One of the biggest mistakes any home builder can make is taking the user experience (UX) for granted. If you've read many of our articles, you know that at Bokka, we take a holistic approach to improving the home buying experience. From the first point of contact through the last warranty visit, there are many details that shouldn’t be overlooked in the home buying experience. As Bokka’s technical lead, I’m going to be taking you through a few innovations in technology and user experience that I believe the home building industry can learn from.
There's no question technology is rapidly changing the home buying landscape.
During this pandemic, every builder is now eager to try out the latest technologies, hoping to get an edge on the competition, or just stay in business. And one thing is clear, home buyers young and old want more tech in their home and in their purchasing process. As stay-at-home restrictions begin to loosen, it's still a time of uncertainty, especially considering the impact all of this will have on the economy. Now, more than ever, builders need to stay abreast of what digital tools appeal to today's home buyers if they plan to have a sustainable business model. Here are 5 such tools in action today that are improving the experience for users:
Example 1: Mercedes elevates their customer experience through augmented reality.
If you own a Mercedes, you probably know how personalized their apps and user experience can be. Take the Mercedes me connect app, which can start or unlock your car from anywhere and give you live information about your vehicle like fuel level, tire pressure, fluids, and more. Plus you can see your vehicle’s location, whether you’re in a crowded parking lot or across the globe. They’ve also integrated an augmented reality (AR for short) owners manual into the app. AR is a subset of technology that focuses on enhancing the way you interact with your everyday reality. With the Mercedes me connect app, users can point their phone's camera at various parts of the car to receive valuable information, like if the car part is due for regular maintenance.
The homebuilding industry can take advantage of similar technology in many ways. Like an open house model home where users can tour the home on their own and have every question answered without having to track down a sales associate. A user points their camera at a counter-top and the app pulls up a list of all the possible counter-top options. Or an existing home buyer can view their air conditioning unit and know what type of filter they need to replace (with a link to the product on Amazon). All of these things are possible, and many are already in use. It just takes a builder that's willing to make the investment.
Example 2: Treasure Hill Homes uses storytelling in a "Genius" way.
The beauty behind this example from Treasure Hill Homes, an award-winning builder in Ontario, CA, is part product and part marketing. Treasure Hill is an early adopter in the realm of eco-friendly building products and smart home technology. Dubbed “Genius,” every home Treasure Hill builds comes standard with Genius features like wall-to-wall wifi, smart home monitoring and integrated Amazon and Ring video monitoring functionality throughout.
You can demo all these features at Treasure Hill Genius, a micro-site that does an amazing job of telling a story. The micro-site uses clean design and subtle interactive animation alongside beautiful video and still photography to tell a story about what it’s like to live in a Genius home.
Having worked on the technical side of the industry, I’ve seen and built a lot of home builder websites. Oftentimes we cater to home buyers by providing them with the most critical and basic information about a home, for example square footage, beds/baths, and elevation/floor plan images. While this is important info for the prospect to have, it can come across as feature dumping, and lose its emotional appeal. Treasure Hill does a great job of enticing buyers by telling the story about what it’s like to live in a Genius home. By utilizing high-quality lifestyle photography and videography they are able to show how a family living in a Genius home benefits from the home’s features.
The cherry on top is that this storytelling is presented in conjunction with a virtual tour-style interactive website that allows users to understand all the technical features without becoming overwhelmed. It’s refreshing to see the story told so well with even the smallest details presented in an engaging way. Home buyers are thrilled with this type of experience. It helps them easily narrow their choice of builders, and visualize themselves in a home that is presented as a story rather than a spreadsheet. All from the safety and comfort of home.
Example 3: Albertsons offers genetic tests in grocery stores
Albertsons, North America's 2nd largest supermarket chain, has teamed with Genomind, a genetics testing company to provide in-store genetic testing. The grocery retailer’s pharmacies use the DNA results to provide users with medication suggestions that work better with their genetic makeup.
Technology now allows us to provide more personalized user experiences at scale without massive overhead costs. Albertsons is one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United States with 2,260 locations. The idea that Albertsons can provide an individualized service for its millions of customers is a testament to the power we can unlock with technology. Hopefully they'll be able to apply similar value through COVID testing as it becomes available.
