Satisfied Customers Key to Success in Down Market
At last month’s International Builders’ Show in Orlando, winners of Builder magazine's America’s Best Builder Award shared their thoughts on what qualities make their companies stand out.
Jeffrey Abraham, CPA, and chief financial officer of Touchstone Homes, a $90 million company and an industry leader in the Atlanta market, cited customer satisfaction — a commodity that can’t be solicited and must be earned — as the factor behind his company’s win in the award’s larger volume category.
“If they (home buyers) do not have an experience that equals or exceeds their expectations, we will lose future sales,” he said.
The best way to achieve customer satisfaction is to provide an open line of communication between the buyer and the builder to address any concerns the customer may have during the buying process, said Abraham.
“Customer satisfaction is driven through our quality assurance department and that department reports directly to the president of the company,” he said.
Touchstone surveys its customers 30 days after closing and again 11 months after closing. The surveys are conducted through independent outside firms to ensure that customers provide more candid responses.
“We use this information to change our products or designs in order to continue to meet our customers’ expectations,” said Abraham.
Since implementing its quality assurance department, Touchstone Homes has achieved a level of customer satisfaction that is well over 90%, which is critical to being able to obtain referrals.
Design Studio a Successful Closing Tool
As part of its marketing efforts, Touchstone uses its model home sales centers to demonstrate the products and features of its homes. This includes a 5,000-square-foot design studio to show customers a variety of personalized upgrades that can go into their homes.
“The design studio is an important part of our sales process,” said Abraham. “It allows us to display and demonstrate options available to the home buyer and more importantly allows the customer to see them, touch them and feel them. This has been a successful closing tool for converting these prospects into actual sales.”
In today’s market, Abraham said that builders need to think outside of the box in order to bring customers to their door.
“We advertise on billboards in our market. The billboards say ‘Live Free for Six Months’ and include our Web address,” he said.
Location and Design Are Key
Stephen Rolston, president of Land Ark Custom Homes based in Stittsville outside of Ontario, Canada, said that location and design are keys to his company’s success.
“We have a two-acre niche market. If you can out-market the competition, you can outsell them,” said Rolston, whose firm was the recipient of Builder magazine’s 2004 America’s Best Builder Award.
To achieve a “wow” factor, Rolston said that curb appeal must start right at the entrance of the community with the exterior of the sales office and the exterior of the model home.
“If people don’t find that to be really appealing, really sensational, we don’t feel that they are going to even drive up the driveway and come in and ask us for a brochure or additional information,” he said. “So one is the land and two is the design of that all-important first model home.”
Land Ark has 10 basic plans that allow home buyers to customize a minimum of four front elevations and an unlimited number of floor plan modifications so that everyone can feel like they are customizing their home.
In a down market, Rolston said, you can’t cut your sales and marketing budget. “We are in the top 25% because we spent a lot of money on marketing and advertising,” he said.
Direct newspaper inserts help in his market, Rolston said, but a one-shot deal won’t work. “They have to be spread out over a two- to three-week period to be effective. We always include information on our Web site. We also targeted soft rock radio stations and had great success in this area.”
Another selling point is giving customers a hard copy of a home owners’ manual upfront in the sales process, not after the sale closes. “This makes sure they know that any questions they have about the buying process or home will be addressed,” he said.