Rooting out the ‘Gremlins’

Warranty service order requests at Pringle Homes in Leesburg, Fla., seldom go beyond a week without com-pletion by a subcontractor. When they do exceed a week, a superintendent must meet with the construction man-ager to explain why.

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

Warranty service order requests at Pringle Homes in Leesburg, Fla., seldom go beyond a week without completion by a subcontractor. When they do exceed a week, a superintendent must meet with the construction manager to explain why. Two-week-old service orders pop up on the desktop of the director of construction, who also wants answers about the delay. The extremely rare, 4-week-old service order request gets bumped up to company owner and CEO John Pringle.

"Lower levels don't want to have to walk into the office at the higher level and find out they did not get their job done," Pringle says. "I very rarely get a service order more than 4 weeks old, and when I do, I tend to ask some very hard questions. I have better things to do than to perform my own warranty functions."

This escalation of hierarchical responsibility for aging service requests shows how every potential loophole, crack and crevice in Pringle Homes' customer satisfaction program loop back neatly into a set of incentives to perform well. At Pringle, 100% of the service calls to warranty get inspected in person within 24 hours. Sub-contractors then take responsibility to complete subsequent service orders within three days. Seven times out of 10, they do. The escalation process handles requests that go beyond that point.

NRS Award:
Pringle Development
Summary: NRS Excellence Award in Homeowner Satisfaction, Production Builders 100-500
Category: Production Builder 100-500
Closings: 216
NRS Index Score: 170.93
Total Homeowner Satisfaction: 83.79
Recommended Scaled Score: 87.14

89.3% of homeowners will recommend
88.7% made at least one positive recommendation
11.3% had not yet recommended
35.1% had already made one to three referrals
28.5% had already made four to six referrals
11.3% had already made seven to nine referrals
13.8% had already made 10 or more referrals
Average of 4.26 referrals per closing (average among all closings)
Expectation Difference: -6.61 (Current satisfaction minus expected satisfaction)

Process improvement based on customer satisfaction guides most management decisions at the active-adult builder. A major tweak to the system in 1999 continues to root out many potential "gremlins," Pringle says. The company created a dedicated customer care department with specific individuals assigned to each buyer as a continuous point of contact from contract signing through design and construction to closing.

"We recognize that those transition points where buyers move from one department to the next are where the gremlins live," says Pringle. "One department understands something, and the next department does not. Our customer care department ensures that contact occurs with the customer at these decision-making points. They smoke out a lot of these miscommunications before they ever occur."

The day after contract signing, buyers get a call from a customer care associate who gives them a special VIP telephone number to call with any questions at any point in the building process.

"Our team develops a rapport with each buyer, so they begin to expect these calls on a regular basis," says Michelle Krueger, who runs the customer care department. "That way, buyers feel comfortable letting them know when they have not met our expectations. We want to know when we have not met expectations before we get to the closing table so that we have time to correct things."

Closing 300 homes a year and with about 100 mostly out-of-state buyers in the process at any given time, Pringle Homes added personal Web sites to the mix, complete with dozens of photos updated every other week.

"Customer satisfaction is a process of matching expectations to delivery," Pringle says, "and we work hard on both sides of that equation."

Top Five Distinctions Over Benchmark Averages for All Production Builders
  1. Immediately contacted to schedule (warranty service)
  2. Began warranty work in a timely manner
  3. Completed work in a timely manner (warranty service)
  4. Grading/drainage
  5. Explained construction process (project superintendent)