Take these steps to keep referrals up, customer trust high, and feedback positive
COVID has crippled some industries and been a rising tide for others. Fortunately, the home building industry has fared well during the pandemic, as people spent record numbers of hours in their now-too-small homes. Builders across the country are rejoicing as the increased demand continues to boost traffic and sales.
On the other hand, actual starts and production are frequently delayed and supply chain issues are often leading to construction problems, increased prices, and missed move-in dates.
These are relatively small problems for builders who can adjust pricing and schedules, and move on to the next house. But these are major problems for the average buyer, who sat on a waiting list for months, and now has extremely high expectations for the home buying and building experience.
Trust between buyer and builder is a fickle thing and creates a perfect storm for unhappy buyers taking to the internet to air out their frustrations.
As a builder, your reputation is often your only real competitive advantage in this age of hyper commoditization. And more and more customers are reading reviews online before setting foot in a model.
So what can you do to keep your referrals up and blood pressure down?
Fortunately, there are practical ways to maintain the trust of your customers and keep your 5-star reputation during these uncertain times. If you’ve spent any time reading reviews, you know the best stories come from buyers who face adversity but know the builder has their back the entire time.
6 Steps to Building 5-Stars
1. Set realistic expectations
This should be an obvious one, but it’s amazing how often it goes out the window in order to paint a rosy picture to get a sale. Instead of promising a date too soon, give a range. Better to under-promise and over-deliver whenever possible.
2. Be proactive with communication
The number one driver of dissatisfaction – and lack of trust – during the construction process is poor communication. Most builders know this. But many leave it up to the discretion of a salesperson (who is too busy touring and writing contracts) or a super (who is too busy managing subs and making sure they show up). This usually results in very poor updates, if any at all. On the other hand, builders who have a consistent process for providing photo and video updates – weekly at a minimum – see the highest satisfaction scores. Look into construction update apps like Builder Signal that make the process easier to manage.
3. Know your customers’ moments of truth
From the customer’s point of view, the process of buying a new construction home is an emotional roller coaster. The journey from first impression through final warranty visit spans an average of 1.5 to 2 years. During this time the customer interacts with dozens of people from 7+ departments with touchpoints measuring in the hundreds (yes, we’ve counted).
Although builder processes vary, every buyer will experience “moments of truth” or key peaks and valleys in the journey that matter most. Those high (or low points) are the ones they remember when writing a review about you, or telling a friend.
Examples of peak moments of truth for buyers:
- Standing on their selected lot imagining the view
- Walking into the kitchen for the first time and feeling the quartz counters
- Having their first family meal at the dining room table
Example of negative moments of truth:
- Feeling rushed to make design selections
- Pointing something out during construction and being talked down to by the super
- Walking into their home after closing and seeing trash or muddy footprints.
The important thing is to map your customer journey to identify your customers’ moments of truth. Then be intentional about celebrating the peaks while filling the valleys.
4. Provide the best possible digital experience
No salesperson wants to waste time giving tours to unqualified prospects. But that’s exactly what’s happening when we make buyers physically come to a model to experience the quality, design, options, and pricing of the homes.
A positive after-effect of COVID restrictions has been the resurgence of online tools, tours, and virtual appointments over drop-ins. These all make it easy for prospects to learn everything they need to buy from you before coming to a physical location.
Home visualization technology is becoming so good and affordable there’s really no reason not to have 24/7 online models.
5. Collect feedback along the way
Many reviews are written because customers feel that we’re not listening to them. Most of the time they’re right. The mechanisms most builders have for getting feedback are post-mortem. We ask about their experience after they’ve already moved in. This provides great data for future improvements but doesn’t help course-correct when an in-process customer is having a bad experience.
Again, some of the most trustworthy reviews come from customers who experience hiccups but feel like their voice is heard and respected. This is called a Voice of the Customer (or VoC) Program, and it’s your safety net for when things go wrong. Just make sure you’re prepared to act on the feedback.
Follow up immediately, and the customer will feel heard. Put it off, and they’re likely to get your attention by bashing you online.
6. Embrace reviews
This is a hard one for many builders. Reviews are powerful, and a small percentage of people choose to abuse that power. It’s every builder’s nightmare. But look at the disruptive industries that have been formed as a result of reviews. Self-service and online buying heavily rely on them. They provide a level of transparency into how businesses respond when things go wrong. And most importantly they build trust, assuming the company and products are indeed trustworthy. Forward-looking companies embrace the power of the review and use them as opportunities for continuous improvement.
Just don’t forget to respond to your customers’ reviews. Show that you’re human and that you care. Most builders have realized this by now, but it’s still surprising to see the number of negative reviews out there with no public response from the builder.
Why maintaining a customer focus is key
To build and maintain a 5-star reputation in home building is no easy task. There are so many things that can go wrong at so many different points in the journey. It was hard enough to keep the customer experience ship steady before COVID and its ripple effect on construction. Now that all boats have been lifted by the rising tide of consumer demand, it’s easy to put the customer experience initiatives on the back burner.
But it’s now more than ever that we need to focus on the customer. Taking a systematic approach to the things mentioned above will set us up for success in a post-COVID future.