Avid Ratings Blog

Homebuyer Expectations in the Digital Landscape

Paul Cardis - Avid Ratings

More of our client’s customers rely on finding data, reviews, research and products in the digital space. As homebuyers continue to spend more time on their mobile devices, many companies in our industry are marketing their homes in the same traditional way. Avid understands the need for builders to provide customers with interactive experiences in the constantly evolving digital landscape, and we work hard to do just that with the products and services we offer.

Our team recently attended the 2017 TecHome Builder Summit where we were invited to demonstrate the need for builders to provide their customers with a digital experience. The reality is that customers just aren’t buying homes the same way that they used to. Buyers want to be able to purchase homes the same way they purchase everything else: in the digital world.

Learn more about how we’re trying to help our clients embrace the digital age in this great feature article from TecHome Builder. Read the article here.

 All the best,


Use Web Monitor to Oversee Online Reviews

Wouldn’t it be great to tap directly into every new review found online at the very minute it was posted? As much as we love buzzing around the internet, we’d prefer to spend our time logging hours on useless YouTube videos rather than combing through every new review. We imagine you share this sentiment, which is why you might appreciate Avid’s Web Monitor™, an add-on part of Avid’s GoSocial™ program. Gain mission-critical information across all online platforms. Here’s how.

  1. Once you’re logged in, you will be taken directly to the Dashboard. (If you do not have this ability, please see your User Manager or contact Avid Client Services for details.)


  1. On the Dashboard you’ll find the Web Monitor; note that it will alert you if you have any new reviews pending.Step2
  2. From here, you’ll be able to quickly and easily scan through new reviews aggregated from online. Web Monitor allows you the opportunity to see reviews posted from public social media pages. (i.e. Facebook, Google, Houzz, Yelp!, etc.) in a real-time manner.Step3

Managing Your Reviews, All in One Place

  • Respond Quickly ­­–  Let no reviews fall through the cracks. Following up quickly insures that if a negative comment were to arise, you’d be able to handle it before it ballooned into a larger problem.
  • Gain a Comprehensive Understanding – You already have the pulse on what consumers are saying, but Web Monitor will allow for a comprehensive review. Couple this with the other tools with Avid’s GoSocial suite to stay on top of your online presence.

Customer-Obsessed Leadership

Only “customer-obsessed leaders” can create customer-centric companies. There are many great examples of these types of leaders including Walt Disney, Howard Schulz of Starbucks, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Horst Schulze of Ritz Carlton and countless others. Each of these leaders have very different businesses and often very different customers. They do, however, all share the same unwavering understanding that customers are the most critical asset in business. The leaders of some of today’s most successful homebuilding companies also share a similar passion with these customer-obsessed leaders from other industries. Customer-centric homebuilders have leveraged the customer experience as a key differentiator from the competition and the effort is generating great returns.

Working Outside-In

While many traditional companies tend to work from the “inside-out,” companies that are true customer experience leaders build products and design processes working from the “outside-in.” Many traditional companies strategize from behind closed board room doors on how to improve products or processes. Those companies then move outwards to broadcast those ideas to customers with the hope of uptake and success. To work from the “outside-in” means involving or even collaborating with customers and then taking the heightened understanding of customer needs back into product and process development.

Keeping profound customer needs in the crosshairs of every business decision is what differentiates many successful companies from their competitors. The leaders of these types of companies recognize that this feat requires more than just assembling a team willing to listen to customers. It takes a company culture that craves to truly understand customers.

The “Empty Chair”

There are few business leaders more obsessive when it comes to serving customers than Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon. Bezos is passionate about customers and works relentlessly to foster a company culture that shares his passion. Bezos is well known for leaving one seat open around the table in a meeting and letting all participants know that seat is for their customer, “the most important person in the room.” This “empty chair” example has been discussed in numerous articles and interviews about Amazon and illustrates just one of the differences in the Amazon-way of thinking.