A service like this makes for happier and healthier customers, which is exactly what fosters brand loyalty and repeat business. But how does this apply to the home building industry? Obviously it’s impossible for builders to determine a person's dream home based on their DNA sequence (although, it might make for a fun marketing gimmick, assuming you can convince buyers to give you a cheek swab) but there are a few important things we can take-aways from this example:
- First, personalization is at the forefront of customer experience. It would be a poor strategy to provide medical recommendations based on generalized attributes, like the color of their eyes or the hand with which they write.
- Next, it's important to get more information about the customer in order to provide a more personalized service. Builders can be using things like marketing automation, lead intelligence platforms, and home buyer surveys to get information about buyers that will make the experience better—in addition to generating more qualified leads.
- Finally, we should seek to improve the lives of our buyers in a meaningful way. While it may be nice to know who your ancestors are based on your DNA, having a better-tailored medication objectively makes people’s lives better. While most people would assume it’s the responsibility of the doctor to tailor an individual's medications, Albertsons took the initiative to identify and fix a broken piece of the healthcare system. I think many of us will admit our industry isn't known for delivering great customer experiences, but it’s up to us as builders to always be innovating to improve this process.
Example 4: Kaiser Permanente Provides seamless healthcare
Nobody would have predicted the global economy would be shut down by an invisible pandemic. Today we live in a different reality than we did just months ago. In the past, when you'd think of remote workers, you'd often think of the Instagram jet-setters living a dream life. But now, seemingly overnight, Zoom has become as familiar a term as Google.
Many in home building scrambled to launch virtual home tours and implement remote practices that would allow us to keep selling homes virtually. Prepared builders (who already had these practices in place) were able to capitalize on their investments while others scrambled to figure out the landscape. This is a situation where being an early adopter to online tools and remote culture paid huge dividends. Make no mistake, the COVID pandemic didn't create the digital home buyer. They were already here. It simply accelerated the trend.
In 2017, Kaiser Permanent announced they would be rolling out virtual visits to compliment their online tools for patients. On top of their educational tools for smoking cessation and nutrition, users are able to speak with doctors via chat, see the results of blood tests, pay their medical bills, order prescriptions and more.
In light of the pandemic it's easy to see the benefits Kaiser gained by enhancing their online customer experience. Even without a global health emergency, the benefits for Kaiser patients was clear. Gone are the days of follow-up visits a week later to review your blood test results with your doctor; waiting in line for your prescriptions at the pharmacy; or wasting your time physically going into the doctor about that headache.
Ultimately, the healthcare industry is utilizing technology to personalize and streamline the the way they provide healthcare—meaning patients get better care, more efficiently. This should translate into more patients served and more money made by companies offering these types of services.
Example 5: Builder Signal simplifies the communication process during construction
I don’t think it would be appropriate to call ourselves an experience agency and tell builders how to improve the customer experience without mentioning how we are doing our part. If you don’t know about Builder Signal yet, it's a communications platform that allows site managers to update buyers on the progress of their home. After our own internal research we identified key areas where we believe we can help builders improve the buyer experience.
Communication is one of the most important factors in delivering great customer experiences for our home buyers. We constantly hear things like: "communication was great, right up to the point that I signed the contract." Let’s face it, building a home depends on many factors, both human and heavenly. Having worked in customer service myself, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was that customer service is not simply managing customer expectations. It’s 1) listening to understand the concern of the customer, 2) communicating to them what you believe their concern is, and 3) repeating steps 1 & 2. This strategy often resulted in happy customers even when our products didn’t work the way they wanted them to.
Most home buyers understand that inclement weather can push back a construction timeline. However if we don’t show an eagerness to communicate the progress (or lack of progress) of the home with them, their satisfaction will plummet. We find, time and time again, some builders who grade themselves an A+ on communication get a C- or below from their buyers. Something as simple as a photo with a few words once a week can completely change a buyer's outlook on the building process and impact how the buyer reviews the builder online, and whether they will recommend the builder to friends.
Using a home builder communication platform in conjunction with customer satisfaction surveys gives a strong foundation for a customer-centric culture that can pivot and change based on actionable feedback and data.
Putting it all together
Hopefully reading about these examples will give you some ideas on how you can improve your customer experience strategy. By implementing customer-centric design and technologies you'll be able to gain an edge on your competitors and provide a better home buying experience that equates to more conversions, referrals, and positive reviews. If you would like to know more about how our team can help your implement such strategies, reach out to us today!