Avid Ratings Blog

2018: A Year to Remember for Avid Ratings

by Paul Cardis

Happy 2019! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are enjoying the beginning of the new year. While I’m excited for everything 2019 has in store, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on significant milestones that took place over the past year.

In 2018 we…

1. Closed on additional funding to better support YOU.

Last fall, we closed on $6 million in new funding, which we’ll use to expand our workforce by up to 100 people over the next two years and bolster our ability to support builders with new tools and technology. These new capabilities will allow builders to respond faster and smarter to customer feedback. The result? Enhanced customer loyalty and closing rates for homebuilders like you. (Check out press coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal, MarketWatch, Milwaukee Business Journal, and the Calgary Sun.)

2. Partnered with KB Homes as they built the smart home of the future.

Last year, we lent our expertise to the KB Homes ProjeKt: a full-scale prototype of a smart, sustainable home that may become a reality within the near future. This Nevada home is the first of its kind and features technology and gadgets designed to make the lives of its residents easier and more enriching. Read more about it in USA Today, Business Wire, and Builder.

3. Served our community by supporting nonprofits HomeAid and Homes for Hope.

In early 2018, we announced our partnership with HomeAid: an organization that builds houses for charities sheltering the homeless, giving them solutions to get back on their feet. We also began a partnership with Homes for Hope, a nonprofit that works with builders and trade partners to build and sell aptly named “Homes for Hope,” the proceeds of which are used to fight global poverty.

4. Presented at a number of national events, sharing our knowledge of customer experience management to help fellow homebuilding industry professionals.

In January, we presented at “Sales Central”: a sales and marketing workshop at the International Builders’ Show (IBS) in Orlando that drew thousands of attendees. We also had the opportunity to present with Meritage Homes and KB Home, and were honored to speak to our industry’s largest homebuilders at the PCBC Leader-to-Leader Forum in June.

5. Won a few awards… and gave out some of our own!

This past year, we were thrilled to be awarded a Constructech Award and a Techhome Brilliance Award, both of which honor companies that have applied innovative technology to the construction / homebuilding industry. We also gave out a few Avid Awards of our own, recognizing homebuilders that provide the best customer experience in the industry. This year, we created spotlight videos for all of our clients that won — find them here.

6. Saw Google ban “review gating,” which encouraged businesses to focus on improving CX.

In April, Google began to ban companies that practiced “review gating,” or selectively pushing only positive customers into its review platform. In doing so, they pushed the business community to respect the integrity of customer reviews and to avoid unethical practices. This milestone also saw more companies focus less on “gaming the system” and more on improving customer experience.

In addition, we grew our executive team by four, bringing on new talent that will be critical to enhancing our product and driving innovation.

As we look forward, we couldn’t be more excited for what the future will bring. Be on the lookout for platform enhancements that will help you connect with your customers and improve their experience with your organization to an even greater extent.

Go forward,
Paul

Want to Improve Customer Experience? Focus on Employee Satisfaction

by Paul Cardis

“Take care of associates and they’ll take care of your customers.” -J.W. Marriott

If I asked you how you could improve your customer experience today, what would you say? Would you guess that employee satisfaction plays a key role in how your customers experience your brand?

By now, the link between employee satisfaction and customer experience is irrefutable. According to Forbes, which has called employee engagement the “wonder drug for customer satisfaction,” companies that lead in customer experience have 60% more engaged employees. Another impressive statistic? Workplace Research Foundation reports that employee engagement programs can increase profits by $2,400 per employee per year.

It makes sense. Satisfied employees are pleasant and engaged during customer interactions. They’re more helpful and willing go out of their way to solve customer issues. They feel connected to the brand, and are careful to portray it in a positive light. In sum, employees that feel engaged, trusted, and empowered will deliver the best customer service, ultimately improving the customer’s overall experience with the brand.