Nevertheless, it takes much more than just symbolic gestures or kindhearted mission statements to create a customer-centric culture in a company. It takes leadership, commitment and meticulous practice. Amazon is reputed to require all employees and managers, including Bezos, to spend two days per year in call-centre training. The objective is to provide each team member with front-line exposure to customers to help develop an increased understanding of customer needs throughout the company. That front-line exposure and enhanced customer understanding then flows back into each area of the company. These types of activities help to infuse Amazon’s decision-making process with “customer desires.” Several progressive homebuilders have adopted similar practices and have all team members spend time in customer-facing roles to enhance customer empathy within the company.

People Passion

“When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible,” according to Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks. Loyalty leaders have found a way to convey a vision, create a passionate team and nurture an environment for synergy ─ where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Some common beliefs and practices shared by many customer-obsessed leaders include:

  • Focus on the “why” of the company more than the “what”
  • Hire, train, reward and promote customer-obsessed employees and managers
  • Measure to manage ─ metrics are vital
  • Trust front-line employees to take care of customers
  • Empower front-line employees to do what’s right for customers
  • Provide real-time feedback to all employees
  • Share and celebrate customer success stories openly and often

Customer Obsession Delivers Returns

“You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality,” according to Walt Disney. Disney was a true pioneer in customer-obsessed leadership and many other leaders have followed that path. These bold leaders have proven that customer-obsessed leadership not only results in increased customer satisfaction, but it also delivers tremendous returns.

Tim Bailey is Division President of Avid Ratings Canada, a leading provider of customer loyalty research and consulting to the homebuilding 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.

What the Latest News on TripAdvisor Means For Our Industry

Paul Cardis - Avid Ratings

Ask yourself how often a customer review or product star rating has influenced your purchasing decision. Many of us have come to trust and rely on customer online reviews as it offers peace of mind – especially when it’s something that we haven’t purchased before.  If a business removes negative reviews or falsifies the information shared by a consumer, the impact can be far greater than simply a loss of business or a wavered purchasing decision.  In an article published about TripAdvisor, a popular online travel resource, we’ve learned that reviews posted by travelers on the site were removed by the company, and the reviews could have kept travelers out of harm’s way.

The TripAdvisor news is a wake-up call for all companies who are not aware of the Consumer Review Fairness Act. The federal law protects consumers’ ability to share their honest opinions about a business’s products or services and prohibits companies from suppressing negative consumer reviews. For many, this seems obvious but TripAdvisor was regularly allowing clients to suppress negative feedback from consumers on the TripAdvisor website, jeopardizing the safety of travelers to certain areas in Mexico. This is wrong on many fronts and TripAdvisor should be held accountable for allowing this to happen.

In this case, the lesson for the homebuilding industry is that review washing is illegal. The Consumer Review Fairness Act is a federal law being prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Furthermore, if you are using a survey system that simply makes it “easy” for you to suppress your negative reviews from appearing online, you need to stop engaging in that practice and likely switch providers. Your current survey company could be the next TripAdvisor and with it your surveys could cease to show up at all online.  We know consumers depend upon verified customer reviews, and without them, your company could suffer significant damage.  Worse yet, you could become the poster child for the FTC on review washing and that would be bad for the entire industry.

There is no easy quick fix to bad reviews and if someone is selling you that option, buyer beware. There are safe and legal options to manage your reviews that are fully compliant with federal laws. Seek a provider who understands this and can keep you in safe harbor.

 All the best,


That Peaceful Easy Feeling

How easy is it for customers to do business with your company? Reducing customer effort is an important part of creating a positive customer experience. A fundamental reason that businesses exist is that they solve problems for customers. Economies of scale, expertise, and efficiencies furnished by businesses provide various solutions to consumers, such as availability, lower prices, faster production, better design, improved quality, and more.

Home Problem Solvers
Home builders solve problems for home buyers every day. For example, homeowners may be outgrowing an existing home due to a growing family. Or maybe a work relocation is creating the challenge of finding a home in a new city. Or perhaps empty-nesters are faced with the dilemma of down-sizing to a smaller home to free-up equity for retirement. Regardless of the “shelter-related” problem, home builders can provide solutions for customers.

