When we do Journey Mapping for Home Builders, we dig into data to identify the biggest challenges home buyers face when buying and building their homes. We frequently see the lowest point in the buyer experience during the construction part of the process. And if I were to ask what you think the number one cause is - what would you say? If you said poor communication, you'd be right. Of course, there are specific problems like supply chain issues, incomplete home deliveries, or weather delays. But the typical disgruntled buyer is unhappy because these issues were communicated poorly, if at all.
One can argue that at the root of all misunderstandings and misguided expectations is communication. How to communicate, when to do it, what method is used, and what information is shared factors into the equation.
Effective communication starts with listening with intentionality. As Stephen Covey put it in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit 5 is "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." We need to start communication with our customers by listening to their needs, aspirations, and concerns.
How Bad Communication Creates a Bad Experience: A Real-Life Story
While serving as Director of Sales for a customer service-focused builder, I would regularly attend closings with buyers. I did this to welcome them to the community, but also to learn about their experience building with us.
I recall one conversation in particular during a closing with a young married couple named Travis and Heather. We'd spent the last 6 months in construction and then came the magical moment of handing over the keys to their brand new home. This was Travis and Heather's first home. As the loan officer stepped out to make some copies, I took the opportunity to find out more about their experience. So I asked, "Would you mind sharing how communication went for you during the construction process?"
Travis perked up and leaned forward to answer the question. He said, "Paul, I have to be honest...the communication from Tammy, (the salesperson), was sporadic and sometimes just plain wrong. When there was a lot of construction activity, we heard from Tammy. When the construction process slowed, we never heard from her. We weren't sure what was holding things up.
"For example, Heather and I were visiting our home one Sunday afternoon. We were so excited to see that our cabinets were installed. The next day, we got an update from Tammy saying that our cabinets will be arriving this week and installed the following week. I mean, we were just there and saw them finished. If she didn't know about this, then what else was she telling us that was wrong? Needless to say, we lost faith in the communication from Tammy at that point, and spent more time driving by the home to see for ourselves."
The 5 Biggest Communication Challenges for Home Buyers
Unfortunately, Travis and Heather's story is more common than builders would like to admit. Without going into what went wrong from the builder's perspective, let's take a look at how this kind of situation affects the home buyer's overall experience.
- In general, communication during construction is inconsistent and oftentimes inaccurate and unreliable. This causes frustration and concern for home buyers.
- Buyers feel left out of the process which leads to uncertainty and unnecessary anxiety.
- Communication issues lead to a lack of trust, which causes the customer to micromanage during construction.
- The lack of transparency leads to missed opportunities for education and understanding, something buyers inherently desire.
- Buyers seek more understanding of the building process itself, and they often want to feel involved.
How Communication Created a Positive Experience
Fast forward now to another closing I attended (one of my favorite responsibilities as Director of Sales, by the way). This time I had a pleasant conversation with a move-down couple, Bev and Tyler. When I got around to asking the question about how communication went, Bev was eager to share her story.
"Thank you for asking Paul. Friday became my favorite day of the week this past 7 months. Not just because it's Friday, but because I knew I was going to hear from our salesperson Brian. Every Friday, without fail, Brian sent us emails with photos of the current activity of the home. Because we both live and work about 40 miles from the new home, it's really difficult for us to get by there as much as we'd like to see everything coming together. Brian knew this and kept us informed every week and we learned about building along the way from Brian's updates. This is why Friday was our favorite day of the week."
Communication Can Make Or Break The Customer Experience
Through attending closings and allowing your buyers to speak freely you learn a great deal about the experience you deliver. Through this exercise of visiting with hundreds of home buyers, I've personally found the number one pain point for buyers while buying and building a new home is the lack of communication during construction. Communication lacked consistency and accuracy resulting in a frustrated homebuyer.
You build trust with your homebuyers when you communicate frequently, especially when the building process slows. This is the time to over-communicate. Share with them how the permit process works, the inspection process, and the "downtime" involved, i.e. when you are waiting on materials. Help them understand it's an industry challenge not just isolated to your builder. Homebuyers get nervous when they see no activity, and with no explanation why, they frequently assume the worst.
When communication is good, you create evangelic customers, willing to share their stories with anyone ready to listen. When the communication is bad, you lose their trust and add unnecessary stress to an inherently stressful process. What typically follows is a firestorm of bad reviews. All of this can be avoided with good, effective communication during the construction stages of the home.
While visiting with over 400 home buyers at their closings, I've learned two critical things about communication.
- Home Buyers for years have desired more understanding of the building process. Builders would be best served to look for opportunities to share their expertise during your meetings with buyers. The more a home buyer learns about your process, the less anxious they seem to be during the build. Truthfully, buyers simply seek open communication. Don't shut them out.
- Current communication during construction is broken. It seems to lack consistency and accuracy for a variety of reasons. Whether the communication comes from the construction team or the sales team, generally we are not delivering what your customers are seeking.
R&D Shows Technology Can Improve Communication And Build Trust
While studying the buyer experience for decades, the Bokka Group went to work to find a solution to these communication challenges. The premise we started with was simple: buyers want more updates on the building of their home and more understanding of the process. We also learned builders, including both construction teams and the sales teams, are extremely busy when they arrive on site. From a construction standpoint, site managers have their hands full building homes and delivering homes on time. From a sales standpoint, their focus is primarily selling more homes and letting the backlog take care of itself.
So Bokka built an app called Builder Signal to solve the problem for busy builders. The app now has a track record of making over 15,000 buyers happy through effortless construction updates. Builder Signal also reinforces those behaviors you are hoping to see from your team of walking homes more often and being their resident expert.
Builder Signal: An App For Construction Updates
The Bokka Group developed Builder Signal as an easy-to-use app for home builders. It quickly became an essential communication tool used, providing construction updates to buyers wanting to see the progress of their homes. The app delivers photo updates, proactively, showing the current status of the home in real-time along with a description of what the home buyer should expect during each stage of construction. Each buyer gets their own shareable website showing the progress photos of their home as it gets built.
An extremely easy process, Builder Signal is equipped with a backend dashboard. So for the first time managers can monitor your team's communication activity, in real-time, on the platform.
And home buyers love the integrated personal website with a timeline where all photos and comments are collected in one place. Homebuyers no longer have to dig through 8 months of emails looking for that one framing photo when the home was almost complete.
Builders using the app tell us it brings more efficiency to their team and is a constant source of delight to their home buyers. Many builders even tell us Builder Signal has improved their survey scores and resulted in stronger testimonials and referrals. It truly turns one of your homebuyer's biggest pain points into a greater building experience.
Get Started with These Suggestions
So if you're looking for a way to create better experiences and more positive reviews, start by improving communication.
- Be proactive with your communication and share your expertise. Whether you use the app Builder Signal, or you use another method of communication, the key is to be consistent with your delivery and take ownership of the information being passed on.
- Another thing to keep in mind, don't just tell your buyers what you are doing, look for opportunities to educate your buyers. The more your buyers learn about home building, the more appreciation they will have for your efforts. You will find mutual purpose in completing the home.
- When construction activity slows (or even stops), keep your customer engaged with news about the community, area amenities and share with them your efforts and what your challenges are.
- Be more transparent. We have learned this has a positive impact on buyers' overall experience and in some cases, your buyers will show more empathy towards you and your efforts.
Give Builder Signal a try, it will bring efficiency to your communication, it will delight your homebuyers and it will have a positive impact on your survey scores. Send me a message and I'll set you up with a free trial. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or let's find time to chat, I would love to hear your story.