As for how to improve employee satisfaction — how to make employees feel engaged, trusted, and empowered — start by identifying the factors that play a role in their workplace happiness. Most likely, an employee’s relationship with their manager will significantly impact their level of contentment, as will their compensation. Make sure that your management team is skilled in leading others, and that your compensation package is competitive within the industry.

To improve employee satisfaction, I also recommend you go directly to the source. Ask your employees what your company can do to better serve them. Not only is treating your employees well the right thing to do, but it will also benefit your business in the long run.

Go forward,
Paul

Customer Experience: More Than a Cookie and a Smile

by Paul Cardis

What do wildly successful industry disruptors like Amazon, Starbucks, Tesla, and Apple have in common? They’re all built on a cornerstone of providing an exceptional customer experience. Customer experience, or CX, is all the rage in today’s corporate world, and for good reason. Without it you’re simply providing a product or service, which won’t be enough to excite today’s experience-hungry consumer.

What people fail to understand is that good CX does not have to be “perfect” CX. In fact, I can think of many examples of companies who have made mistakes or failed their customers in some way but still have a strong CX, which is enough to overcome their shortcomings. The key is the total amount of CX you offer, not whether or not it’s perfect.

For example, have you ever had to wait in line for a Starbucks coffee? I certainly have. In fact, every time I pass a Starbucks, whether it be near my office or at the airport, there’s a line at the drive-through or inside the store. Long lines are a major imperfection of this great company, but consumers overlook this flaw and continue to spend more and more money on their overpriced — but worth it — morning coffee. Now, Starbucks didn’t invent coffee or coffee shops, but they did revolutionize CX around coffee, creating massive wealth in the process.

Thinking about CX in other industries has led me to reflect on CX in the homebuilding industry. Why is it that homebuyers become incredibly upset when we inform them of a delay or let them know that something was installed incorrectly?  Why don’t homebuilders get the same level of forgiveness and tolerance that coffee drinkers around the world extend to Starbucks?

The answer? Our industry’s overall lack of CX. Without a doubt, a renewed focus on CX could carry the homebuying experience to a new level: a level that’s impervious to smaller imperfections. As an industry, we’re not there yet — but here at Avid, we’re working to provide our customers with insights that will help them reshape their CX and grow their business.

I’d like to invite you to contact our wonderful Client Success Managers at clientservices@avidratings.com to ask for a complimentary webinar on CX. Our team will schedule a time to share best practices that will ultimately strengthen your business.

Go forward,
Paul

 

The Power of Big Data in the Homebuilding Industry

by Paul Cardis

“Big data.” It’s been a buzzword since the early 2000s, but the homebuilding industry is just starting to wrap itself around the concept. What is big data and why should you care about it?

In essence, big data contains what Oracle calls the Three Vs of Big Data: a greater variety of data in increasing volumes and with ever-higher velocity. This means that big data is just larger, more complex data that one can use to make more insightful observations and takeaways. So, why should you care about big data? The answer is this: harness it, and you’ll be that much closer to achieving your business goals. Take a step back and evaluate your business as it stands today. Do you truly understand what your customers like and dislike? Could you describe exactly what they desire in a homebuilding experience?

Digging even deeper — do you have live data on each of your trade contractors to inform you of their performance out in the field? What about data on your products: do you know which model of toilets buyers prefer or which countertops are sure to delight?

Many builders rely solely on experience and anecdotal feedback from buyers to make multi-million dollar business decisions. But they don’t have to. By using the Avid platform builders can harness the power of big data to make more accurate, more efficient business decisions.

At Avid Ratings, our mission is to help clients advance their business goals by offering them cutting edge technology coupled with expert knowledge and dedicated customer service. We’ve recently secured additional funding which will allow us to expand our resources and enhance our products so that we can help our clients take their businesses to new heights. We thank you for joining us on this journey and we invite you to stay tuned as we release exciting new technology in the near future.