In the process of resolving their home-related problems, however, some home buyers complain of being burdened with a host of different problems during their new home journey. Are the complications and complexities of home building tidily hidden “backstage” in order to make the customer-facing aspects as easy as possible? Few would suggest that home building is easy, but the magic comes from making a customer’s journey feel that way.

How it Feels to be a Customer
Purchasing decisions are made based on a company’s reputable brand, quality product, great value, or a combination of attributes. Customer memories, however, come from how it “feels” to do business with a company. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” according to prolific writer Maya Angelou. How does it “feel” to be a customer of your business? This is an important question because customers remember that “feeling” and it impacts their long-term loyalty.

Is it an arduous journey to be a customer with your company? Whether the answer is yes, no or maybe, it is a valuable exercise to regularly review your customer’s journey ─ closely examining the journey to find any ways to make it easier to do business with your company.

Find the Friction
Analyzing the customer journey means examining every customer touch-point in terms of process, people, policies, product, and communication. The objective is to uncover any friction currently present in those touch-points which may be causing additional customer effort. After unearthing those pain-points, it is then necessary to implement solutions to smooth out each touch-point. These improved touch-points can then be “stitched” together to enable a holistic review of the entire customer experience to ensure that customer effort is minimized throughout the journey.

Some valuable sources of information which can help builders “find the friction” in the customer experience include:

  • Front-line team members: Those closest to the customers have a wealth of knowledge on areas of customer frustration.
  • Trades & suppliers: As an extension of a builder’s team, trades and suppliers often have important insight regarding measures that may be creating unnecessary customer effort.
  • Communication channels: Recurring themes in emails and phone calls, or most-frequented sites on digital channels can reveal areas of customer frustration.
  • Dissatisfied customers: Unhappy customers can provide valuable feedback regarding high-effort areas in their customer experience.

Make it Easy
Building a customer journey that reduces customer effort means removing obstacles or barriers in processes. It also means having a team that is able to understand the personal and emotional needs of each customer and connect at that level. Communication channels must also be in place to cater to the uniqueness of every customer ─ there is no one-size-fits-all communication channel to satisfy today’s consumers. Most importantly, an environment of continuous improvement must be encouraged in order to learn from mistakes and use that knowledge to head-off problems for future customers.

Mike Wittenstein is retail customer experience strategist and designer at Storyminers and he sums things up succinctly with the following equation:

Keeping this equation in the positive means ensuring that everything a builder does “for” a customer is greater than what is done “to” a customer during the new home journey. There is nothing more powerful for business success than a mass of customers that feel great about their experience.

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.

Maximizing Referrals

Success in homebuilding tends to vary by market area in today’s industry. In weak markets, success may be the ability to reposition for market uncertainty. In areas of mediocre market activity, builders that are maintaining or gaining market share may be the models of success. In robust markets, success may mean keeping pace without suffering customer experience chaos. Regardless of market conditions, all homebuilders can accelerate success by focusing on highly qualified prospects.

The No-Cost Conversion Increase
Advertising and marketing are crucial for attracting new customers, however, there is a way to significantly increase the conversion rate of prospects into actual homebuyers and it doesn’t involve a single advertising dollar. The secret is “maximizing referrals” and as obvious as that sounds, it requires innovative systems and processes.

Many homebuilders have sales teams trained to ask prospects how they heard about the builder. Typically, this information is used to determine the effectiveness of various marketing channels, such as social media, print media and other advertising. When prospects mention that they were referred by a friend or family member, that fact may be noted but it often dies there. However, this information is some of the most valuable information for a sales team to leverage.

