Episode 22 – Part 2 – Understanding your customers to provide better reports 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 2, we’re discussing how understanding your customers can help you provide much better reports. We cover:

🤝 The importance of communication and understanding between surveyor and client

🫶 Understanding client concerns and being supportive of them

👟 Being able to put yourself in your clients’ shoes

🤲 Providing a consultative approach, not a sales pitch

🥳 The importance of enjoying your work
💶 Understanding how to price your services to deliver quality reports


The following transcript is autogenerated so may contain errors.


Matt Nally 

I think, yes, topic two ties in quite nicely, I think with some of the things you mentioned in the first one. So ultimately, really, what we’re looking at here is how does being relatable and approachable helped you achieve better reports, but I suppose it ties in also to getting better customers or getting a better balance in your business in terms of what you want to achieve? How does, I suppose How does understanding your customer through being relatable, or being able to have that conversation with them help you achieve better reports? I suppose ultimately, it’s you, you provide a report that answers their questions, rather than just generic. This is the property

Marion Ellis  

We’ve got a framework of guidance on, this is what a report should include. But then minimum standards, you know, at the end of the day, you can, you can provide your client with whatever you want. So long as you meet the rules, you’re in charge of the service that you give your client. When it comes to the content, you know, yes, again, you know, there’s case law, you know, best practice mandatory things that you that you have to do. But it comes back to starting, you know, asking your client, why do you want to survey? Now, what do you know about surveys? Why do you want to survey? Who told you that might be be a good idea? Have you ever had one before? And then tell me what you’re worried about? How do you feel about this property? Are you anxious about the fact it’s got a, you know, flat roof or a dodgy conservatory? Tell me what you’re worried about? What would be most helpful for me as a surveyor to help you? And they might say, just tell me, it’s gonna be okay. And you say, I can’t tell you, it’s gonna be okay. But I can help you work that out yourself. And this is how I will do that. Yes. And that’s where you’re just tuning into to client’s needs, they just that kind of just want, you know, we talked about feeling reassured, you know, I’m sick of hearing helping you make an informed decision. Because there’s only one really, really part one part of it. Clients want to know that they’ve done the right thing and choosing you, they want a pat on the head. So always remember to tell them Well done, you did, you’re doing a good thing, getting a survey. Tell me your worries, okay, let’s address each of these, you know, in a year, we can do it in a really supportive way. And none of that none of that is about, you know, the scope of the inspection, you know, it’s helping them use the tool. And it’s really about setting the setting the scene, you know, this is they’re not buying an insurance guarantee. And that, where that where that gets difficult is, you know, people talk about it in that context. If you have no customer contact, and it just sails through and comes in your diary, the expectation is that it’s going to sail through back and they don’t need to talk to you. Whereas you’ve got to change that thinking and, and let them know that there’s a responsibility on their part. You’re buying a property, you’re having a survey, it’s going to help you, I’m going to help you use that to anything that that you’re not sure about, we’re gonna help you use it. But you’ve got responsibility to read it, you got a responsibility to understand it. And if there’s something that you don’t understand that we must talk about it. And it’s that expectation, you know, it’s it should be a non negotiable that if you’re buying from me, that we talk once I’ve done the inspection, and you’ve got the report, you know, I’m not going to be chasing you to to have a phone call and you can choose not to have one. That’s not how it works. We have one for my part, I want to make sure that you understand. And you’re doing that on a reassurance reassuring point of view. But on the other hand for yourself as a surveyor, you’re protecting yourself and your PII. You know, and it’s all part of that sweeping up, because it’s not a, it’s not completed yet. You know, so if there’s anything well, you can fix it, you know, before before you get to that stage. So you can approach it on a, you know, from a risk point of view. But also, really knowing your clients means you can tailor it and your reports may well be standard to a point but the service around it, you can you can tailor. And people often think that that takes time it takes money, you know, it doesn’t, because a claim can wipe you out very quickly. 

