|Homeowners Chuck and Gale Kidder check warranty service punch list with Pringle builder Phil Englett.|
John Pringle sells 250 houses a year to some of this country’s most demanding buyers: Florida retirees from the Northeast and Midwest. "They’ll look you right in the eye and say, ‘I’ve built four houses!’ That’s supposed to carry more weight than the 3,000 I’ve built," he says with a laugh. "But we know where they’re coming from - it’s their last house, and they want it to be perfect."
To keep such expectations from sinking the warranty service department, Pringle bought specialized software - Punch List Manager from Service Software LLC - that he says makes scheduling, follow-up and tracking of warranty service much more efficient.
Pringle builds homes averaging $175,000 in price in three central Florida master-planned communities heavy on amenities. Many of the buyers also have homes up north. That can present problems in scheduling warranty work.
"It’s not unusual to get a warranty call from someone who is leaving town the next day and won’t be back for four months," says Pringle. "We have to schedule the work for when the customer wants it, even months later, and not lose track of that warranty item. Without this software, that would be a major headache. With it, we can log the call in, schedule the work and stay right on top of it when that date rolls around."
Pringle customer service manager Michelle Kruger becomes the customers’ advocate as soon as a house goes into construction. "She’s really good at setting expectations," Pringle says. "A lot of warranty issues arise because buyers have such high levels of expectation. Michelle keeps them in touch with reality."
After the home closes, Pringle’s warranty reps document every customer contact, using Punch List Manager to schedule work with the appropriate trades and track each item through completion of the work. A warranty rep inspects every complaint against written quality standards. If a work order is issued, the clock begins ticking from the time of the first customer call.
"Our goal is to close every item within three days," Pringle says. "If an item is still open after a week, it lands on the desk of the director of construction. After three weeks, the general manager is flagged. At four weeks, I get involved. That’s never supposed to happen, and with our system, it really is rare."
Punch List Manager has been on the market since 1994. One of its key features is the ability to integrate data from older systems clients had before they moved to PLM. "Migrating that data is critical," says John Radi, Service Software’s vice president of sales. "No builder wants to lose track of those outstanding warranty service items on the old system. We are able to take data from old Excel spreadsheets or just about anything a builder is using now to track warranty services."
The software even blends data on color selections from a builder’s sales and marketing system into the warranty files. "What sense does it make to send a painter out to do touch-up work without giving him a list of the original paints used in the house?" Radi asks. "We can even give him the mix number. On carpet work, if the builder keeps track of the dye lot number, they can often patch a piece of carpet without having to replace a whole room."
For Pringle, one of the major advantages of PLM is the feedback loop it creates to track warranty items and spot recurring problems. "That allows us to analyze data from several different directions to discover the true nature of the problem," Pringle says.
On the vendor side, PLM monitors who got a service ticket, when it’s due and when the work is actually completed. There’s never a question about which vendors cause the most pain. The data are there in black and white.
Another benefit is the ability to seize the initiative and move to proactive operations. "We’ve done that," Pringle says. "Our warranty period is one year. Historically, we know that we’ll get calls on the 29th day of the 11th month. What we do now is beat them to the punch by scheduling a visit before the last week of warranty coverage.
"It’s great customer relations. They see that we’re not trying to dodge them. We want to close the warranty with their house in peak condition."
Punch List Manager is used in more than 500 home building firms. Typical users build 100 to 600 homes a year in multiple locations. "Smaller builders usually don’t want to spend the money to automate warranty service," Radi says. "The value equation we sell is savings in time and money. We can deliver a lot of reporting capability."
For how much? PLM pricing starts at $1,995 for a single user. For $2,495, you can get the "professional" level, which includes two hand-held devices for service reps to use in the field. PLM will soon have a portion of its operations Web-based so vendors can pull tickets off the Internet.
For builders with less than 100 units a year, this system is probably overkill. But it is at 100 units that most builders find it necessary to create a warranty department separate from construction. Such a department needs software such as this, not only for its own efficiency but to stay synchronized with the construction side of the organization.