Profitable Prospects
The reality is that not every prospect has the same likelihood of buying. A marketed prospect who has done minimal research before visiting a sales center is at the earliest point in the buying cycle. Comparatively, a prospect who has researched a builder’s marketing, website, online reviews and more, is likely to be further along in the buying cycle. But the prospects who are most likely to buy are those who have been referred by family or friends. Referrals are “third party endorsements” that create the most cost-efficient, profitable and loyal sources of new business. Referral business delivers the highest return on investment by reducing sales expenses and shortening sales cycles. Based on research conducted by Avid Ratings, referral prospects are twice as likely to make a purchase within six months versus marketed prospects. One particular builder even found the conversion rate of referred prospects to be three times higher than marketed prospects.

The closing ratio for non-qualified leads is 10 percent, versus 60 percent with referred leads, according to sales trainer and author Tom Hopkins. This reinforces the argument that investing resources into identifying and servicing referred prospects will provide big returns. Top-performing builders in customer satisfaction are best positioned to focus on referred prospects and reap the higher conversions that result and this comes down to three simple steps.

Step One – Identification
The first step is to utilize a detailed tracking system for referrals. Not only tracking which prospects were referred but also who referred them, when the referral took place and other key details. The power of today’s CRM software products make this task rudimentary, yet it is surprising how many builders fail to collect, compile and leverage this critical information.

Step Two – Sales Strategy
Even the most thorough information still needs to be acted on and timeliness is critical. Hundreds of thousands of dollars may be sitting unrealized in CRM data unless a sales team is acting quickly and executing a sound strategy. It takes a specific plan to deal with high-priority referred prospects. This plan is different than one used for other prospects because referred prospects typically have heightened knowledge and trust. Referred prospects come in the door because someone close sent them. Personalizing communications can occur more quickly and mentioning the “referrer” in conversations will help to strengthen the relationship. Not all referred prospects will generate immediate business but they all have higher potential.

Step Three – Increasing Referral Traffic
After ensuring that a sound system and strategy is in place for referred prospects, the goal is to increase the amount of referrals coming in the door. Having tools that can identify which past customers are “promoter” customers is indispensable. From there, specific strategies can be developed such as incentive programs to referrers or those referred. There may also be opportunities to create “events” that provide venues for happy homeowners to connect with prospects. Many homeowners want to recommend their builder and creating opportunities for that to occur pays big dividends. 

Be Referable
Referred prospects are a significant source of business for leading builders and “being referable” is vital. That means building quality homes, providing exceptional customer service and creating outstanding homeownership experiences long after the possession date. With those building blocks in place, maximizing referrals becomes the game-changer in any market conditions.

Tim Bailey is Division President of Avid Ratings Canada, a leading provider of customer loyalty research and consulting to the homebuilding 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.


It’s All About Expectations

Setting clear and proper expectations can be the difference between a customer being a Raving Fan, or being raving mad.

by Mark Hodges

Recently, I was talking with an Avid client whose Avid Reports indicated a serious gap in their homebuyers’ assessments of “being kept informed” and “communications” throughout the buying process. Further analysis of their buyer profiles gave us a good indication about why this gap was occurring. We learned that over 60% of this builder’s customers were first-time homebuyers.

Why was this discovery important? Because the experience of buying a new home is not only emotional and scary, it is also entirely mysterious. And because anxiety and frustration occur more intensely whenever someone doesn’t know what to expect from an already anxious experience.

I asked about the builder’s formal interactions with their buyers, and how they went about setting expectations for what the new home buying experience would entail. The short answer was not much. They didn’t conduct Pre-Construction Orientation Meetings, for example, and all other communications were informal. Their buyers were for the most part left to set their own expectations which were, unsurprisingly, lofty and unrealistic.

This neglect was a formula for the results they were experiencing – customers who were unhappy, not so much with their homes, which they rated highly, but with the entire experience from contract to closing and beyond. The builder wasn’t so much doing a poor job building the homes, but they were doing too little to help their customers know what to expect throughout the buying process.

