Turning Home Buyers Into Partners

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Though few home builders see the value in partnering with their customers, those who do have greater customer satisfaction scores and more referral business.

August 01, 2006

Though a successful marriage might begin with burning desire and deep affection, it becomes more of a partnership than a love fest. Just ask anyone who has been married to the same person for more than 10 years. Not only is there open communication and mutual trust, there are dual compromises and shared dreams. With everything that marriage entails, it's easy to see why "partnership" more accurately describes the relationship.

 

As a home builder, you don't want to marry your customers, but you do want to partner with them to ensure their satisfaction throughout what you hope will be a long relationship. Though few home builders see the value in partnering with their customers, those who do have greater customer satisfaction scores and more referral business.

There are seven key components to a successful relationship, whether it's a husband and wife or a builder and home buyer. According to Chip Bell, NRS Satisfaction 1 conference keynote speaker and author of "Customers as Partners: Building Relationships That Last," and "Dance Lessons: Six Steps to Great Partnerships in Business and Life," every successful relationship has the same seven components: truth, growth, dreams, grace, trust, balance and generosity. As long as these are in place, there is little cause for your customers to divorce themselves from you.

These elements of a long and prosperous relationship relate to your business.

Truth

A good partnership is built on mutual understanding, and that can't take place without being truthful with each other. The best way to get someone to tell you the truth is to show that you care about him or her as a person. This can be accomplished through "dramatic listening." Most home builders are pretty good when it comes to listening to customers, but few are skilled at dramatic listening, which goes beyond listening for understanding. It also includes showing through actions and words that you value what the customer is saying.

For dramatic listening to be effective, it must occur even after the sale is complete. Everyone in your organization needs to assume the role of dramatic listener: someone who can filter out the noise and focus intently on what the customer is saying.

Another way to encourage a truthful relationship is to beg your customers to be candid in their feedback. To incorporate truth in the partnership with your home buyers, you need to encourage candor. Implore them to be open and honest with their complaints. Ask them what you should be doing differently to win an award. If you phrase it in a way that implies you're looking for instructional help, most customers will offer some honest advice.

Growth

A leading cause of divorce is that the couple doesn't grow together; each person grows in a different direction. To combat this, Bell advises that businesses deliberately focus on growth in their customer relationships. This can be done by hardwiring your expertise and skills into the partnership so customers understand how your company is evolving. At the same time, make each employee a mentor who looks for opportunities to inform and teach customers.

Dreams

At some point in a partnership, every spouse or customer wants to know what you're about and where you're going. It is critical in developing partnerships to know vision and determine if there is a match. For a home builder, vision is how you want to be perceived in the marketplace and what you want to be known for. Ideally, everyone working for your company should share these dreams. When the entire organization is aligned with these dreams, it is much easier to deliver consistency and build strong partnerships with home buyers. Employees will have clear visions of the level of service they provide. This serves the crucial purpose of conveying the future expectations of their relationship.

Grace

Doing business with your company should be a graceful experience. You can achieve grace by making sure your organization is customer-centric, with everything designed around your partner. When an experience feels customized and personal, it's naturally more graceful. Of course, the trick is to streamline the process so that customers feel like they are getting a customized experience even though you don't have to do much work to customize it. Look at Amazon.com. The online retailer uses software technology to record your purchases and, using that information, make recommendations for the next time you visit. Builders have this challenge every day with customers because the transaction is a series of hand-offs from sales, loans, options, production and warranty service. Although complete integration is probably not recommended, builders can make these transitions seamless and/or provide one point of contact to coordinate all the buyers' inquiries and activities.

Trust

At some point in the relationship, someone has to make a leap of faith and put his or her trust in the other party. By taking actions that benefit home buyers but are risky to you, you are showing your home buyers that you trust them. If your employees are often saying "buyers are liars," you have a serious challenge in building customer partnerships. While there are instances of buyers' lying, this cannot be the approach to regularly take and is a clear signal to work quickly to create an attitude adjustment among your staff. Remember that trust is a two-way street, but protect your company by following the procedures and guidelines of your organization.

Balance

Every relationship involves a fair amount of give and take. It may not be 50/50 in each circumstance, but over time things balance out. To create a balanced partnership, get customers involved in ways they typically are not. Don't be afraid to bring them in to help solve problems.

Bell suggests using a system of covenants and cues to ensure that all parties feel like the partnership is balanced. Covenants are the agreements both parties make, and the cues are the alerts that things will change from what was previously expected.

As long as both parties understand the give-and-take nature of a successful partnership and neither side tries to take advantage of the other side, the relationship will maintain a healthy balance. The relationship will only balance if you have first created truth, trust and grace with your partner. Balance is where the partnership starts to gel and you reach a higher level. This is a great place to be, but you must clearly communicate your covenants and be sensitive for the cues for it to happen.

Generosity

The generosity you bring to a partnership is the passion, energy, enthusiasm and excitement you have for home building and making home buyers' dreams a reality. Also, you should celebrate your partnerships in generous ways.

The average Cadillac customer spends more than $300,000 on Cadillacs in his or her lifetime. A Cadillac dealer who understands the lifetime value of his customers isn't going to quibble over a $100 accessory a customer wants. Similarly, builders who realize that home buyers could purchase two or three homes in their lifetime don't take customer relationships for granted. Rather, they understand the long-term benefit of being generous.

Every partnership is somewhat unique, but if you incorporate these seven elements into your customer relationships, you'll be able to increase customer satisfaction at the same time you are fostering long-term customer loyalty.


Author Information
Paul Cardis is CEO of NRS Corporation, a research and consulting firm specializing in customer satisfaction for the homebuilding industry. He can be reached at pacardis@nrscorp.com.


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