Five Critical Stages to Effective Customer Relations
Home builders large and small often struggle when it comes to selecting the most effective way to manage their home buyers through the entire sales and construction process.
In stronger markets, many develop and rely on VIP and “grand opening/new release” lists for their customer contact and relationship building. Their goal is to generate quick sales at the time of lot release, so they use the lists to generate constant and repetitive communication with their prospects throughout the pre-sales, sales and production processes.
In weaker markets, successful builders often use specific follow-up communication strategies that keep prospects interested and their pipeline full.
Customer relationship management (CRM) is often used to describe the products, services and technology that help automate these vital communication processes. But CRM conjures up different meanings to different people in different industries.
To me, CRM is much more than simply having a Web site, e-mailing information to prospects and trying to get the customer to the point where they write a contract. That may suffice in retail sales, but writing a contract is only the beginning of the process of customer relationship building in new home sales.
Think about it, to effectively manage your relationship with your customers ― and your customers’ expectations ― can you really stop communicating with them at the time of contract?
You need to maintain an effective relationship for each customer from lead generation and prospect management, through the contract and selection process and past closing and the warranty period.
There are five critical stages in an effective CRM strategy for home builders ― a strategy that defines and develops each and every customer-facing process. Each stage must contain both business processes and software applications that are designed to work together toward a common goal.
Internal communication throughout these five stages, combined with external interaction with other transaction participants, such as a design center and mortgage and title professionals, help reduce operational redundancy and mistakes, increase customer satisfaction and directly impact the bottom line.
The five critical stages include:
- Lead Management — the process of getting potential home buyers into the sales centers through traditional advertising, marketing and Internet/new media technology. The goal of this stage is to generate leads and convert them into prospects by visiting the sales center.
- Prospect Management — the process of converting sales center visitors into contracted buyers. Follow-up sales strategy for active communities, waiting lists and future product release correspondence and communication, even sales center design and model merchandising are key components of this category. The goal of this stage is to turn prospects into buyers.
- Buyer Management — the process of electronically creating home configurations and spec homes, processing contracts, selections, options and change orders in order to save time and reduce redundant data entry from an operational perspective and keep production on the same page. From this stage on, managing buyer expectations is more critical than ever.
- Customer Service Management — the process of tracking and identifying quality assurance issues, customer communication and ensuring that expectations can be manageable and monitored for continuous product, vendor and installation improvement. The keys here are communication and expectation.
- "Customer for Life" — the process of maintaining communication with home buyers for them to become repetitive customers, customers for ancillary products and services and “raving fans” promoting word-of-mouth advertising, referrals and increasing customer satisfaction scores. If you are successful in the first four stages, this one is easy.
Mitch Levinson, MIRM, is the founder and principal of Mitch Levinson Consulting with offices in Atlanta and Chicago. The company provides technology, sales and marketing services to the real estate and construction industries. For more information, call Levinson at 847-259-7312, or visit the company’s Web sites at www.mitchlevinson.com and www.mlcnewhomemarketing.com.
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Visit the NAHB Sales and Marketing Channel, an online new home sales and reference center to help home building sales and marketing professionals expand their knowledge and build their skills.
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Get the Advantage at IBS
Plan ahead and take advantage of the pre-show courses offered Feb. 9-12 at the 2008 International Builders’ Show.
Pre-show courses are intensive day-long or multiple day programs designed to provide in-depth knowledge of a particular topic. Some of the courses may count towards an NAHB designation.
Courses for 2008 include “Lifestyle Merchandising, Advertising and Promotion Strategies (IRM III)” and “Understanding Housing Markets and Consumers (IRM I).”
For more information on pre-show courses, contact The NAHB University of Housing’s Office of the Registrar at 800-368-5242 x8338, or e-mail email@example.com.