Overall, the experience of buying a newly built home is unlike purchasing any other product your customers encounter. The closest thing might be customizing a new car to suit their needs and taste, but even that’s rare ... and carmakers offer relatively few substantive changes buyers can make. Cars are also built in a factory by robots, cost one-tenth the price of a home, and will probably be traded in for a new vehicle a few years later. Not so with homes ... or the homebuying experience.
Why Managing the Customer Experience Can Be a Challenge for Home Builders
For builders, several issues make managing customer experience (CX) challenging.
• The length of the process: The homebuying journey is a long process. Going the distance from prospective homebuyer to the end of a warranty period can span several years. How do we focus on the key drivers?
• Personalization: Personalization is challenging. Most homebuying customers want to be involved in the process of personalizing their home, if not outright customizing it. They don’t realize the implications of making changes beyond what the builder offers. How do we satisfy that desire without blowing the budget (and probably the schedule) or making buyers feel like they’re getting a cookie-cutter home?
• Number of players involved: There are so many players involved in the homebuying process. Between subcontractors, suppliers, and your own crews (much less code inspectors and utility providers)—each with their own schedules, supply chains, and other dependencies—communicating schedule changes and updates is difficult, at best. How do we keep customers properly updated about what’s most important to them?
• Interactions with untrained staff: It’s difficult enough finding workers who show up on time to build the house, let alone workers who have the people skills to deal with customers telling them how to do their jobs. How do we stay on top of hiring and training ... and making sure our customer-facing folks are available?
To effectively manage the homebuying experience, we must address these challenges, which can feel daunting. To make it easier, break the experience down based on customer expectations.
- Road Map for a Great Customer Journey
- Selling New Homes: There’s an App for That!
- Homebuying: What Do New Homes Have in Common With a Pair of Shoes?
Two Types of Experience for the Homebuyer
We’re actually delivering two different experiences for most buyers: 1) building the home, and 2) living in the home, each with its own ups and downs along the journey.
Customer Experience 1: Building the home
During this part of the journey, our customer is partnering with us to build their dream home. The highlight for most new homebuyers is watching construction progress and seeing it
• Peaks—when buyers are most satisfied, and you want to reinforce that feeling:
- Contract signing. Take the SOLD selfie.
- Design selections. Make buyers feel confident they made the right decisions.
- Celebrate dig day. Take “before” pictures. Imagine the view from the front porch.
- Communicate major milestones during construction with regular photo updates via text or using a construction-update app.
- Walkthroughs. Point out the great design and finish decisions your customers made.
- Closing. Take the KEYS selfie on the home's front porch.
- Move-in. Deliver an immaculate presentation of the move-in ready home. Make the final cleaning a big deal.
• Valleys—when buyers are at an emotional low, and you want to lift them out of it:
- Wrong items installed. Maintain your “partner” mentality and focus on a resolution; don’t blame the buyer.
- Failed inspections. Educate and set expectations about their significance. It may not be a big deal to you, but it can be a trust-killer for customers.
- Punchlist walkthroughs. Take control of the painter’s tape so buyers feel like you caught the details they wouldn’t notice.
- New-home orientation. There is a lot to cover, so don’t rush through it or overwhelm buyers.
- Mastering Customer Feedback—More Important Than Ever
- How Do You Measure the Customer Experience?
- New-Home Sales: Building Customer Confidence
Customer Experience 2: Living in the home
This is when buyers need assurances that you still care about them and stand behind the home you built together.
Unlike the Building the Home experience, this phase has few (if any) natural peaks and has greater potential for valleys, but most builders aren’t set up to delight buyers after closing, and warranty calls are almost always perceived as a negative by customers.
The fact is, most buyers forget much of what you tell them about the operation of their home, and when something goes wrong, they tend to panic. They need someone who will listen and respond quickly to calm their nerves. Builders, meanwhile, tend to step back instead of being proactive—a recipe for deep valleys.
Realistically, achieving a flat line in this stage of the CX is a win. The only way to bring joy to a buyer is by going above and beyond what they expect, which can be a tall order. Expectation setting, response time, and communication are all critical. Here’s my advice to maintain an even keel.
How to Ensure a Smoother Homebuying Process
- Make it super simple for buyers to submit warranty requests, and submit them to a real person; don’t force buyers to use an impersonal online form.
- Quickly respond to service requests, within 24 hours or less.
- Take time to listen and learn about the person instead of just the issue.
- Proactively schedule routine maintenance visits.
- Overcommunicate on service appointments, including text confirmations and real-time updates on arrival and completion times.
- Mitigate carryover items from the final walkthrough; they make the customer feel like the home was never “complete.”
- Set expectations about what’s covered by the warranty and what is not.
- Collect customer feedback after every service completion with a simple question: How easy did we make it for you to resolve your issue?
For most production builders, these are the common moments on the CX rollercoaster ride. If you have a companywide focus on maximizing the peaks and mitigating the valleys, you’re sure to improve your reviews, referrals, and survey scores.