Building a home of high quality is a minimum requirement for a successful homebuilder. It’s a ticket to entry in terms of achieving customer loyalty, nothing more. What sets great homebuilders apart from merely good ones is their programmatic focus on providing a great homebuying EXPERIENCE for their customers. And a great experience begins with setting clear and proper expectations, particularly for buyers who are purchasing a new home for the first time. (Which in my anecdotal experience is MOST new homebuyers!)

So, how do great builders go about setting clear and proper expectations? They do so by institutionalizing formal interactions with their buyers throughout the buying and building process. They instruct buyers on “What to expect at the Design Center”, “What to expect during the construction process”, “What to expect if you want to make changes during construction”, etc.  These formal, scripted events take the mystery out of the process, clearly explain what the buyers’ obligations are, and what could go wrong (like snowstorms or permitting delays) – essentially a list of what the buyers can and should expect while their home is being built. An informed buyer is much better prepared for the uncertainties and occasional issues that can arise during this complicated process. It’s your obligation as a builder to make the processes clear and understandable.

As Paul Cardis noted in his book Service Certainty, setting clear expectations and preparing buyers for some of the uncertainties of the buying and building process can “inoculate” your buyers against the unexpected, better preparing them for the occasional and inevitable disruptions that can cause great anxiety for the uninformed.  In short, the more they know about the process and their role in it, and what could happen, the better able they are to deal with unwanted surprises.

As I mentioned, the builder we spoke of above doesn’t conduct Pre-Construction Orientation Meetings, instead leaving the buyers to wonder why construction hasn’t started (permit delays), why they can’t change their cabinet selections even though their first choice hasn’t been installed (lead times), or why unaccompanied site inspections are prohibited (safety), etc.

Our Avid Advisors can help your company to discover best practices of effective expectation-setting and communications, and help you to implement them in your business. All you need to do is ask. We’re here to help you to create Raving Fans of your customers, and to avoid making them raving mad!



How the Homebuying Experience Has Changed!

by Mark Hodges

Reflecting on my early days in the homebuilding industry (yes, you have to go back to 1983), I was struck by just how much things have changed in the way homebuyers go about shopping for a new home.

In “the old days,” potential customers went to the one source available to them to find new home communities in their area – the Real Estate section of the newspaper. There they found ads usually showing one elevation, perhaps a floorplan, and other basic information about the community. Armed with only that information, they hopped in the car and traveled to the sales office. There they met me (or someone like me) who introduced them to the builder, community, products, features, and site plan, hoping to find the right home with the right features, on the right home site, built by the right builder. In short, they came knowing very little, and the sales process took weeks.

Fast forward to today (really fast) and the experience is completely different. Today, homebuyers first “travel” to the builder’s website, where they find virtual tours of all the available homes, information on each home’s features, available options, and site plans with all available home sites. If the builder uses GoTour®, they find Star Ratings and other important information about the builder, and even information about the products the builder installs in each home. In short, when they finally decide to visit the community, they have already chosen the best home for them, identified the right home site, and even chosen many of the features they want in their new home.

Imagine just how much better informed today’s buyer is before they set foot in the sales office. Instead of asking basic questions about the community, home styles, and features, they can now come asking about the Elm model and about home site #16. They’ve already reviewed the builder’s Star Ratings thanks to GoSocialTM (if the builder is smart enough to use this product) and they know pretty much what they want. Now it’s just a matter of confirming their needs and matching them to the home and features they’ve already selected. Wow!

While we don’t have the data yet to confirm it, I strongly suspect that sales conversion rates are much higher when a customer visits a community to confirm what they’ve already explored via GoTour®. Imagine how much more smoothly the sales process can go when a prospective buyer arrives with a wealth of information – much more than could be found in a newspaper ad!

Now, consider the process of selecting options. In my day, my “design center” consisted of some Formica counter chips and a few cabinet doors lining the walls of the laundry room in the model home. There was no such thing as today’s design centers, where buyers tour literally hundreds of displayed products in gorgeous galleries. Now imagine that they’ve viewed all those products (and their Star Ratings) on GoTour® before their first visit to the community. All builders know that option sales contribute greatly to bottom line profit, and our research shows that buyers spend on average 20% more on options they’ve seen on GoTour®!

