Wow with a Button

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I often talk about the importance of developing your own "wow factor" — the one thing that you excel at better than any other builder in your area. In today's competitive market, it takes a "wow factor" to really impress homebuyers and to add value to your relationship. If you really want to make an impact on customers, look for ways to wow them at every point of contact in an unexpected ...

October 01, 2005

I often talk about the importance of developing your own "wow factor" — the one thing that you excel at better than any other builder in your area. In today's competitive market, it takes a "wow factor" to really impress homebuyers and to add value to your relationship.

If you really want to make an impact on customers, look for ways to wow them at every point of contact in an unexpected way.

In most companies, the primary "wow factor" is part of a long-term branding strategy, something that is preplanned and often doled out by an administrator back in the main office. It lacks creativity and elicits a mediocre response from homebuyers. A better approach that generates a true "wow" with customers requires seemingly spontaneous acts of kindness and gestures of goodwill that help cement your customer relations.

I call it "sewing on a button," an idea that originates with a housekeeper at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. As the story goes, a guest was preparing for a business presentation when she discovered a button missing on her blouse. Upon entering the room, the housekeeper discovered the distraught guest and asked what was wrong. The guest was the keynote for a conference held at the hotel and was to speak in front of hundreds of people in a matter of hours. Without thinking much of it, the housekeeper told the guest that she may have the button at home and would go home, to see if she had a matching button. The housekeeper checked in with her supervisor and was given permission to head home to check for a match and quickly return to sew it on for the guest. The story ends with the guest's blouse having all of its buttons with plenty of time to spare before presentation time.

Now if that doesn't make you say "wow," I don't know what does. Note that what sets this "wow factor" apart from more general ones is that it is extremely personal, genuine and spontaneous.

Clearly, the more unanticipated or unexpected the gesture, the greater the "wow" effect. For example, some dry cleaners will sew on a button when they discover one missing. Though customers are appreciative, the act doesn't generate the same customer loyalty that's created when a hotel employee does the same thing. That's because many people would assume that the dry cleaner was the one who lost the button in the first place, whether that's true or not. In short, a "wow factor" is not defined by the act, but by how genuine the act is and the sense of gratitude it elicits.

Despite all of the talk about best practices in customer satisfaction, many builders still race through construction in an attempt to close as many new homes as possible. This reality of the market has builders erecting homes at breakneck speed, only to spend months fixing them up during the warranty period. Then they must try to win customers back with quick responses to service calls and complimentary gift baskets or dinner coupons. But this is so much more costly than doing the job right the first time and wowing customers in sincere, yet modest, ways when they least expect it.

Of course, this requires that you empower employees to decide what is an appropriate opportunity to "sew on a button." If you want to hike your J.D. Powers scores or win an NRS Award for customer satisfaction, this philosophy is key. A good idea is to make a list of scenarios each person in your company might encounter when dealing with customers and to pair them up with acceptable "wow" gestures. Have employees keep track of the things they do for buyers so that others in your organization can learn from them.

Whatever small gesture you do to impress customers, make sure they know what you've done. Though your staff should be trained to do these things to be kind, generous, supportive and helpful, they're also doing them to add value to the builder-buyer relationship. This can't happen if all of your good deeds go unnoticed.

On the other hand, you don't want to tell customers in a way that makes them feel like they now owe you something. For example, consider the home builder who provides an options credit if the buyer works with a recommended lender. The discount is something that is relatively standard in the industry so pointing it out serves little purpose. If the builder goes on and on pointing out what a great deal the buyer is getting, the gesture loses all sincerity.

Contrast that to a colleague who recently had a warranty service call in the master bathroom. As the tiler repeatedly passed through a sliding door leading to the backyard, he noticed that the door handle was loose. So he brought over his toolbox, removed the handle, fixed what was making it loose, and securely fastened it back to the door. Later, he simply told the homeowner, "I hope you don't mind, but the handle on your sliding door was loose, so I fixed it." That was it. Only a simple mention to let the homeowner know that the deed was done. The homeowner has since successfully referred this builder to two new customers.

If you pay close attention, you'll see these random acts of kindness more often than you'd think. There's the auto service shop that points out that your car was taken through the washer when they were done, the waitress who brings you a fresh soda even though you're not quite ready for a refill, the vendor who E-mails you an article or sends you a book just because he knows you're interested in the topic or even the dry cleaner who sews back a button and puts a little card on that button indicating that it was fixed free of charge.

All of these are unexpected surprises that evoke various levels of a "wow" response. And they're much more effective at building customer loyalty than merely trying to impress buyers with "canned wow's" like car wash tokens and gift baskets. Dig deep in your organization to create a culture that goes beyond canned wow's and delivers genuine acts of kindness to your buyers. The return on investment is huge and one of the secrets strategies used by those at the top.

pacardis@nrscorp.com

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