You have to walk the talk if you expect employees to truly value customer satisfaction
Ask any home builder if they are committed to creating a great experience for customers and they will predictably reply, “Absolutely!” They mean it, of course, as none would ever say, “No, I really don’t care at all about my customers.”
Why then, does a leading national customer survey provider report that customer satisfaction ratings for home builders have been gradually declining over the last several years? Certainly, there are many factors affecting these results; the influence of the labor shortage on quality and cycle time among them.
I contend, though, that the major factor in achieving high levels of customer satisfaction is creating a culture of commitment among the company’s employees—turning a mere statement of commitment into a deeply embedded belief system enacted every day and in every encounter with customers.
So, how do the best builders create and embed such a culture of customer focus? They hire and retain the right people, offer incentives for achieving high levels of satisfaction, celebrate and recognize employees for those achievements, manage performance around it, and, most importantly, they take action when employees fail to get on board.
Hiring and Retaining the Best People
When interviewing job candidates, it’s critical to share your value system as it relates to customer relationships to establish that expectation. With that, ask candidates to share their beliefs about how customers should be treated, including examples of how the candidate has created great customer experiences in their career. Setting your baseline and exploring the candidate’s sensibilities during the vetting process is a great way to discover alignment and whether you’re considering the right person for the job.
On your sales team, you must find and attract people who are ethical, honest, and sincere about helping customers buy a home, as opposed to those who would do anything to get a sale, up to and including making misleading or false statements. Do you tolerate those behaviors if someone has a great record of making sales? If so, that’s not a recipe for satisfied customers and referrals.
Likewise, you must find construction supervisors who are patient, diplomatic, and have a sincere interest in helping buyers understand the building process, and who solve problems in the field with the customers’ best interests in mind. Those who disdain customers as “a pain in the neck” may build homes on budget and on time, but they can poison an otherwise carefully developed relationship with your customers during a time when they are most vulnerable.
If either case sounds like you, your “absolute” commitment to a great customer experience is little more than words.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Most builders use bonus plans as incentives for employee performance. This is a fine idea, as it rewards the behaviors and results that the company values. However, many builders offer incentives for meeting production schedules, coming in on or under budget, reaching sales goals, or keeping service costs low, but neglect to reward customer satisfaction results.
Assuming that you measure customer satisfaction (the best survey providers include specific questions about the performance of your team members), you should offer incentives to all “customer facing” employees for achieving great customer satisfaction results. Do you reward community teams as a group (sales, design, construction, and service) for leading the company in overall customer satisfaction? I recommend this approach as a great way to ensure your community teams are working together to create a great customer experience.
Like the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” if you pay bonuses on cycle time and budget compliance alone, you’re communicating what’s really important. I guarantee that your employees will “follow the money” and will interpret your selection of incentives accordingly.
If you’re not compensating them for customer delight, you’re saying it’s not that important—despite what it says on the Vision Statement hanging on the wall in your office.
Celebrating Achievements in Customer Satisfaction
It’s important to celebrate, in company communications and meetings, achievements in customer satisfaction and to publicize results throughout the company and recognize employees who lead the team in achieving great customer survey scores.
Also, builders committed to a customer-focused culture constantly remind employees about the importance of a great customer experience as a key company metric—as important as profit, sales, and other performance measurements. Improvement efforts focus on ways to make the customer experience better and involve all employees.
If you’re not talking about customer satisfaction all of the time, your employees will not talk about it or focus on it either.
Managing Employee Performance
Assuming your company conducts employee performance reviews at least annually, I encourage you to include customer satisfaction performance in those reviews, along with data showing customer satisfaction scores as part of the assessment.
Also, make sure employees know that their overall performance rating is greatly influenced by how well they meet your goals in achieving great survey scores and perhaps even referrals, and that opportunities for advancement depend in large part on their relationships with your customers.
Including the customer in employee performance evaluations is a vitally important way to communicate to your team about your unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction. When employees know that their current status and their future opportunities at your company hinge on how they treat your customers, they will get the message loud and clear.
Thinking of Employees as ‘Internal Customers’
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of companies, has said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
Think of it this way: If you treat your employees with respect and dignity and you create a company culture where everyone on your team thinks of fellow employees as “internal customers,” the notion of meeting all of a customer’s needs will become a deeply embedded ethic. Employees will treat all customers—internal, external, and end users—with the same level of dedication.
Ultimately, how you treat your employees will influence how they, in turn, treat your homebuyers.
The Bottom Line
Home builders must do a lot of things right in order to delight their customers. They must build homes of high quality and deliver them on time. They must communicate proactively and set proper expectations. They must treat their customers with respect and integrity. Selling and building the most expensive and important product that customers will ever buy is not easy, and satisfying those customers is a massive challenge.
It all comes down to people. If your employees deeply understand how important it is to delight your customers, if you reward them for doing so, if you provide feedback on how they’re doing, celebrate and recognize them when they excel, and make the customer experience a core metric, your company is well on its way to achieving industry-leading customer satisfaction.
Mark Hodges is principal of Blueprint Strategic Consulting, providing planning, organizational development, and quality management consulting services to the home building industry. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.