IF YOU WANT TO WIN THE game of repeat and referral business, there is no question that it is won and lost on warranty service. Customer satisfaction hinges heavily on response time to warranty service calls and whether the repair corrected the problem. But builders that truly are committed to creating customers for life don't sit on the bench. They're involved with the homeowners on an on-going basis instead of waiting for a call requesting service.
“We don't end a relationship because we closed a home,” says Cherie Fay, manager of organization development at Holiday Builders in Melbourne, Fla. “It starts a relationship we want to continue forever that is good for our homeowners and our company. Part of our mission statement is to exceed customer satisfaction through outstanding customer service. We want to live it.”
Here are nine tips for building a stellar customer service program:
1 Extend the warranty period. While many builders have a one-year warranty, Holiday has extended its warranty to two years. Centex Homes also has a two-year “Fit and Finish” warranty that comes standard with every home, as well as a 10-year structural warranty. “We have customers who call us after 10 years,” says Judy Easthom, director of customer relations for Centex's Dallas-Fort Worth division. “There are a lot of times when customers call, and they know their issue is out of warranty, but they know that we can guide them to take care of the repair.”
2 Introduce buyers to the customer service team before closing. At Centex, customers receive a business card for their customer care coordinator at walk-through, so they know who to contact for warranty service. “As soon as they close, they get a handwritten card,” Easthom says.
3 Set the proper expectations for the home's performance. Houses are complex products with thousands of components. You'll avoid a host of warranty issues just by educating your buyers about what's normal and what's not.
Granite countertops are probably going to have some variation in the color throughout the slab. Concrete foundations, porches, and garage floors will have small cracks in them. Those are to be expected and aren't a sign of defective construction.
Tom McNulty, a Cumberland, R.I.–based builder, gives each of his buyers a manual after closing that not only tells them how to establish the various utilities, but also lays out what to expect from various materials and explains the acceptable tolerances for them. The manual also includes troubleshooting tips “because some people enjoy doing it themselves at this point,” McNulty says. And, of course, it includes contact information for service calls.
4 Touch base two weeks after move-in. That's a reasonable amount of time for the buyer to unpack most of the boxes and get settled in. At Centex, the field manager stops by within two weeks of move-in, “just so if they have any questions or have any needs, we can take care of those then,” Easthom says. The company also visits again after seven months to give owners a chance to live in the house through a change of seasons.
At Newport Beach, Calif.–based William Lyon Homes, the division director of warranty service sends a letter two weeks after closing and follows that up with a visit to the homeowner 30 days after closing. “The warranty reps stop by the home, not because [the homeowner] asked us to, but just to check in and offer paint touch-ups,” says Rae, director of sales and marketing for the Inland Empire region. “That's been really successful.”