By David Holzel. Off Their Game

How many opportunities does a builder have to amaze and delight a customer? Put another way, how many chances are there to mess up a relationship and doom the chances for a referral?

Anywhere between 20 and 200, Carol Smith calculates. Smith, a customer service trainer in Colorado Springs, Colo., says the number of contact points a builder will face usually depends on what kind of customer walks into the sales office.

What she tags the "calm customer" will walk in and meet the sales associate and host or hostess, or two salespeople. There will be "three contacts at the minimum," she says. That's six contact points just to begin.

What she diplomatically refers to as the "high-maintenance customer" "is going to come back again and again, maybe 10 times before the contract." Every return visit chalks up more contact points on the tote board.

And on it goes. Through the design and building stages -- "The high-maintenance customer wants to come look over your shoulder every day you're building the house. That's maybe 100 visits -- and he's going to bump into many trade contractors. The chances for contact just increase exponentially." And later mortgage, closing and delivery, and warranty.

"It demonstrates why this is so difficult to control," Smith says. "When you start the process you never know what's going to happen."

Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, July 2002