Mastering the Homebuying Experience

Greetings Avid readers! First, I thank Paul Cardis for inviting me to join the Avid team as an Advisor, and for his confidence that I can contribute to helping Avid clients achieve high levels of customer delight. I look forward to working with Avid and perhaps with you.

Throughout my career in homebuilding, I have often had the responsibility to improve and enhance the homebuying experience for my company’s customers. During my years as VP for Quality for Hovnanian Enterprises, (and ultimately as SVP of Corporate Operations) we were successful in raising the customer satisfaction ratings from a worrisome 78% “willing to recommend” to a much more gratifying 96% in just a few short years. We accomplished this by focusing on three key areas – 1) creating a culture of commitment to the customer, 2) building a better-quality home and 3) redesigning the customer relationship (CRM) processes.

Certainly, you can’t provide a world-class experience for your customers if your employees don’t care about them. Further, building and delivering a high-quality home is an essential requirement. In this article, though, I’ll focus on the third “leg of the stool”, the CRM processes, which I believe are the most critical, and often most overlooked keys to creating “Raving Fans” among your customers.

First, a change of context. Most homebuilding companies don’t actually build anything. Very few of their (your) employees ever swing a hammer or hold a paintbrush. Your homes are designed and constructed by other companies you hire. You are a process management company, overseeing the processes by which your homes are built. In that sense, your relationship with your customers amounts to a series of encounters driven by operational processes. When those processes are poorly designed or executed, your relationships with your customers suffer.

When customers complain that they didn’t understand that optional features shown in your model aren’t included, the process of communicating standard features is flawed. When your Construction Manager doesn’t know that your customer added skylights at the Sales Office, your change order process is suspect. And when, 30 days before the contract closing date, you still haven’t notified your customer that the home will not be ready in time, your internal communication processes are broken. Breakdowns in your internal processes inevitably affect your customers. Fixing those processes, then, is the way to eliminate the negative outcomes that infuriate your customers and fuel dissatisfaction.

I recommend focusing on the customer experience from a process perspective. Begin by assessing each of the formal “touch points” with your customers. Are the included features carefully explained? Is the “beginning to end” process of buying a home fully outlined at contract signing? Is your Construction Manager prepared for the “Pre-Construction Meeting” where selected options, home siting and construction schedule are reviewed? (Do you conduct these meetings?) Do your customers know what to expect when they visit your Design Gallery? How often do you update them on the status of their home during construction?

Managing the customer experience is a matter of deeply understanding the processes you design to manage that experience. Setting clear expectations and communicating proactively throughout the buying experience are actually key drivers of your customers’ satisfaction.  Delivering a quality home at the end of the process is almost a given, a ticket to entry. Delivering a worry-free, enjoyable and predictable experience is the way to turn an “OK” homebuying experience into a “WOW” experience. You can’t simply will yourself to improve the customer experience by fixing mistakes, over and over. Look for the root causes of problems, and you’ll usually discover that poorly designed (or executed) processes are the culprits.

Your customers are not an interruption of your work. They are the purpose of it. Focus on the processes by which you manage those relationships and your customers are certain to appreciate the difference, and the “quality experience” you make possible.

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