Overall, the experience of buying a newly built home is unlike purchasing any other product your customers encounter. The closest thing might be customizing a new car to suit their needs and taste, but even that’s rare ... and carmakers offer relatively few substantive changes buyers can make. Cars are also built in a factory by robots, cost one-tenth the price of a home, and will probably be traded in for a new vehicle a few years later. Not so with homes ... or the homebuying experience.
Why Managing the Customer Experience Can Be a Challenge for Home Builders
For builders, several issues make managing customer experience (CX) challenging.
• The length of the process: The homebuying journey is a long process. Going from prospective homebuyer to the end of a warranty period can span several years. How do we focus on the key drivers?
• Personalization: Personalization is challenging. Most homebuying customers want to be involved in the process of personalizing their home, if not outright customizing it. They don’t realize the implications of making changes beyond what the builder offers. How do we satisfy that desire without blowing the budget (and probably the schedule) or making buyers feel like they’re getting a cookie-cutter home?
• Number of players involved: There are so many players involved in the home buying process. Between subcontractors, suppliers, and your own crews (much less code inspectors and utility providers)—each with their own schedules, supply chains, and other dependencies—communicating schedule changes and updates is difficult, at best. How do we keep customers properly updated about what’s most important to them?
• Interactions with untrained staff: It’s difficult enough finding workers who show up on time to build the house, let alone workers who have the people skills to deal with customers telling them how to do their jobs. How do we stay on top of hiring and training ... and make sure our customer-facing folks are available?
To effectively manage the homebuying experience, we must address these challenges, which can feel daunting. To make it easier, break the experience down based on customer expectations.
There are Two Types of Experience for the Home Buyer
We’re actually delivering two different experiences for most buyers: 1) building the home, and 2) living in the home, each with its own ups and downs along the journey.
Customer Experience 1: Building the home
In this part of the journey, our customer is partnering with us to build their dream home.
The highlight for most new home buyers is watching the build progress and seeing it all come together. They want to be proud of it because it’s a part of their identity. They want the world to see it and share in their accomplishment. They want to be able to say “I built this home” though they never touched a hammer. Understanding this perspective is critical to managing the roller coaster ride.
Many builders prefer to keep the customer out of the process as much as possible. They look at the ups and downs as deviations from their process. Ideally for them, it should be a smooth, level ride where everything gets completed on time and on budget, with no modifications and zero defects. But that’s not the world most of us live in.
There can be, of course, problems along the way: weather delays, broken windows, customization errors, or missing items during walkthroughs. How we address the problems will dictate the outcome of the customer’s experience.
Accept the ups and downs as part of the journey, and go through it with the customer as a partner. Sometimes it can be as simple as putting tape on a broken window and writing “New window ordered” knowing the customer will see it and not feel the need to point it out. Other times it might require coaching for departments to have a “one-team” mentality, instead of spreading blame.
Emotional Peaks to Maximize During the Construction Experience:
- Contract signing. Take the SOLD selfie.
- Design selections. Make buyers feel confident they made the right decisions.
- Celebrate dig day. Take “before” pictures. Imagine the view from the front porch.
- Communicate major milestones during construction with regular photo updates via text or using a construction-update app.
- Walkthroughs. Point out the great design and finish decisions your customers made.
- Closing. Take the KEYS selfie on the home's front porch.
- Move-in. Deliver an immaculate presentation of the move-in ready home. Make the final cleaning a big deal.
Valleys, or Problems to Watch for During Construction:
- Dirty job sites - especially after closing. It sends a strong message that you don’t care about their home.
- Wrong items installed. Maintain your “partner” mentality and focus on a resolution; don’t blame the buyer.
- Failed inspections. Educate and set expectations about their significance. It may not be a big deal to you, but it can be a trust-killer for customers.
- Punchlist walkthroughs. Take control of the painter’s tape so buyers feel like you caught the details they wouldn’t notice.
- New-home orientation. There is a lot to cover, so don’t rush through it or overwhelm buyers.
Customer Experience 2: Living in the Home
Now they actually get to experience the home they dreamed about. They want to know you still care about them and stand behind the home you spent so much blood, sweat, and tears building together. They want reinforcement they made the right decision by choosing you as their partner.
This is the #1 thing builders get wrong with customer experience. For many production builders, the bottom line is centered around building homes vs. servicing them. Often this means investing in a “zero-defect program” to minimize the risk of repeat service calls that eat into margins. But this is the opposite of what the customer expects.
After a whirlwind orientation, many buyers forget much of what they learn about the operation of their home, and when something goes wrong they feel panicked.
They need someone to turn to that will listen. Yet it’s common for builders to force homeowners to submit their requests online, making it difficult to talk to a real person about their concerns.
The solution: make it ridiculously simple for them to tell you what’s wrong. And allow them to send you photos and videos.
Emotional Peaks to Maximize During the Warranty Experience:
- 30 days after move-in - send a gift introducing warranty personnel
- When a customer calls with a problem - respond instantly. This shows you care about the home you built.
- Service visits - overcommunicate appointment schedules, including text confirmations and real-time updates on arrival times.
- Warranty walkthroughs - be proactive in making a list and scheduling work to be done.
- At the end of warranty period - make a phone call to personally ensure all items are complete and the customer is satisfied.
Valleys, or Problems to Watch for During Warranty:
- Setting warranty expectations - make sure the customer is informed early about what’s warrantable and what’s not
- Post-close carryover items from final walks - make these a top priority, or risk the customer feeling like the home was never “complete.”
- When a customer submits an online service request - make sure the forms are user-friendly. Include a phone number and email address as well.
- When an irate or frustrated customer calls about a problem - show empathy and understanding. Take the time to listen.
- When trades or vendors miss an appointment - be hyper-vigilant with scheduling and follow-up. Otherwise, they can ruin your reputation.
Managing the experience during the warranty stage is done through efficient communication and quick resolution.
Bonus Tip: Collect Feedback Often
It’s always a good idea to collect customer feedback after every service completion with a simple question: “How easy did we make it for you to resolve your issues?”
For most production builders, these are the common moments that matter during the roller coaster ride of CX. If you have a company-wide focus on maximizing these peaks and mitigating the valleys, you’re sure to improve your reviews, referrals, and survey scores.