Stories of unhappy new home buyers seem all too common today. Whether it be problems with the building experience altogether, part of the process in building their home, or in the final product, too often it seems nothing can transform - or quiet — an angry home owner back to the excited home buyer he or she once was.
The 2004 NRS award winners in customer satisfaction show the industry a way to rewrite the customer satisfaction script through relationship building, expectation setting and better communication. In this issue, Diamond winner, Cedar Knoll Builders of Southeastern Pennsylvania, tells how it earned the industry's top honor for production builders.
The process post the contract
Cedar Knoll sets up its first two meetings with the design center manager and the interior decorator. The first meeting will take place at the design center to show the home buyer the options Cedar Knoll has available. The second meeting will be with the home buyer for an individual color consultation with the design center manager.
"We guide them, suggesting color combinations based on the model they have chosen, and their individual tastes," states Rob Wishneski, general manager of Cedar Knoll.
Also during the second meeting, Cedar Knoll directs similar model and color schemes to avoid two homes of the same models to have the same color schemes in the same community. "After all the selections are made from the first two meetings, we conduct a plan review meeting with every customer and the sales agent from the community," says Wishneski.
The plan review meeting goes over the plans with respect to the cost works sheets and changes the orders to date. The home buyer will also review their plot plan describing the location within the community. The closing date and construction schedule will also be reviewed. Lastly, the home buyer will be allowed to make one last change or changes as long as they are not structural in nature or affect the construction schedule.
Customer service is a must
The customer service team at Cedar Knoll is the spine of the company. Without them, the result could be an unsatisfied customer.
The receptionist is the first contact the home buyer will interact with. "If she does not direct the customer properly, a poor handoff can happen, leading to disaster," says Wishneski.
Beyond the receptionist, the customer service team consists of the service manager and his assistant, and the design team (designer, decorator, and drafting manager). "If they do not do their job properly or on time, frustration can build with the customers during the construction process, which leads to a sense of frustration post contract," states Wishneski.
The purchasing department also plays a role in the customer service team. "If they do not pay close attention to the best value purchases for our company, we will not have customers to worry about when it comes to customer service if our value is not true because we will not be selling homes," says Wishneski.
The Supers of each job field must also be involved in helping the customer service team. "If they don't do their jobs in the field, our homes will end up being littered with defects and problems that will make the service teams job much more difficult," says Wishneski.
Finally, when it comes to customer service, the trades and vendors must also be involved. "If they do not respond or support us, it would show in how satisfied our customers are overall," says Wishneski.
Wishneski adds, "I guess if you look at it closely, everyone involved with building a Cedar Knoll home is on the "customer service" team, which leads to a very high satisfaction amongst our customers."
Arranging trades for repairs
When it comes to trade repairs within the customers home, Cedar Knoll contacts the trade on the spot to arrange with the homeowner and trade the best time available for the repair to take place. "Really everything is handled in this fashion when it comes to service," states Wishneski.
"We do not want the customer bothered by doing any part of our service, even when it comes to contacting the trades and vendors. They hired us to build their home and take care of anything that may go wrong from start to finish."
Whether it is a broken lockset or major appliance, Cedar Knoll wants to handle the transaction. This allows them to do two things: control the service completely and track what may have gone wrong in the first place.
"Customer satisfaction must be in and stay on everyone's minds everyday," says Wishneski. "It is a team effort, starting with sales and continuing through the construction of the home. It never ends, unless you plan on building one house and never building again."