Home buyers are satisfied when they're happy with the product they bought, the people they worked with, and the buy-to-build experience. And for most builders, the most painful side of the equation is managing the process. At least that was the consensus among panelists at the Big Builder ?07 "ROC: Return on Care" session, Wednesday, Nov. 28.

Panelists agreed that the key to eliminating that point of pain is clearly mapping out every step of the home buying process. According to Charlie Scott, a partner with Woodland O'Brien & Scott, a boutique consultancy firm specializing in home builder customer satisfaction programs, it's a step that most builders miss. They have blueprints for every model they build, but they don't have a single blueprint for the process, he said.

Kevin Eagan, COO of T.W. Lewis Homes in Phoenix, said it was a tough lesson for his company to learn, and a time consuming one at that. However, once everything was said and done, management had come up with 18 different process maps to ensure buyers received consistent care at every point in the home buying process. From that exercise, management began implementing new measures, some as small as teaching employees a standard way to answer the telephone and others as significant as providing customer care training twice a month.

Having a more regimented customer care program has paid off big time, Eagan said. The company is the 37th largest builder in Phoenix in volume but enjoys the sixth greatest brand recognition in the market.

But an effective customer care program succeeds only when employees have bought into it. Will Holder, CEO of Trendmaker Homes in Houston, said that buy-in is achieved most easily by offering incentives for good customer care. For example, the company sends customer satisfaction surveys to its home buyers. If the buyer makes a positive mention of a specific employee, "they get a personalized note from me," Holder said. And continued excellence in customer care earns employees more bonuses and greater commissions. Tying customer satisfaction to compensation keeps employees committed to the program.

The same could be said for trade partners. Eagan said that he believed how trades deal with home buyers is arguable the largest contributor to customer satisfaction. Consequently, he said he spent a lot of time evaluating the company's trade contractor relationships, leading him to eventually phase out non-performing partners.