The Power of Positive Reinforcement
Creating a customer-centric culture doesn't happen overnight. It's a process that starts with a commitment by everyone in the organization to put the customer at the center of everything they do. For many home builders, a cornerstone of that process is the survey program. When done properly, this program gives each of your customers a voice. In other words, it’s a Voice of the Customer program, or VoC for short.
As a builder, your VoC program sits at the crossroads of gathering customer feedback (external focus) and achieving business results (internal focus). Customer feedback identifies pain points so the team can take action and improve the customer experience. Regularly reviewing survey results with individuals and departments will naturally encourage the customer-centric behaviors you want from your team.
Savvy builders frequently take the additional step of developing programs that intentionally shine a spotlight on employees making positive impacts on the customer experience. The customer has reaped the benefits of a great experience (based on their positive feedback). Leveraging it in an employee recognition program impacts employee motivation, job satisfaction, and retention; and accelerates progress toward a culture that separates you from your competitors.
Move Beyond Financial Incentives
Financial incentives have long been a "go-to" for homebuilders. They help align individual employee goals with company goals, frequently around the metrics of sales, revenue, or profitability. Bonuses, commissions, additional compensation, and the like can be very effective motivators. However, those achievements are not always widely publicized to the entire team and are seldom tied to the customer experience. Even organizations that implement company-wide profit-sharing programs based on CX benchmarks (Net Promoter Score, willingness to refer, etc.) tend to keep the team's focus on the dollars... not the customer.
Emphasize Learning Over Earning
Builders that reward employees with financial incentives can sometimes have the unintended consequence of the focus becoming about "hitting a number" over listening to the customer. The goal of your survey program should be to improve every customer's experience and create better experiences for future customers. It's a bad sign when sales or field personnel want to debate survey scores or request adjustments to their customers’ ratings. They have clearly become conditioned to see survey results in terms of dollar signs. This defeats the purpose of a meaningful survey program: which should be to learn from your customers and deliver the best possible homes and experiences.
Celebrate Your Champions!
In addition to financial incentives, recognition programs are a great alternative to give your team positive reinforcement. These are designed to boost employee morale and engagement with their careers by celebrating employee achievements and contributions. These frequently take the forms of public acknowledgment, certificates, trophies, and special privileges, to name a few. Unlike financial incentives, recognition programs are widely-visible throughout the organization. These are the champions we're holding up for everyone to see and ideally for all to emulate! And when tied-to customer survey feedback, the team's focus shifts from "just the numbers" to hearing example after example of tangible ways employees are making a difference in the lives of their customers, and getting the recognition they deserve.
The More the Merrier
Setting the bar on your CX data as the basis of your recognition program is both an art and a science. If launching a brand-new recognition program, start with an inclusive strategy that rewards multiple achievers, but not so many that the value of the recognition is diluted. The size of your organization, the number of staff within your departments, etc. will also guide your decision on where to draw the line. Analyzing your recent CX results will help you find the sweet spot that achieves a good balance for who does and does not deserve recognition.
Creating an Effective Recognition Program
Here are some guiding principles to consider as you build out your recognition program.
- Frequency. Quarterly or trimesters are best –not too long and not too short. Ideally, the duration will allow for the majority of your team to receive enough customer surveys that fairly reflect performance. If a 6-month timeframe accomplishes that goal, that’s fine too. Annual timeframes have the least impact, as too much time has passed between the desired behavior and the recognition.
- Objective measurements. Make calculations on quantitative data. This eliminates subjectivity and helps deter any natural-occurring bias that may exist about an employee or group of employees. This is not to totally disregard qualitative data. Customer comments are an excellent resource to include when publicly presenting an employee's recognition. Reading words of praise directly from the customer is a powerful way to underscore performance excellence.
- Alignment. The criteria should flow naturally from the key “job scopes” you set for the teams. Sales team (communication, follow-through, accuracy, etc.). Field team (delivery condition, quality, schedule performance, punch-list carryover, overall Net Promoter Score, etc.). Warranty (quality of work, arrived on time, resolved issues in a timely manner, etc.).
- Teams. Delivering a great customer homebuying experience is seldom a one-person job. It takes a collective effort from the customer-facing team and frequently includes many others. A well-rounded recognition program should always include team-based awards. Community or departmental awards are a great place to start.
- Simplicity. Make your program easy to understand, implement and manage. After you've defined your standards, build a report from your customer data that puts the information at your fingertips. If it takes longer than a few minutes, you might want to reconsider the tools you're using to gather customer feedback and display the results.
- Education. Announce the program and how teams and individuals will be measured. Give equal emphasis to the "why" the criteria have been selected and not just the “what.” Regularly review your program with your team and include an overview in your employee handbook, new employee onboarding tools, or similar documentation to account for the natural churn of staff turnover.
8 Creative Ways to Celebrate Employee CX Achievements
- Host a “President’s Club” dinner. Celebrate the individuals and teams that hit their milestones with a recognition dinner hosted by the leadership team. Consider inviting the recipient’s significant other to recognize the sacrifices that top-performer families sometimes make. Acknowledge the employee with a commemorative trophy or plaque, and surprise the spouse/partner with a $500 gift card to acknowledge their sacrifice. Be sure to incorporate customer survey comments into your award presentations, and don't be surprised if there's not a dry eye in the room by the end of the evening.
- Display customer satisfaction scoreboards in prominent office locations. Show key results by company, division, community, and individual performers. These can be simple whiteboards that are updated regularly or digital monitors that display results with real-time updates.
- CX Wall of Fame. Print out customer survey comments, letters, or emails that express appreciation for individuals or teams. The collective impact of displaying the great testimonials earned over time can be huge, whether formally framed or casually pinned to a bulletin board.
- Distribute digital copies of surveys that demonstrate exemplary performance throughout the entire organization, using the “Company All” email address.
- Print out physical copies of particularly positive surveys where customers have praised individuals by name. Pass them among the leadership team for a personal note of congratulations and thanks, and hand-deliver them to the appropriate staff.
- Company and Departmental Meetings. Incorporate time to honor award recipients in the context of regularly-scheduled company or departmental meetings. Consider commemorating achievements with plaques, trophies, desk clocks, certificates, or even an extra PTO day to spend with family or in community service. According to the O.C. Tanner Institute's 2023 Global Culture Report, "Employees are 3 times more likely to remember a recognition experience if it involves a symbolic reward."
- Daily focus. The Ritz-Carlton implements a daily approach to reinforcing what commitment to excellence looks like. "The daily line-up," as described by Diana Oreck from the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, "is the most important vehicle we have at Ritz-Carlton to keep culture alive. Every single day, 365 days a year, three times a day (because there are three different shifts) we have our line up and we cover the 16 principles that are central to our service culture in rotation.” The leader of the daily line-up reads one of the standards and shares a story or reads customer feedback to shine a spotlight on CX excellence. Just 10 minutes a day.
- Not all successful recognition programs are specifically tied to CX survey results. At Wayne Homes, their Blue House Awards program gives employees and partners the chance to recognize one another for exceeding customer expectations. Extending recognition outside of the organization is a great way to focus everyone involved with your customer on delivering the best possible experience.
A great pathway to deliver outstanding customer experiences is to ensure your team understands the role they play in the customer journey. Your customer experience hinges on their attitudes and actions. A recognition program based on customer feedback motivates employees to achieve their CX goals. The customer enjoys a better product and a better experience. Employees feel valued and appreciated. And the organization achieves business results. Ultimately, everyone wins.