Now we’ve got zoom, rather than just going on emails, and, you know, in the groups, people are quick to fire up messages, and it might come off the wrong way. Not always obviously, in terms of certain conversations, you see that everyone else is one of the tools then for effectively handling a complaint not just to stick to emails? And because it might be that wanting to keep things in writing. Does that then potentially escalate things? Because both sides misinterpret things? And that the language goes the wrong way? Should you get on the phone instead?

Marion Ellis  11:57

Absolutely, that will be my, my first first port of call. But I think you have to look at the each complaint as a whole, you know, you have to look at what happens at the start the very start of that customer journey. You know, and until it’s taken a step back a bit, you know, so we talk about this sort of relatability and being approachable. When a client comes to you wants to work with you, they should know a lot about you a lot about the way that you work. So the conversation is how do we work together? Rather than tell me what do you do? What’s the difference between level two and three, all of those things. And that’s where marketing, personal branding, you know, putting yourself out there means that a client gets a sense of all of that before they then come and work with you. So you know, you’re not repeating yourself, you’re not, you know, educating them on a really quick, quick phone call. So, when a client comes to you, and you start working with them, you know, or I’ve got a good idea of, do they know what a survey is, have they ever had on before, you know, is their uncle Bob giving them advice and saying you don’t really need a surveyor, but get one and then you’ve got a guarantee if something goes wrong, you know, we should know about these things because we’re providing a service and it’s a tool for people to use going forward. So understanding the context of how somebody’s come to buy from you is really important. How to deal with complaints and claims is a is a big old, old topic, you’ll see lots of CPD and advice on how to deal with a claim. And yes, there’s legal things, yes, you want to keep things in writing visit because it helps you defend, defend a claim, you’ve got to have terms, you’ve got to have boundaries, you know, over the service that you’re offering. And, and then, you know, we have for our ICS we’ve got, you know, rules of conduct ways of dealing with things regulation, you know, it sets a framework for how things need to be done. But in my view, and in my experience, it’s a complaint until it’s a claim. Now, we typically think it’s a claim once once the property is exchanged, or you know, there’s been legal completion but But what that means is you go straight into serious letter serious letter serious letter. When, actually if you’ve got if you can talk to somebody as as you know whether oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, this has happened. Tell me about it. Okay, this is what I’m gonna do. You know, you instantly and having that report. I mean, I have dealt with so many different complaints and claims over the years from city PDQ so multimillion pound, you know, defects and valuation claims. For corporates and for small firms. I’ve seen the whole lot and there is nothing, you know, the most embarrassing things ever that I’ve come across and You can fix it, you can get over it, if you’ve got a good relationship with your client, it doesn’t mean that the complaint will go away doesn’t mean you’re not going to, you know, pay out money if you’ve done something wrong, but you can make it much better and easier to deal with. If you’ve got that good report at the start, and you maintain that all the way through dealing with your complaint or claim. So I would be very much pick up the phone, I’m so sorry, this has happened, you know, letters and emails can be really terse, and to the point, whereas, you know, you speak to them on the phone? Oh, well, you know, just thought I put it in writing, let’s have a chat about it. And of course, you document those those things. So you’ve you’ve got everything. But there’s a lot that you can that you can do for sure. That means that you can handle things more quickly, more efficiently in a friendly way. And it doesn’t have to be the horrible wait and difficult situation that it that it has to be

Matt Nally  15:58

it from, from your experience of the different games you’ve looked at? Is it a common theme where it was a breakdown of communication? That was the issue rather than the? Obviously depends on on why someone’s called up. But as often often it the way it’s escalated due to the communication side of things, rather than necessarily the core issue itself.

Marion Ellis  16:22

People don’t complain about one thing. So for them to put something in writing, or to raise something, say, I want to make a complaint, um, you know, a lot of people don’t they say, can I just ask this thing has fallen off, or this thing is broken or whatever? Yeah, and that’s where you’ve got to say, actually, look, let me tell you my complaints procedure, but let’s deal with it, you know, you still got to be approached in the right way. But people don’t complain about about one thing, unless it’s a pretty serious, significant, this is just happened, you know, end of the world, and they will contact you about that. What they will do is say, Okay, well, this isn’t right. And actually, you know, what, that wasn’t right, either. And then they sit down, and they make a list. Yeah. And it will be everything from you said that you will call it three o’clock on Tuesday, and you didn’t to and there’s typos. And there’s this, and there’s that all the way through to there is this problem, you know, and so you always get a list of things. So, yeah, when you when you get complaints in, the first thing you need to do is triage, triage. What am I dealing with here? How much of this is an admin error? How much of this is, you know, service, something was delayed, something was annoying, and we can very often suppose disregard that, you know, you know, it’s a little thing. You know, that’s not important. Yeah. But it is, because it’s service and you’ve paid a lot of money and, and, you know, surveyors will always argue about fees, being more online, say put them up. But it’s not just about the money that’s been paid, it’s a resilient with your home, it’s about the fact that I put my faith and trust in you. And now, I don’t feel that was right, you’ve made me feel foolish, you know, I now feel vulnerable and at risk in my home, and you’re dealing with that emotion. So you know, the fact that you didn’t call on Tuesday, or did whatever, you know, is magnified times 10. In the in the customers and clients mind. So it’s important that you first of all, triage, what have you got what you did, and with how much is emotion, you know, focus on, instead of that, break it break it down, and you might find, you know, different parts of your business, you’re the admin might sort out something you will deal with something else, you know, but sort of really, really break it down, is key.