Matt Nally

Yeah, it’s a lovely way of reframing that initial start point, actually, in terms of the customer’s obligations in the process, and also really understanding their motives, because we’re very easy to understand, very easy to assume sorry, that if a customer’s come to you, and they’ve searched for a home survey, they know they need a home survey, they just need to understand exactly what includes and therefore they can work. But actually, that’s not necessarily the case, it might just be a for them a starting point, just trying to get a bit more info. I really like that reframing on how people understand it,

Marion Ellis 

I think something that surveyors need to do is to understand a lot more about, you know, the home buying and selling process. You know, we talked at the start, you know, not everybody buys and sells a house very often, surveyors certainly don’t, you know, not every surveyor can afford to buy a property, certainly early on in their careers. So you have to work extra hard to put yourself in the survey’s in the clients shoes as a surveyor, that’s a big ask, you know, you know, we think we’re doing that, but we’re not really, you know, because we’re, we’re very, in our head, thinking about the technical side thinking about our own businesses. And so it’s a bit big asked to put yourself in your, your clients shoes, and you might be a totally, totally different character, you know. And so you can’t necessarily put yourself in your clients shoes, and it’s thinking about the difference between sympathy and empathy. You know, I sympathise with you, this is really difficult. Whereas you’re gonna say, I understand this is hard, I understand it’s really difficult. You know, and so it’s, it’s, it’s having an appreciation of what people are going through, not necessarily putting yourself in their, in their shoes. And, and I saw that, you know, over the ages, my, my complaints and claims teams, you know, I had admin staff who, on average, you know, low salaries would never be able to buy a property. And they were dealing with valuation complaints on very expensive houses, you know, and it was a big ask, just to say care about this, you know, when they’re thinking, Well, I’m living in my spare room, my mom’s spare room for the next 10 years, why should I care about your 20,000 pound down valuation or whatever, you know, so. So you have to work hard to have a good understanding and appreciation of what people might be feeling and, and that’s why I do customer journey mapping with, with clients, what sort of work things through just getting people to think about situations. But also, then, you know, it’s not just buying houses, you know, as consumers, we buy all sorts of things. And if you think about a car, you wouldn’t buy a car without doing some research, you wouldn’t drive a car without a licence, or, you know, move from manual to automatic without someone showing you the buttons. And, and I, I did drive from Milton Keynes to Darby once many years ago with a new automatic car on my full beam. And I couldn’t work out to turn it off until I stopped. No one said anything, you know, what we need, we need those things. You know, and, and that’s why, you know, homeowners have a responsibility to but also we need to, to be there for them for them to and the contact the, you know, you can do a technical job, but you need to do it in context. And I think that’s really, really important. You know, as we as we’re recording this today, there’s a lot of discussion about upfront information, you know, surveys upfront that will totally change the landscape of residential surveying that, you know, in the UK, you know, they’ve got a system in Scotland, but does that mean people are getting better advice or not? I’d probably argue, argue not, you know, it would really change things. And so, you know, understanding what clients need means that you are alive to the opportunities and you’re not going to be caught in the churn. You know, so you’re, you’re you’re going to be there in an advisory role, which is actually what we’re they’re supposed to do not just issue out reports. You know? So I think I think understanding context is context is really critical.

Matt Nally

Something you touched on there in terms of context, then was, it sounded by, by going through the process with the customer of discussing what they’re trying to get out of it, it was more of a consultant consultant can’t say it, consultation versus consultative approach, there we go. Where you’re actually going through and understanding what the customer needs, rather than trying to give a sales speech about a level two or level one, level three, what the differences are, and we’ve touched on this before outside of the podcast, where as soon as you start talking about that, a level two is this level three is this, you end up in a comparison process with with other other firms potentially, because it is perceived as the same Is there any way you can handle that sales process to, I suppose, remove that, not really the competition, people will be thinking about others in the process, but it’s where you can focus more on the value aspect of your service, and tying in to what the customer is looking for. Rather than just being, you know, reading off the same list that other people might be reading off.

Marion Ellis 

It’s interesting, because when I talked to surveyors, and I said, you know, what value do you bring? To the work that you do? There are some that will say, Well, I help people with their homes and their lives and to get their kids in school, you know, on one scale, and on the other rates, when I do level two or three surveys, and I’m no different to anybody else. And they really struggle with it, what value do I do I bring? I would say, well, actually, you know, if I think about the the arguments that I sometimes see about the fee levels for surveys, and I come back to you know, it’s a minimum standard, at the end of the day, and a consumer doesn’t know why one building survey costs 500 quid or one costs 1500 quid. And you’d think it will be to do with level experience and expertise of the surveyor, but it’s not, you know, it should be that wish some of that was that, but it’s not, it’s about how somebody markets themselves, the offer, the way that they support clients, they believe they can charge more, and they’ve earned the right to charge more. And this is where as a small business owner, you’ve got to be working on your business, and understanding what you’re selling who you’re selling it to. And if you don’t like the word selling, take the word selling out, you know, but what’s the conversation? What’s the invitation to your client? What do you what do you help them with, and the more you work you can do on that, the better understanding that you will, that you will have of how you in particular, add value. You know, and, you know, just just think about some of the surveyors that that I’ve come across over the years, and, you know, some are really successful, because they churn it out, you know, they’re stuck in high Harlem, get them out, and things and others are just really considered over who they work with, they know who they can help, they know the kind of work that they enjoy doing. And I think that’s a really key part of enjoying your work. Because when you do something, you’re in your joy, you’re more positive about it, you know, you have that, that fears that buzz that energy about it. And that absolutely comes through, even in the most boring of technical reports, you know, because people work with people, at the end of the day, at the end of the day. So it’s about working on your business, understanding your clients, going through all of those different parts that can help you get to a point where you can tell a story about your business and about you and about why you do that work. And you’ll be able to see where you add value to your clients. But people don’t slayers don’t do the work on that. They don’t do the work, or they’ll pay a copywriter to write something simple. Yeah. Yeah, you know, my copywriter to do some stuff, you know, do some website pictures of the same pictures that have been downloaded from some free site. And you know, it’s alright to get you. Yeah, so right to get you to a point. But at some point you need to do to do the work or to get help to do the work.

