National Practices, Local Effort

Customer satisfaction comes down to individual decisions made by employees and trade contractors, beyond all of the industry best practices imposed from above.

By Patrick L. O'Toole, Senior Editor | August 31, 2003
Pulte Minnesota

As part of a national home building company with a robust customer satisfaction program, Pulte Homes of Minnesota makes the case that beyond all of the industry best practices imposed from above, customer satisfaction comes down to individual decisions made by employees and trade contractors.

In the summer of 2001, a freak weather event dumped a foot of rain on the Twin Cities. Many new and existing homes flooded. In the ensuing cleanup, news reports about a builder coming to the rescue of hard-hit customers became a hot story on local television.

"One homeowner we helped closed on their home but had yet to move in," division president Tom Standke says. "Some of them had been in there for only five or six months. None of the homes were over a year old."

A jaded observer might call Pulte's generosity a shrewd public relations move. But at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, that's a little too pricey of an explanation. The real reason, Standke says, was to live up to a promise of excellent service and to operate by the golden rule. Under no obligation to repair the homes, Pulte did so anyway.

The act of generosity might have come off as a bit self-serving if the company had not made similar decisions in other cases over the years, says Gary Grant, the division's longtime vice president of construction.

NRS Award:
Pulte Homes of Minnesota
Summary: NRS Excellence Award in Homeowner Satisfaction, Production Builders, 500+
Category: Production Builders 500+
Closings: 855
NRS Index Score: 172.09
Total Homeowner Satisfaction: 83.88
Recommended Scaled Score: 88.21

97.4% of homeowners will recommend
84.5% made at least one positive recommendation
15.5% had not yet recommended
40.5% had already made one to three referrals
22.6% had already made four to six referrals
7.2% had already made seven to nine referrals
14.2% had already made 10 or more referrals
Average of 3.76 referrals per closing (average among all closings)
Expectation Difference: 3.01 (Current satisfaction minus expected satisfaction)

"Our construction employees say they appreciate the empowerment they have," Grant says. "At other firms they would not dare tell customers you were going to change this or repair that because everything was tied to the dollar. Here we ask them to just do the right thing for the customer. That takes away a lot of stress."

Pulte Homes of Minnesota moves in lock step on that point. Each employee, from receptionist to accounts payable personnel, goes through daylong Pulte Quality Leadership training. So, too, do 100 to 200 of the division's trade contractor staffers and service people.

"Everyone starts out pointed in the right direction," Standke says. "That way everybody knows what we are talking about. It becomes a team language for Pulte employees and our contractors."

Volumes could be written about the division's seven-step process for managing customer expectations throughout the home building process. More could be written about the firm's timeliness in responding to and completing warranty work. And numerous software struc-tures track problems and feed that information into pro-grams designed to determine long-term solutions to common problems. It all amounts to building a relation-ship of trust with the customer, says Grant, who points to two specific examples of managing expectations.

  1. At the pre-construction meeting, customers sit with their salesperson and the superintendent who will build their house. After going through a long, detailed list educating the customers about the construction process and walking the lot where their home will be built, cell phone numbers are exchanged and sometimes even home numbers with an invitation for the customers to call with any question whatsoever.
  2. During the pre-drywall meeting, the customers "celebrate" the thoroughness of the job being done to build their home, says Grant. "They see how well the home is insulated. They see it has a vapor barrier. We want them to see this so they won't wonder if we short-changed them on insulation when the temperatures fall. "We also want to show it off. It just sets that relationship and builds that relationship of trust. We want them to say, 'We don't have to worry about them. They're the professionals.'"
Top Five Distinctions Over Benchmark Averages for
All Production Builders
  1. Completed work in a timely manner (warranty service)
  2. Quality repairs and service (warranty service)
  3. Provided quality workmanship (warranty service)
  4. Grading/drainage
  5. Began warranty work in a timely manner