Week of May 4, 2009
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Customer Relations: What It Means, Why You Should Care

Home builder customer service representatives are about as well regarded as divorce lawyers, and I’m not talking about the one that represents you.

We think of customer service as a department that takes care of problems after closing, yet real customer service is so much more. Building a new home is a fascinating trip through a complex process, so let’s take a look at what we are up against.

First, a home is one of the last "hand-built" products left in the world.

In Colorado, where I live, we hand-build homes during September and April snowstorms that help make Colorado the ski capital of the world, and during July thunderstorms mixed with 100-degree heat.

We have expansive soils, temperature swings of more than 120 degrees on the face of a home during one day and a decreasing availability of first-growth material.

Although excellent quality materials and workmanship may have been used in building a home, this doesn’t mean that it will be free of defects or not need care and maintenance.

A home, like an automobile, requires care and attention from day one. Unlike an automobile, however, a home is not built indoors on an assembly line with special jigs and templates.

It has been estimated that a home is made of more than 20,000 individual pieces, each installed by hand. Even with all that is involved, achieving near-perfection would still require a 112-item walkthrough list.

And that is where the first rub comes in — setting proper expectations.

Most folks are pretty reasonable when they have been told to expect some difficulties, and they appreciate our efforts to solve those problems. Where we builders get into trouble is when we claim during the sales process that our quality is “the best” or that we “build to your satisfaction,” rather than telling our buyers the truth about how the process works.

After all, how can anyone deliver “the best” on a consistent basis?

We can almost graph the emotional roller coaster that a home buyer will experience and, in fact, I recommend using exactly that term to set the proper expectations. If we prepare our home buyers for trouble ahead along with the promise to work through whatever comes, their satisfaction will increase.

Home owner surveys consistently indicate a startling fact in our industry — regardless of the satisfaction rating buyers give their builder, they almost universally are happy with the home they purchased — even the buyers who give their builders low ratings.

How can this be? Very simply, it’s the home building process that makes them unhappy, not the home itself.

Not only have they been promised unreachable expectations, they are frequently kept in the dark about how their home is proceeding, the financing, the selections and many other aspects of finishing and delivering a home.

People who are not informed as things change almost always assume the worst. Then, if something unpleasant should happen, the trust is broken and they become suspicious of everything from then on.

We know how the home building process works, but our buyers do not. Even those who have owned several homes don’t remember all the steps and tribulations involved. To a home buyer, no news is really not good news.

So, what’s the lesson? Customer service is everyone’s job, from receptionist to warranty service person, and the key to that service connection is the sales process.

The salesperson needs to be the contact person who sets proper expectations and delivers consistent progress reports and news — both good and bad. We are the face of the company for better or worse and therefore are the key ingredient in how well our customers feel they have been served.

Furthermore, it is in our self interest to do this. Successful sales teams whose customers love them can get half or more of their new customers from referrals. And these sales are more easily made because the referral is based not only on the product, but on trust in the company.

If your company doesn’t have a customer service good process, it is manifestly worthwhile to create one with sales, construction, back office and warranty all involved in its design.

When times are tough the best tool we can have to survive and prosper is a solid base of home owner fans singing our praises.

Ross Robbins, MIRM, CMP, CSP, is an operations and marketing consultant with Shinn Consulting based in Littleton, Colo. He has been in the home building industry for more than 34 years, and currently teaches sales skills and management skills to builder clients around the country. He is a trustee and a member of the Institute of Residential Marketing and past chairman of the NAHB Sales and Marketing Council. For more information, e-mail Robbins, or call him at 303-972-7666.

This article originally appeared on the NAHB Sales and Marketing Channel.

Tax Credit Web Site Looks at Opportunity of a Lifetime

Builders and other industry professionals can help spur home sales by referring prospective first-time home buyers to www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com. The NAHB Web site provides detailed information on the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time home buyers included in the economic stimulus legislation signed into law by President Obama.

Consumers can use the Web site to find information on the tax credit – including a detailed question and answer section. It also includes information about other housing-related and small business measures in the legislation and a number of home-buying resources for consumers.

Spanish Version Also Available Online

A Spanish version of this increasingly popular Web site is also available to provide detailed information on the tax credit to Spanish-speaking first-time home buyers.

Industry professionals are encouraged to highlight either tax credit Web site when marketing to their potential first-time home buyer market.

‘Customer Service for Home Builders’ Available at BuilderBooks.com

Customer Service for Home Builders,” available through BuilderBooks.com, provides the tools needed to add new life to a customer service program.

The publication examines the sequence of a builder’s relationship with home buyers and shows builders how to initiate service and successfully manage customers’ expectations and experiences, instead of just reacting to issues customers raise. It also includes forms, checklists, documents and a resource guide.

To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.

Subscribe to Sales + Marketing Ideas Magazine for Cutting-Edge Information

For additional cutting-edge sales and marketing information, subscribe to NAHB’s Sales + Marketing Ideas magazine (www.smimagazine.com). 

Click here to learn about membership benefits of the National Sales and Marketing Council and the Institute of Residential Marketing.


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