A YEAR AGO LAST JUNE, BIG BUILDER published a bonus issue for our readers devoted entirely to one subject: the factors that drive new home buyer satisfaction—and what big builders were doing to improve referral rates. Little did we imagine then what an impact the report would have—or how widely referenced it would eventually become.

We ultimately received requests for thousands of extra copies—from dozens of America's leading home building firms. Builders were ordering copies not only to give to their management and sales staffs, but in many cases to their subcontractors as well. We were flattered to learn the issue became part of many builders' internal training sessions—even earning a spot in Lennar's fabled management book-of-the-month club.

The issue was a departure from BIG BUILDER'S usual editorial format, featuring a series of “chapters” examining the factors having the greatest impact on customers. Those factors emerged from research by Eliant, the Irvine, Calif.-based firm known for surveying new home buyers for many national builders. We then commissioned a survey of big builders to find out what they believe drives customer satisfaction and what they were putting into practice to improve buyer satisfaction.

The gaps between builders' perceptions and what actually mattered most to home buyers were revealing. Builders often underestimated key factors that determined buyers' satisfaction. At the same time, it was clear that builders were over-investing in areas they thought were important but which made only minor contributions to a buyer's overall satisfaction with a builder.

We were caught off guard by the response. The issue became the first magazine in the history of Hanley Wood, the parent company of BIG BUILDER and BUILDER magazines, to go back on press for a second printing.

All of this brings us to the issue you have in your hand. In it, we attempt to build on what was learned last year, and we hope to help shape the way the home building industry thinks about customer satisfaction.

For years, home builders who sought to better satisfy their customers have focused their management attention on ways to build a better quality home. But that's changing. Increasingly, builders are realizing it's not so much the house but the total home buying experience that ultimately drives true customer satisfaction among new home buyers.

The distinction may be simple to grasp, but its execution is something else entirely. Builders committed to delivering a great home buying experience and not just great homes must recognize that putting the customer at the center of everything they do requires turning their cultures—and their operating procedures—inside out.

In the pages that follow, we teamed up with Eliant once again to explore the factors that delight or disappoint new home buyers at each and every phase of the home buying and homeownership experience. The result—and we hope you'll agree—is a new manifesto for delivering the kind of extraordinary home buying experience that is already beginning to define a new generation of great home building companies.

Wyatt Kash, Editor
e-mail: wkash@hanleywood.com