Matt Nally

Yeah, that’s very interesting. I think one of the points I’ve got written here is being able to explain value to customers, but I suppose ultimately, how do you find perspective how do you solve their problems, which is what you mentioned in the LinkedIn titles really, which is one explaining, you know, helped you get into the right area or you know, understand the concerns versus I said level ones, two threes? I suppose that, I suppose changes the conversation around how the price you can get, versus just selling a product and then trying to see customers as cash cow effectively where you’ve got a different level of service in terms of one, two and three, you’ve got different upsells and tonnes of photos and report and so on. Does that, does that change how easily you can charge a higher price? If you were able to understand value better, rather than just trying to segment on level?

Marion Ellis 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you know, when it when it comes to, when it comes to charging fees, a lot of surveyors will have a fee scale, you know, on a spreadsheet, and this is what this is what I’ll do. If it’s a job that comes in, they don’t want to do they price it high. Whereas I just think just say, No, it’s not for you, and refer them to somewhere else, you know, they’re the worst jobs to do. And other times when your diary is really empty, you will have that race to the bottom on fee, and it becomes a loss leader. And they’re the ones not to do either, because you’ll get a claim on it. Because you don’t really want to do the job, you’re more likely to make a mistake, I know you’re gonna you’re not paid for it, and then you’re paying for it 10 times more. So the thing with with pricing is that we often look at what our competitors are doing, which gets us straight into comparison, ISIS, and you’re, you know, when you know who you are, you’re not competing, you know, so knowing who you are, what you offer to clients, and pricing accordingly, is really important. But I would start with, you know, from the number of weeks that you work a year, number of days that you work, you know, work back because your overheads work back that way. So what is the minimum that you should charge for a fee for a survey, or a day rate? What is the minimum that you should charge, and then look at ways that you can earn that money. And it’s thinking of yourself as not just churning out reports and surveys, but you’re offering consultancy, property, new surveying, consultancy to clients that includes a report and thinking about how you package that, you know, so you offer a package, which includes conversations before conversations afterwards meet out on site, if that’s what the you want to do when the client wants to do, and you get this report that you talk through, rather than here’s a report, which will be interpreted as an insurance guarantee, you know, so it’s really thinking how you offer what you offer. The other side of it, you know, is, is looking at your visibility and visibility plus credibility equals opportunity. And a lot of surveys are invisible. It’s not about being on social media and doing stupid tip dogs and whatever it’s about being where your clients are potentially hanging out. So it’s being visible, but that credibility piece isn’t about the alphabet of letters after your name. It’s being, you know, really clear of this is what I do, you know, I help downsizes finding new home, I help first time buyers, I help that expanding family because guess what, I’m a dad, and I’ve been through there at that as well trying to get a lot of conversion done. You know, it’s, it’s that credibility piece that says, not that I’m not just that I’m qualified. But this is the kind of stuff that I do day in day out, and I get it, and I’m here to help you. And this is how I will help you and this is what I charge. Now that we some people who just can’t afford it, when in which case, you can signpost them be as helpful as you can to a point. But you know, you’ve you will you want to think of yourself as a magnet, attracting the right clients rather than chasing the clients at every, every stage. So I think it’s a yes, that’s how I, I do it. And it’s how I advise my clients to think but it’s a, it’s a big ask when you’ve never done it before, you’re not going to do it on day one, when you’re not feeling very confident as a business owner and all of those things, but it’s bringing awareness to it. And learning how to do it is where you’ll get the good fees.

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