COVID-19’s ripple effects have crippled some industries and been a rising tide for others. Fortunately, home building has fared relatively well during the pandemic, as people spend more time at home—and recognize new needs that new homes are in the best position to address. That increased demand continues to boost traffic, sales, and new permits.
But a variety of factors are negatively affecting actual starts and production. Labor shortages, the cost of materials, and supply chain issues are causing construction delays, increased prices, and missed move-in dates.
For most builders, these are relatively minor issues that can be accommodated by adjusting pricing and schedules. But they are major problems for the average buyer, who has extremely high expectations for the homebuying and building experience. Waiting for their home to start, much less finish, is tiresome, frustrating, and erodes trust—especially when it’s compounded by any additional delays.
Trust between buyer and builder is a fickle thing, and lack of it creates a perfect storm for unhappy buyers taking to the internet to air their frustration.
The best stories come from homebuyers who face adversity but know the builder has their back the entire time.
As a builder, your reputation is often your only real competitive advantage in this age of hyper-commoditization, and customers are increasingly reading reviews online before setting foot in a model home or sales center. So, what can you do to keep referrals up and your buyers’ blood pressure down?
Fortunately, there are practical ways to maintain customer trust and keep your five-star reputation during these uncertain times. If you’ve spent any time reading customers’ reviews, you know the best stories come from homebuyers who faced adversity but knew the builder had their back the entire time.
6 Steps to Build Trust With Customers
1) Set realistic expectations during the homebuying process
This is obvious, but it’s amazing how often it goes out the window during the sales process in an effort to paint the perfect picture to get the sale. Instead of promising a date too soon, give a range. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver.
2) Be proactive with communication throughout the home building journey
The No. 1 driver of dissatisfaction—and lack of trust—during the construction process is poor communication. Most builders know this axiom, but many leave it up to the discretion of a salesperson (who is too busy touring and writing contracts) or a superintendent (who is too busy managing a frenetic jobsite), which usually results in scattershot updates, if any at all.
On the other hand, builders that have a consistent process for providing buyers with photo and video updates—weekly, at a minimum—see the highest customer satisfaction scores. Look into apps, such as Builder Signal, that make updates easier to manage.
3) Know your customers' moments of truth
From the customer’s point of view, the process of buying a new-construction home is an emotional roller-coaster. The journey from first impression through to final warranty visit spans an average of 1 ½ to 2 years. During this time, the customer interacts with dozens of people from more than seven departments, with touch points measuring in the hundreds (yes, we’ve counted).
Although builder processes vary, every homebuyer will experience “moments of truth” or key peaks and valleys in the journey that matter most. Those high (or low) points are the ones customers remember when writing a review about your company or telling a friend.
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A peak moment of truth for your customer could be: standing on their selected lot imagining the view, walking into the kitchen for the first time, or having their first family meal at the dining room table.
Low moments of truth might include: feeling rushed to make design selections, pointing some-thing out during construction and having it dismissed by the superintendent, or walking into their home after closing and seeing trash or muddy footprints.
Map your customer journey to identify the moments of truth (peaks and valleys), then be intentional about celebrating the peaks while filling the valleys.
4) Deliver top-notch online resources for your customers
No salesperson wants to waste time giving tours to unqualified prospects. But that’s exactly what’s happening when we make buyers come to a model to experience the quality, design, options, and pricing of our homes. A positive side effect of COVID-19 restrictions has been the resurgence of online tools, tours, and virtual appointments over in-person drop-ins. These tools make it easier for prospects to learn everything they need to know about buying from you before coming to a physical location. Home visualization technology is becoming so good and affordable that there’s really no reason not to have 24/7 online models.
5) Collect customer feedback along the way
Many reviews are written because customers feel ignored and unheard. And, most of the time, they’re right. The mechanisms most builders have for getting feedback are postmortem. We ask about the customer experience after the buyer has already moved into their new home. This provides great data for future improvements, but it doesn’t help course-correct when an in-process customer is having a bad experience.
Again, some of the most trustworthy reviews come from customers who experience hiccups but feel like their voice is heard and respected. This is called a Voice of the Customer (or VoC) program, and it’s your safety net for when things go wrong. Just make sure you’re prepared to act on the feedback. Follow up immediately, and the customer will feel heard. Put it off, and they’re likely to bash you online.
6) Embrace customer reviews
This one is difficult for many builders. Reviews are powerful, and a small percentage of people choose to abuse that power. It’s every builder’s nightmare. But look at the disruptive industries that have emerged as a result of reviews. Self-service and online buying heavily rely on them; they provide a level of transparency regarding how businesses respond when things go wrong. And, most importantly, they build trust ... assuming the company and products are indeed trustworthy. Forward-looking companies embrace the power of reviews and use them as opportunities for continuous improvement.
Just don’t forget to respond to your customers’ reviews. Show you’re human and that you care. Most builders have realized how important this is, but it’s still surprising to see the number of negative reviews out there with no public response from the builder.
Why Maintaining a Customer Focus Is Key
To build and maintain a five-star reputation in home building is no easy task. There are so many things that can go wrong at so many different points in the journey. It was hard enough to keep the customer experience ship steady before COVID and its ripple effect on construction. Now that all boats have been lifted by the rising tide of consumer demand, it’s easy to put customer-experience initiatives on the back burner.
But, now more than ever, home builders need to focus on the customer. Taking a systematic and comprehensive approach will help get you through the challenges of building and delivering new homes during a pandemic and will set you up for success in a post-COVID future.