Go forward,
Paul

 

Homebuilding and Buying: How Millennials are Different

by Paul Cardis

If you’re at a loss when it comes to marketing to millennials, you’re not alone. A quick Google search on the subject yields approximately 26 million results: articles with titles like “8 Modern Tips for Marketing to Millennials,” “How to Market to Millennials: 5 Brands Who Are Doing it Right,” and “The Psychology of Marketing to Millennials.”

Millennials — the roughly 75 million Americans born between 1981 and 1996 — are about to bypass baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult population. That being said, it comes as no surprise that their buying preferences have significant impact on every industry they touch.

The beer industry is one that has been severely impacted by the purchase habits of millennials, who are creating a mounting crisis for beer industry giants like Coors Light, Budweiser, and Heineken. In fact, beer sales are slipping as millennials diverge from the preferences of preceding generations, choosing wine and spirits over beer. Some key players in the beer industry, to their credit, have started to adapt to millennial preferences, launching new products in an attempt to reverse declining sales.  

Another industry being shaken up by millennials? You guessed it — the home buying and homebuilding industry. Millennials are different buyers than the generations that came before them. A few key buying habits define them:

  1. They’re very cautious and they want to be informed. Millennials grew up during the great recession. Some saw their parents struggle to pay their mortgage, or even lose their home. On top of that, many millennials carry a ton of student debt. As a result, they won’t make homebuilding decisions lightly, and they’ll seek out as much information as possible prior to making a decision. Homebuilders that can provide comprehensive information and be readily accessible to answer questions will thrive in a millennial-dominated market.  
  2. They’re quick studies, thanks in part to technology, but they’re also uneasy buyers. Millennials have access to millions of online resources, and they may be more educated first-time home buyers than the generations who came before them. However, an abundance of resources doesn’t necessarily alleviate anxiety. Industry surveys have shown that a whopping 87% of millennial homebuyers still feel uneasy about the homebuying process. Again, homebuilders that are upfront and transparent, and can provide information and resources that will allay millennials’ nerves will come out on top.   
  3. They’re highly attuned to homebuilding trends around the world. Through the magic of the internet, millennials are in the know when it comes to the latest homebuilding trends, and will expect homebuilders to execute on their vision. Homebuilders that stay on top of industry trends and remain carefully attuned to their millennials clients’ needs will thrive.

Another important thing to keep in mind is tech-savvy millennials’ reliance on online reviews. Buyers — especially cautious, information-seekers like millennials — want to know how the homebuilders are reviewed and rated by other buyers. Honest, peer recommendations are of the utmost importance.

So, as millennials become an increasingly important part of the homebuilding industry, I encourage you to take a proactive approach to meeting their needs — needs which are different than those of the first-time homebuyers who have come before them. Your business will be better off because of it.  And as I always say, millennials won’t buy a pizza without a star rating – why would they make the most important purchase of their life – buying a home – without a star rating.

Transparency: What Clients & Customers are Looking For

by Paul Cardis

Giving customers what they want is the name of the game when it comes to running a business, no matter what type of product or service you provide. And one thing we can be certain customers want is transparency. According to Label Insight, 94% of consumers are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. In other words, if your company’s policies and products come off as anything approaching opaque, you’re fighting a losing battle. Without easy access to the information they crave, homebuyers will look elsewhere.  

So, the question remains: how can you differentiate your brand by offering a level of transparency that sets you apart? For starters, homeowners want more detailed information regarding the makeup of their home. They want to know:

  1. Where the materials originated
  2. How the materials were made
  3. Whether the materials are environmentally friendly

Most importantly, however, buyers want to know how the homebuilders are reviewed and rated by other buyers. Companies spend a significant amount of money on advertising but often underestimate the power of online reviews. Pretty pictures and virtual home tours can only go so far — eventually, customers want honest peer recommendations.

So, in the spirit of transparency, I encourage you to be proactive and share with homebuyers both the good and the bad, giving them a full representation of your company. You’ll be surprised by the effect transparency has on your business.

