Your construction software may be good at scheduling. But is it good at keeping customers happy?
A few months ago, I was leading a design-thinking program called Skunkworks, after Lockheed Martin’s super-secret innovation program. An important (and fun) part of Skunkworks is to observe home builders and buyers “in the wild” to better understand what motivates them.
During our research, we interviewed Nick, a field supervisor for a regional builder, to see what his challenges were. Nick’s dad owns the company, and he’s been on job sites with him since he was a kid. Nick was quick to point out that one of the biggest problems facing him as a builder is communication with buyers during the construction process. Without good communication, he has buyers regularly sneaking onto job sites.
Trust is high when home buyers get regular construction updates
When we asked how this impacts the customer experience, Nick responded: “Communication is everything. I have some buyers that want construction updates 3 times a week. Others are more hands-off and only want to know when something is wrong or the schedule changes.”
“But mostly, people need to be reassured that their house is on-track. It’s a trust thing.”
When asked what construction software he uses to provide updates to the buyers, he just laughed. “Our construction software doesn’t help with that. It’s great for managing resources and updating timelines, but there’s no way we would use it to communicate with our buyers. It’s way easier to just pick up the phone and call.”
Nearly all builders suffer from construction communication problems
Nick’s not alone. At Bokka, we conduct Journey Mapping workshops with builders where we dig deep into what drives customer satisfaction, and construction communication is always at the top of the list. For smaller custom builders it’s easier to manage. The buyer usually has a direct line to the company owner, which keeps confidence high. If “Betty Buyer” drives by and sees there’s a cracked window, she can just call the President and get reassurance immediately that a new one is already on the way.
Construction field workers aren’t well-equipped to deal with the customer
It’s different for the regional/national home builder. In this case, it’s much harder to get someone on the phone that actually knows what’s going on. This person may be able to answer some questions, assuming they have access to the construction software, but that information isn’t always up-to-date. The Construction Supervisor is the one that knows what’s going on, but he’s carrying 8 or 9 other houses in his workload. And his top priority is making sure his crew shows up to do the work. A cracked window is at the bottom of his list of priorities (right below talking to a frustrated customer like Betty).
These are real problems for home builders. A cracked window is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It will certainly be fixed well before Betty moves in. But coming back to Nick’s point – it’s a trust thing.
Without joy and confidence, things can get ugly
In our buyer research, both with the Skunkworks program and the Home Buyer Conversion Report, we’ve found the 2 most important things missing from the home buying experience are joy and confidence. And it’s confidence that matters most. If you’re a builder, then you’re all-too-familiar with the customer who has “gone off the rails.” In other words, something (or things) happened somewhere along the journey that caused the buyer to be so disenfranchised with your company. Maybe even to the point where they can’t be made happy again.
The reasons always vary. Bob goes on vacation, and his replacement drops the ball. Or the Cliffstone exterior is no longer available, and the buyer is last to know. Or maybe the closing date gets pushed due to weather. Stuff happens. These are complex homes we’re constructing. Something is inevitably going to go wrong.
But for Betty, it’s not the cracked window that causes her to go off the rails. It’s the lack of confidence. When she called, you didn’t even know about the window. In her mind, what else is happening that you don’t know about? So she starts coming on-site and micro-managing. It’s her house, after all. At this point, she’s looking for things to go wrong. And this continues all the way through closing. When it comes time to write a home builder review of your company you can bet it’s not good.
Research shows proactive communication leads to increased customer satisfaction
Research from Forrester shows that proactive customer communication leads to overall customer satisfaction (not to mention increased revenue and efficiency). The study, titled The Untapped Benefits Of Proactive Customer Communication, concludes that “Proactive communication empowers customers to define when they want, how they want, and where they want to be contacted with notifications during the customer journey.” As builders, we take a very reactive approach to communication. But we need to be proactive.
Sara Lambert wrote a great article along these lines about the importance of proactively collecting customer feedback during the buyer’s journey. While we know collecting feedback is critical to understanding how the buyer feels, we also need to be proactive with updates on the construction of their home to keep their trust level high.
Why it’s difficult to provide regular construction updates to home buyers
It’s complicated. For example, who should be responsible for giving the buyer updates? Sales seems to be a logical answer since they’re trained to build relationships with the customer. I’ve seen some builders do this with moderate success. But it’s not scalable. It means a salesperson is spending an entire day out of every week driving around taking pictures. Then it requires going back to the office and sending construction updates to recent buyers. This can present a problem since they get paid to write contracts, and they don’t always know what’s going on at the job site.
So why not have the Construction Manager give the construction updates?
This actually makes the most sense since they’re the most informed and empowered person on the job site. But going back to our example above, they don’t have the time or the patience to dedicate to this “customer service” task. They get paid to make sure homes are delivered on time and with minimal defects.
Most construction software is failing the customer.
At this point, you’re probably thinking “there must be construction software that gives the buyer updates on their home.” This is exactly what we thought when we asked Nick about it. In fact, some of the builders we did Journey Mapping for even said their software had the ability to give the home buyer construction updates. So we asked, “why aren’t you using it?”
The answer was the same as Nick’s. “It’s too cumbersome. Our field guys are too busy to mess with it.” Some builders gave the feature a shot, but then turned it off because the (inaccurate) timelines were scaring the customers, making things even worse.
The building industry needs a better solution for providing construction updates to home buyers.
This was the conclusion the Skunkworks team came to after the field research. So the team set out to prototype a solution to test with select builder participants. The early prototypes of the construction update software proved that its a viable solution, but only if it met the following criteria:
- The interface needs to be uber-simple, and fast. Sending an update should take seconds.
- The construction updates can be created and sent directly from the job site
- The construction update software needs to work on mobile
- The construction updates need to be visual (photos)
- It needs to work in areas where there’s no cell service or wifi
The goal of Skunkworks is to innovate new products and test the viability of them for development by the Bokka team. With that completed, we quickly ramped up production of the Homebuyer Communication Tool – which was then renamed Builder Signal.
Builder Signal: construction software that’s simple to use to send home buyer notifications
Now in Beta, Builder Signal is the best construction updates app available for proactively sending updates to home owners. It’s simple to use, and from a value standpoint, is the most affordable way to instantly improve customer satisfaction. For the construction team, updates take a few seconds, and they’re back to work managing job sites. For the home owner, they’re instantly notified when an update is sent. And they’re stored in a visual timeline of their home’s progress on a web site they can share with family and friends.