It's amazing what happens when you're not watching. From 2001 to 2005, I worked on a business start-up in the housing industry. That kind of activity requires a completely self-absorbed immersion, so I didn't follow much of what was going on in the industry at a wider level. Imagine my surprise when I resurfaced to find that the biggest trend sweeping across builders was customer satisfaction.
Back in the late '90s, when I spoke in front of groups of builders and remodelers, I often used the line, "The only people worse at customer service than remodelers are home builders." Perhaps that was a rash indictment of the whole industry, but it did point to an essential problem.
Home builders were so focused on controlling costs, cycle times and land purchases that they forgot when they turned the keys over to a buyer that their responsibilities continued. For many, the only nod to customer service was improved warranty work.
Today, though, we see builders focused on delivering the highest quality customer service beginning at the initial contact and never really ending. They are building customers for life. Why the sea change? One answer: J.D. Power.
Senior Editor Bill Lurz delves into the influence J.D. Power has had on the housing industry since it first began surveying home buyers 11 years ago. By bringing the religion of customer satisfaction to builders, J.D. Power should get high marks. But what does the industry think?
Builders and others have qualms with the potential conflict of interest between the reporting side of J.D. Power's business and the consulting side. But builders should also have qualms about how some of their colleagues have reacted to the survey. Instead of improving customer satisfaction, many builders have improved how they manage the J.D. Power survey process.
Such is the strength of J.D. Power that many sources would only speak on condition of anonymity. (In journalism speak, they are on the record but not for attribution.) Certainly, J.D. Power competitors we interviewed want to keep their heads down so they are not seen bashing the competition publicly. While the competitors did raise some issues, they were, for the most part, remarkably even handed. But even builders are reluctant to address the impact of this behemoth.
When people are unwilling to speak openly for fear of some kind of retribution — whether real or not — it creates a kind of Petri dish of anonymity. In such an environment, it's not unusual for rumors to spread faster than bacteria.
In the case of the J.D. Power influence, most of those rumors are about conflicts of interest and strong-arm techniques. In our story, we report only what can be substantiated. What we reported, we learned through multiple, reliable sources.
In the final say, the J.D. Power influence has been enormously positive in the housing industry. No matter what your role in this industry, our shared focus is delivering the highest quality homes with the best home-buying experience to our customers. J.D. Power's survey's of home buyers and their brand awareness have made that focus clear and sharp.