Not convinced? We can all learn a lesson from Facebook’s biggest PR crisis to date, when a number of shady, opaque policies led to the manipulation of pre-election public opinion. In the aftermath, Facebook has promised to start taking transparency seriously. More on that here.

Don’t Fall Victim to “Review Gating” Services

by Paul Cardis

Google is now the hammer for those companies wishing to mask their true star ratings in public websites. Google explicitly states that if you are suppressing or gating (filtering) your negative customers away from taking a survey with your company, you can be banned entirely from Google My Business. This threat is the equivalent of being banned from Google because no longer will your company rank highly nor will it have the full representation of your company profile compared to your competitors.

 Research providers who are offering “review gating” services (Avid Ratings prohibits this behavior) are now shutting down their services for fear of being sued by their clients for getting them banned from Google My Business. Just this week alone several popular survey providers and reputation management companies have notified their clients that the review gating portion of their service is no longer available. Unfortunately, some of the smaller homebuilding review management providers have not become aware of this change and are effectively putting their clients in harm’s way. Builder beware… Avid has been warning companies for many years of the impact of filtering reviews would have on their business. There are no legal shortcuts to simply improving your organization and delivering an exceptional customer experience.

 We are proud to have assisted Speaker Paul Ryan in the passage of The Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) which passed in December 2016. It, unfortunately, has taken until April 2018 for the world to take notice of this new law and position themselves accordingly. We are grateful to Google for recognizing this law and enforcing it with its review gating prohibition on its search platform – the largest search platform in the world.

Read more about this topic.

Millennials Continue to Expect More Virtual Experiences

by Paul Cardis

It’s a common misconception that millennials have little interest in homeownership when quite the opposite is true. In fact, according to new data, 80% of millennials would like to buy their own homes but are barred by economic factors that delay the buying process. However, as more millennials saturate the market, they are also expecting to leverage the most advanced technology when making purchasing decisions.  This includes ease of access technology such as virtual reality (VR) for touring homes.

VR technology has been positively trending for the last few years as it becomes less expensive and more available to those not in tech industries. The housing industry is a good example of this. Homebuilders have already begun to embrace VR technology as a way to enhance the customer experience and jump start the buying process.  With almost 95% of homebuyers using the Internet to look for homes and 51% purchasing homes they have found using the Internet, it makes sense that VR technology, a highly digital medium, is incorporated as well.

Millennials are eager and accustomed to immersive and interactive marketing. What are you doing to keep up with one of the fastest growing real estate constituencies?

Read more about VR technology and the housing industry here.

Facebook, Google and LinkedIn: Their Impact on the Housing Industry

As social media becomes more prevalent and accessible in our everyday communication, it’s inevitable that social media giants like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn start to seep into a variety of different industries, including housing. The question is whether this will have a positive or negative impact on the market and how we can combat their impact to make sure our clients remain successful for years to come.

Recently, Business Insider published a feature highlighting Google’s plans to build a 3.6 million-square foot, 3-neighborhood development in Mountain View, California, a small tech-focused community near San Francisco. They hope to help alleviate the affordable housing crisis in that area, as 20% of the homes will be priced below market rate. 

On the same note, Facebook has announced plans to begin construction of a village that would feature not only housing, but retail, grocery, a hotel and more.  The social media giant purchased 59 acres of land in Menlo Park, California in 2015, and it was recently confirmed that this location is where the new community will be built. Once complete, the community will accommodate approximately 35,000 people.

Another social media giant, LinkedIn, has also begun dabbling in the housing market. In December, they gave $10 million to a program that works toward building affordable housing in the Silicon Valley. The project allows housing developers to access short-term loans that help them complete housing projects faster and more efficiently.

While we don’t know how large their reach in the housing industry will expand or if there will be a direct impact for our clients, it’s important to keep an eye on the housing projects being funded by these social media giants. To read more about the communities and projects, read the full Business Insider article.

