No Surprises, No Worries

Personal relationships with buyers are just as important as quality control.

By Bill Lurz, Senior Editor | August 31, 2003
Cedar Knoll

Exceeding customer expectations is the key to high satisfaction scores. That's why personal rela-tionships with buyers are just as important as quality control. Southeastern Pennsylvania builder Rob Wishneski of NRS Excellence Award winner Cedar Knoll Builders anticipates the points in the home buying process where customers most likely will be uptight and then intercepts anxiety before it has a chance to undermine relationships.

"The big wow factor here is that customers are always surprised by how smooth the process runs," NRS president Paul Cardis says. "There are no jolts, no worries, and that's because Cedar Knoll systematically eliminates unpleasant surprises."

Cedar Knoll is a move-up builder drawing buyers to Chester County, Pa., from Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and even Baltimore. It's owned by developer Brian Campbell, but Wishneski has run the company for 17 years as general manager. He believes in nipping the seeds of concern about quality and service before they sprout. "We run into a lot of people with chips on their shoulders from previous experiences," he says. "We tell them, 'Let us entertain you while we build this home!'"

NRS Excellence Award:
Cedar Knoll Builders
Headquarters: Cochranville, Pa.
Locations: 7
Product: Detached homes in subdivisions and on scattered lots, $170,000 to $1 million
2002 closings: 99
Revenue: $26 million
Employees: 20 (no sales)
Chief executive: Rob Wishneski

Award category: Production builder, 50-99 units
Surveyed 2002 buyers: 94
NRS Index score: 173.11
Homeowner satisfaction: 81.53
Scaled score, would recommend: 91.58

100% of homeowners will recommend
100% made at least one positive recommendation
0% had not yet recommended
42.2% had already made one to three referrals
21.1% had already made four to six referrals
0% had already made seven to nine referrals
36.7 had already made 10 or more referrals
Average referrals per surveyed customer: 5.95


Budget Beyond Warranty

Four of Oak Knoll's top five scores in the NRS survey are on questions relating to warranty service. Part of the reason has to be that Oak Knoll sells the service side so strongly in the sales office and all through construction. "We budget an extra $2,000 into every house, so we never have to worry that we don't have the money to go back and fix it, even after the warranty expires," Wishneski says.

Like with virtually all builders in this market, Cedar Knoll's independent sales agents are Realtors, but in this case they have an extra bond because they come from a brokerage owned by Campbell. As soon as buyers go to contract, Wishneski and the purchasing team led by Craig Martin become key contacts. "For three weeks we work closely with each buyer, through pricing to blueprints," Wishneski says. "Then I do a handoff to the super, who still works closely with the sales agent.

"We've standardized our processes to a high degree for such a small firm. For instance, when we hire a new super, he works as an assistant, under one of our longtime supers, until he knows our system inside out. One of our current supers worked for seven years as an assistant."

To smooth the option, upgrade and selections process, Cedar Knoll now has a 3,000-square-foot design center at its headquarters, where buyers meet with an interior designer working under design center manager Sim Whitehill.


Hooked on Service

The further buyers get into the process, the better they feel about their decision. "We really hook 'em with service after the sale," Wishneski says. One aspect shows the foresight that makes Cedar Knoll a winner. "At closing, we set up a 30-day walkthrough visit to the home. If an emergency arises, we take care of that immediately, but if not, we ask them to write down their concerns and wait for the 30-day.

"When we get there, we take care of all the easy stuff with tools on our customer service truck. For the things that require a visit from one of our trades, we make the call to set that up right on the spot so the visit fits the customer's schedule, not the trade's," Wishneski says.

"That's a huge wow factor," Cardis says. "Doing that on the spot takes all the worry out of it for the homeowner. There's no question that the work is going to be covered. There's no anxiety about issues related to access to the home.

"And Cedar Knoll's willingness to budget for and perform work beyond the warranty period shows they know how important long-term customer relationships are. They'll say 'no' on the front end (during the selection process) to set expectations and avoid building a house that may have maintenance issues later on, but then they overdeliver on the back to cement positive relationships."

Top Five Scores
  1. Began work in timely manner (warranty service): 88.67 (average score, 65.93)
  2. Immediately contacted to schedule (warranty service): 88.57 (average score, 67.20)
  3. Quality repairs and service (warranty service): 85.33 (average score, 64.43)
  4. Completed work in timely manner (warranty service): 82.31 (average score, 63.63)
  5. Provided quality workmanship (warranty service): 88.13 (average score, 70.57)