Imagine you’re buying a new home for the first time. You’re making the biggest financial investment of your life, borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars. You’re about to do business with a company you’ve never done business with before. You know nothing about construction. You’re making important decisions you’ve never made before. And you’ve heard all manner of horror stories from family and friends about their homebuying experience. Stressed out is an understatement.
Consider how you’d feel. The thoughts and questions that would keep you up at night: Did we make the right decision? Can we afford this? Are we choosing the right options? Did we pick the best home site? Did we pick a good builder? Will they build us a good house ... and how will we know?
As a home builder on the other side of this anxiety attack, it’s your job to turn what can be (and too often is) a nerve-racking, nail-biting experience into a joyous one.
Yes, you can do it. But first, you must recognize that simply building a quality home doesn’t create a happy customer. Happy customers are created when they have a great experience from their first visit to your sales office to their last service call, and everything in between. If you want happy customers (and who doesn’t?), it’s your responsibility to prepare them for the experience and guide them along the way. That means making sure they understand the process, what to expect and when (and what’s expected of them). Here’s a road map.
Teach customers about the homebuying and building process
Begin with education. Explain the considerations that will help them choose the right homesite for their family and which options to select at the design center for their particular budget. Help them understand the mortgage process. Teach your customers about the phases of construction, how you schedule work, the role trade partners play, and how you verify quality. Tell them about the formal meetings you’ll conduct along the way with them and why they’re important. Everyone on your team should have a role in teaching your customers about the home building process in a formal, structured, and consistent way.
The more they understand the process, the less they’ll worry.
Tell customers what to expect, every step of the way
One thing’s certain: If you don’t set clear expectations with your customers, they will set their own. And then the chances of you meeting their expectations are practically zero. You must set and manage expectations from start to finish.
At the sales office, tell buyers what to expect when they visit the design center. Prepare them for their “pre-construction orientation” meeting by telling them what will take place and what to bring along. (Think: “Wear comfortable shoes for your homesite tour.”) Explain all of the steps in the homebuying process and the customer’s role in creating their home.
Make sure they know who to contact with questions or concerns and that they understand everyone’s role on your team. Explain how you’ll keep them informed of their home’s construction status and how you’ll set their closing date.
The more they know about what’s coming next, the less hand-wringing they’ll do.
Deliver consistent messages to customers, consistently
How many times have you heard a customer say, “That’s not what the salesperson told us,” or, “No one explained that policy.”
When customers aren’t systematically told everything they need to know, or when they hear conflicting messages, they begin to mistrust your company. They think you’re hiding something or are deliberately misleading them. When that happens, things go downhill fast. Their dream home becomes a nightmare, for you and for them.
Preventing this erosion of trust mustn’t be left to chance. When explaining the process and setting expectations, every member of your team—even those who aren’t “customer-facing”—must be equipped with scripted, consistent messages, trained and rehearsed.
When delivering the most critical messages, such as, “We won’t be able to make any changes to your home once it’s been released to construction,” customers must be asked to acknowledge that information with their signature on a form or checklist that says so. And those messages should be repeated, starting in the sales office and reiterated in the design center and at meetings with field staff. Your customers need to hear the same messages from every team member, sometimes over and over. If they don’t, they’ll not only lose trust in you, but may also play one side against the other, causing internal turmoil.
The more consistent the messaging, the less room for customer misunderstanding and mistrust.
Tell customers what could happen (and what happens next) in the home building process
Let’s face it: Home building is essentially “outdoor manufacturing,” with 40-plus different companies involved on a single home, where things sometimes don’t go as planned or are out of your control. Options get missed, schedules conflict, rainstorms happen. It’s important to be honest with your customers about these facts of life from the outset, to prepare them for what may go wrong, which will make it easier for them to accept the unexpected.
You should include “cause-and-effect” messages in your formal communications with buyers. If a window breaks during construction, you’ll replace it. If you miss installing an option, you’ll get it done. If a delay happens, you’ll do your best to catch up.
The more you prepare buyers for the unexpected, the less they’ll overreact when the unexpected happens.
Communicate continuously with your customers
Over the years, a common complaint I often hear about builders from homebuyers is, “They never tell me what’s going on.” Concerns about construction progress, correcting defects, planning for closing, or scheduling service are common issues that drive buyers crazy. Keeping your customers informed is key to a great homebuying experience.
Proactive communication throughout the buying process is essential. Your team should be providing weekly updates to customers—emails or text messages from the sales consultant or superintendent work fine. Update customers on what happened last week and what’s scheduled for next week. Give them estimates of their closing date, and be all the more accurate as you get closer to completion. Even better, text them pictures when the slab has been poured or the cabinets have been installed. This kind of transparency helps customers feel involved, informed, and excited—especially out-of-towners.
The more often you communicate, the less time your customers will spend fretting.
Be your customers' advocate and advisor
Your entire team should consider themselves responsible for helping your customers throughout the experience of buying a home. They should be available to patiently answer any questions, explain the process, and provide counsel and comfort. When customers are confused or anxious, which they often are, your team should see it as their role to ease any concerns.
Instead of thinking, “That customer is a pain in the neck,” your team members should be thinking, “How can I help them to be more comfortable with this situation?” Instead of seeing customers as an interruption of work, your team must see them as the purpose of it.
The more you offer advocacy and support, the more likely your customer will look to you for advice and answers.
Do all of these things and build a great home, and you’ll not only have satisfied customers, you’ll have fans for life.
Mark Hodges is principal of Blueprint Strategic Consulting, providing planning, organizational, and management consulting to the home building industry. Write him at email@example.com.