Today’s homebuyers are much better informed, much more interested in real consumer feedback about the builder and the products they use, and much more prepared to make a buying decision, much more quickly. This is the power of Avid’s industry-leading products – GoSocialTM, GoTour® and GoSurvey®. A builder who chooses to invest in all these services has a much greater chance of making the sale, selling more options and improving the customer experience by acting on feedback through the GoSurvey® process.

The only question is, why would a builder leave it to chance? Meeting the needs of today’s information-hungry Millennials and greeting well-informed buyers to their first visit at your community is worth the investment many times over. One thing’s for sure – using these valuable tools beats even the most clever newspaper ad, every time! If you’re not already using these products, you should learn more about them as soon as you can.

The Avid Advisor Program

by Mark Hodges

Greetings Avid readers! As a relatively new (and proud) member of the Avid team, I’d like to tell you a bit more about the Avid Advisor Program, of which I am the newest member.

You are likely already familiar with Avid’s industry-leading array of offerings, including GoSurvey, GoTour and GoSocial. Thanks to the valuable customer experience information gathered by GoSurvey, clients discover where they excel and where improvements can be made. Avid’s expertise in obtaining and analyzing customer feedback is unmatched.

Wisely, the Avid team recognized that, in addition to providing a comprehensive understanding of your customer satisfaction via Avid Reports, we need to advise clients on addressing any improvement opportunities that may be identified. To do so, Avid has engaged homebuilding professionals available to assist clients in process improvements and activities to directly impact their customer experience.

Clark Ellis, founder and CEO of Continuum Advisory Group, is an Avid Advisor with broad expertise in helping homebuilders align their processes to the needs of staff, trade partners and suppliers, as they work together to build high quality homes while reducing waste and rework, all focused on creating the best possible customer experience. A “process expert”, Clark and his team help Avid clients map processes, identify inefficiencies and waste, and correct performance gaps that cause customer dissatisfaction.

Jason Forrest, founder and president of Forrest Performance Group, is a well-established expert at the sales and customer relationship management processes that create great customer experiences from the first visit to long after closing. Jason and his team help Avid clients refine customer communications, consult with company leaders on cultural change management, provide sales training and a host of other professional services.

With over 30 years of experience as Senior VP of Corporate Operations for Hovnanian Enterprises, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, I led the effort to improve the company’s customer satisfaction ratings from a low of 78% to 95% “willing to recommend”. I can help Avid clients identify gaps that negatively affect customer experience and create solutions that will improve results.

Avid Advisors help clients in many ways. We participate in reviewing Avid Reports, help identify root causes of poor ratings and provide recommendations to address them. When challenges become more complex, we can be engaged to conduct site visits, meet with your team and develop a comprehensive plan to address issues that lead to dissatisfied customers. We can also help facilitate the implementation of any measures that may be needed.

If you’d like to learn more about how Avid’s Advisors can help your company significantly improve customer experience, please contact your Avid Client Success representative to connect you with the appropriate Avid Advisor.

It’s Avid Awards Time

Each year at Avid, we take time to recognize the homebuilders who are creating the very best customer experiences across North America, and we are excited to announce that the 2017 Avid Awards presentation will be aired via web broadcast on July 17.

This year the program includes a few changes. In addition to Production and Small Volume, there is now a Custom Builder category to acknowledge those specializing in higher-end custom homes. Also, the Avid Service Awards will be hosted separately in January 2018 during the International Builders’ Show in Orlando. This is a prime opportunity for Avid to celebrate outstanding employees throughout the industry and we are really looking forward to it.

In addition to the awards themselves, we are also focusing more intently on best practices this year, as will be seen in the roundtable discussions and client interviews during the broadcast. The show came together great, as our marketing team The Digital Ring and Backflip did a bang-up job creating an awesome Avid Awards desk as part of the set… here are some pictures…