All the best,
Paul

 

Crossing Home Plate

by: Tim Bailey, Division President of Avid Ratings Canada

Building new homes means managing hundreds of processes while assembling thousands of components. Components are a combination of natural, manufactured, pre-fabricated and human-assembled elements. The construction process spans several months in conditions that may include scorching heat, drenching rain, gusting winds, frigid snow or anything in-between. It is not surprising that Dr. Jack Revelle, Six Sigma expert and quality guru, notes that “the average home has more than 60,000 points of failure during the building process” because building homes is not an easy sport.

Stopping at Third Base

In light of the complexities of home building, it seems reasonable to think that making it to closing with only a handful of items remaining as incomplete or deficient should be considered a victory. Unfortunately, homebuyers rarely look at what has been accomplished, but rather what remains incomplete when they receive the keys for their new home. A builder with a short list of deficiencies at occupancy may view that as a “win,” but most homebuyers score that less generously in customer satisfaction. “Stopping at third adds no more to the score than striking out. It doesn’t matter how well you start if you fail to finish,” according to major league baseball player Billy Sunday.

On the scoreboard of customer satisfaction, there are two key elements in play when homebuyers take possession of their new homes. The first element is the “number” of items that are deficient with the new home. The second element is how home buyers “perceive” that number of items. Even the best builders “leave runners on third base” at times, but customer satisfaction leaders score higher by managing customer expectations and also turning over homes with few, if any, deficiencies.

The Number of Incomplete Items

Survey data from the Avid Ratings “All-Canada” Database shows that 22.2 percent of homebuyers report having “three or fewer” deficiencies at the time of their pre-delivery walk-through, with 2.6 percent of those buyers reporting zero deficiencies. Hopefully the goal for all homebuilders is to have zero deficiencies by closing ─ or preferably by the pre-delivery walk-through ─ however this data suggests that 97.4 percent of home buyers report some deficient items at their walk-through.

In comparison, data from an industry-leading builder in customer satisfaction shows that 55.3 percent of their home buyers report having “three or fewer” deficiencies at their walk-through ─ 33.1 percent better than the “All-Canada” data above ─ with 6.4 percent of their buyers reporting zero deficiencies. A good batting average in baseball is typically above 300 and similarly leading builders are not perfect, but are batting at higher averages delivering deficiency-free homes.

Perception is Reality

Setting expectations for home buyers is a key factor in customer satisfaction, as customer perceptions become reality. Home buyer perceptions about deficiencies at the walk-through are important to monitor and understand. Survey data from the Avid Ratings “All-Canada” Database shows that 71.8 percent of home buyers believe the number of deficiencies at their walk-through was either “about as expected” or “less than expected/no items.” That leaves 28.2 percent of home buyers feeling that the number of deficiencies at their walk-through was “more than expected” or “much more than expected.”

Again in comparison, data from an industry-leading builder in customer satisfaction shows that 85.4 percent of their home buyers believe that the number of deficiencies at their walk-through was either “about as expected” or “less than expected/no items” ─ 13.6 percent better than the “All-Canada” data above. That leaves 14.6 percent of their homebuyers feeling that the number of deficiencies at the walk-through was “more than expected” ─ no home buyers reported “much more than expected.” Even the best builders are not hitting home runs every time they are at the plate when it comes to setting customer expectations, but they are generally leading the league in this area.

Finishing Strong

Managing the complexities of homebuilding should bring the reward of homeowners that are passionate fans, but this is only possible if customers receive complete and ready homes that align with their expectations. Turning over homes with few, if any, deficiencies shows up on the scoreboard through referrals and positive reviews. The finish is always the most important part of the race.

Tim Bailey is Division President of Avid Ratings Canada, a leading provider of customer loyalty research and consulting to the home building industry. Through the Avid system, industry-leading clients improve referrals, reduce warranty costs, and strengthen their brand. He can be reached at tim.bailey@avidratings.ca.