Matt Nally 18:52

I think that’s a very valid point. And actually, it’s, it’s how you go about it, it’s in it very important. The, if you go back with an aggressive or quite strong stance on something without empathising and understanding their perspective and emotions behind it. It sounds to sort of escalate it further, I think. And you’re going to struggle to resolve something to both of you start to get your backup about something rather than to soften things and look at it more, more objectively.

Marion Ellis  19:25

Yeah, I’m from a surveyors point of view, you know, from I suppose one to you, you’ve just had somebody criticise your work. And that triggers all sorts of things. You know, it triggers how good we feel about the work that we’re doing. You know, that that mentor you had 25 years ago, you said you were rubbish, means he might have been, you know, telling the truth. Yep. All those sort of things as well as how on earth could I have missed that? Or could I have missed that? Oh, you know, this is gonna cost me more money and I’m a small business and so you’ve got highly charged emotion landing on top of, you know, another spark if you like, and it just blows up and, and handling complaints and claims as a skill. You know, there’s a legal side of it of, you know, how you how you defend things, you know, but there’s, there’s a skill to it. And sometimes recognising that you’re not the best person to handle it. It takes some strength, but it also means that you get to have some perspective. And it can get resolved quicker. So, you know, surveyors having buddies that they can work with, or outsourcing it to somebody who can help is really can really help. But it’s very triggering for people. And I remember, you know, part of the thing that sort of made me think about failure and, and how I’m quite interested in that how we fail and why we why we fail. And when I was when I was doing lots of complaints that phone a surveyor up and say, look, we’ve got a problem with. And the first thing they would say nine times out of 10, is our ability knew that one was going to be a problem. And it was, it was because it should have been a level three, not level two, it was because the vendor was following the round or there was something going wrong, it was because it was during a time of a really difficult, you know, something that was going on in their life, there’s usually a something little niggle and surveyors don’t trust their gut instinct to either stop what they’re doing either to give something more attention to give the client a bit more attention to make sure the vendor is okay. Just sort of listen to that gut instinct that there’s something about this job and this work, that doesn’t feel quite right. Let me do a double check. And it’s not just the technical side of doing the inspection, it’s also the service around it. And, you know, the more you can hone and learn to trust your gut instinct, the better, you know, what tends to happen is surveys, approach it through fear. You know, so, you know, they might, they might speak to speak to a client who’s got 20 questions that they want to ask before they have a survey, like gut instinct will say, that client is hard work, I am not going to do work for that it’s a claim waiting to happen, when actually, they just want to know what you’re offering and how because you’ve not made it clear, you know, and so they might have difficult customers, when actually they could be your best customers and best advocates and rivers, you know, so it makes me laugh, honestly, surveys do that. But it’s okay, when it doesn’t work, you can do it. But when there’s not, you got to think again.

Matt Nally 22:46

It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? I think when you do something every day you forget what? what’s normal for you is something that’s completely alien for someone else. And so that process of getting a survey of it’s something you do every 20 years is, is nerve wracking. And yeah, you might someone who’s not confident with the process or stress with other things going on, will have a million questions. And they could, as you say, Be your best advocate afterwards, because they’re really pleased with how you handled their concerns and everything else. But I suppose the only other question I had that was around this part was the the buddy system you mentioned, are there ways people can find people that can help support them in those scenarios? Because I think the key is, as you say, to pause and not emotionally react to something because you will have that emotion come in straight away, obviously. So is there a way of handling that better? So you you have that pours, you prefer it to someone else or the ways you can find people to to help you with that in the industry?

Marion Ellis  23:44

I think it you know, it’s not just claims, it’s anything that comes into your business, you know, big bills or, you know, something happening, admins, quitting, you know, whatever our ICS getting in touch, whatever. I think it comes back to you being recognising you’re a business owner, not just a surveyor. And what I the work I do with my masterminding and consultancy is really thinking about what network of support you have. And if you think about a business, typical, you know, large business, they will have a board of directors you will have somebody who makes decisions, you will have a finance director, marketing sales, somebody who does HR somebody who looks at technical side of things and making sure all ticking all the boxes. You know you have a have a team of people around you. And when you work for yourself, you don’t you don’t have that you’re all of those things. And certain things start to, you know, get into a state of lack. So for example, sales and marketing. Well, I don’t need to do that because I always get word of mouth referrals as people say, and I get panel work. But when that dries up, you know you’re on the backfoot and you see people paying a lot for Google ads. ads or Facebook ads and, you know, quite erratic strategies. You know, when it comes to managing money in your business, people often don’t work, get their accountants to work better for them. You know, they don’t want to pay an accountant a lot, and it’s just, you know, just do the tallying up at the end of the year and do all my returns, when really you want somebody to act as a, as a financial director capacity within your business to help you manage cash flow. You know, cash flow is the thing that that gets businesses every time. So asking your accountant or your bookkeeper to help and support you to do a bit more on that side, and they are making decisions for you, but they’re giving you the insights and let you know how profitable you are and all of those things. You know, yes, there’s lots of sort of different things and different people that can that can support you. And, and when it comes to, you know, getting complaints seen, that is really hard. You know, there are very few people out there who are complaint handlers. And, you know, sometimes I help, you know, I help my clients with, with every sort of bits and pieces, you know, don’t necessarily write the letters for them, but it’s being a sounding board. And that’s mostly what’s what’s needed. And it’s a very difficult landscape for surveying, because we don’t talk about complaints. Insurers don’t want us to talk about complaints. There are no, there’s no data stats anywhere on, you know, this is the, these are the types of complaints out there. And these are the worst surveyors and all of those things. You know, there isn’t there isn’t that debt data for, for obvious reasons, but unhelpful reasons. To, you know, we don’t talk about the experience of it, of the mental health of having to deal with some of these things, it can take years, for some cases to be resolved, when the client comes back and says, and another thing, and another thing, and another thing, and I don’t think insurers, you know, personally help small businesses. You know, when a complaint comes in, the first thing they will say is, Tell us, tell us about it. You know, I was speaking to a surveyor recently, and the broker, it was a asbestos claim. They voted to their broker, and the broker took 10 days to come back. This is on a, you know, sale on a train 10 days of, you know, can you help me what’s going to happen? And they were quite unhelpful when they came back, you know, so it’s really important that you’ve got that that network of sounding board of people that you can talk to about it. Obviously, it’s got to be confidential, it’s where we’re trusted. Sort of safe circle. Yeah. But then also, I think the other side of it is then really understanding with your insurer and your broker, if something comes in, what do I do? At what point do I contact you? And my mind view would be, you know, it’s not, it’s a complaint, and it’s a claim is that it comes in, you triage it, you get a sense of what the problem is, you understand, get quotes, you know, do what you need to do, and then tell your insurer, but you can’t take forever to do that, because claims are on a claims made basis, it’s got to be, you know, registered with the insurer. So that if it does, you know, go off, at least it’s covered by the insurance that you’ve that you’ve got. So, you know, there are, I’m not saying you’re going to drag it out at forever. But I think that triage part, understanding what the problem is, and what some of the solutions are, are really vital. Now, some insurers will say, Well, we’ve got brokers, you know, we’ve got people that will do that for you. And some don’t, and some promise the earth, and you know, they’re not there to help at the end of the day. So I think it’s a real letdown, in that. We don’t have the support to handle claims better. Brokers, insurance don’t always help us handle them better. And if we’re not sharing feedback, information on how to be better, we’re just a cash cow. And it’s just feeding an industry and that’s not good for us and it’s certainly not good for consumers either.

Matt Nally 29:31

No, I think an interesting point you touched on there was building your team around you. But before something comes up, so you know, have your accountant they’re available to provide insights when you need them have I don’t know you know, what were processes with your your broker or insurer beforehand, you know, have a lawyer that you know, you can speak to in certain times if you need to, because if you’re scrambling to find that when something goes wrong, then then it’s much more stressful because you’re then trying to fit absolutely At least at the same time, and it’s a nightmare.

Marion Ellis  30:03

Yeah. And it all comes back to having a plan, you know, and thinking about, you know, where’s your business heading and what you’re doing. And at the start, most people are just won’t earn money and want to do this kind of work because I can do it and I will earn money. But you get to a point where you don’t love what you do. You know, you want to do different kinds of work, you don’t know how to evolve it, but you’re tied into the panel or, you know, you want to move away from valuation work, because a common one that I come across, get more private work, but you don’t have to attract private work or you know, all of those things. So there needs to be a plan in the background. And part of that is the what support do you need? And support can come in in different ways. So yes, it’s people, but sometimes it’s just educating yourself, you know, how does that work? What kind of tech is out there? What’s happening in the in the industry in the profession? You know, and that can range from anything from podcasts like this, which are really useful to people all the way through to, you know, attending courses, getting qualifications, or finding an accountant, that’s really helpful. You know, it’s a huge mix.

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