Allison Grant knows, more or less, how her Mondays will play out. She'll turn on her computer, pour a cup of joe, and attend meetings like every other American worker. But Mondays also bring an assignment that is an essential part of the sales manager's job at the Fairfax, Va., office of Brookfield Homes: Grant has to call the buyers of homes in the builder's backlog to give an update on construction progress. The conversations are involved and may take more than a few minutes, but the builder feels that this is an important step in creating satisfied, happy customers.
Brookfield did not always function this way. Once upon a time, the company operated like most builders across the country: Buyers chose a floor plan, selected options and upgrades, and then sat on their hands while the home was constructed, nervously hoping that specs were being built accurately. The builder would call the home buyers every now and then, but regular updates were nonexistent, which left the door open to mistakes.
Gregg A. Hughes, general sales manager at Brookfield and the builder's custom division Keswick Homes, says the company noticed inherent flaws in the system it had in place. What kinds of problems? Well, customer satisfaction suffered, for one thing. “Buyers were saying that they had to drive all the way out to the site to see what was going on and were nervous about being kept in the dark,” Hughes says. “They were much more apprehensive about the process.”
One consequence of this buyer uneasiness, Brookfield found, is that buyers sometimes took matters into their own hands by showing up at the job-site. “We would often get calls from the construction super saying the buyer was at the site,” says Hughes. Invariably, workflow got disrupted when this happened because the super has to spend time allaying buyers' fears and showing them around the site.
Brookfield—which builds everything from condos to single-family homes, ranging in price from $300,000 to $1 million-plus in Northern Virginia—decided that it wanted to eliminate the bad things that can happen when the construction process is managed inefficiently. Mistakes, unhappy buyers, and disrupted workflow, after all, are bad for business. Its system needed a shot in the arm, and the company found one that has proved highly successful.
Launched about a year ago, Priority-One is a broad-based customer care program that gives buyers all the information they are likely to need and want while their homes are under construction and after they have moved in. The comprehensive program includes a range of features that keeps buyers informed, such as weekly phone calls, a pre-start construction meeting, a pre-drywall and framing walk-through, a quality assurance review, a pre-settlement orientation meeting, and a final inspection.
The main driver in the program is a dedicated Web site, www.priorityone4u.com, which acts as an electronic filing cabinet with everything and anything buyers will ever need to know about their homes. After a weekly Monday meeting between sales managers such as Grant and the construction supervisor, the builder updates the Web site with such information as when the foundation is being poured, when the drywall is scheduled to be completed, or the status of the roof. “We e-mail a password that offers buyers access to contracts, information about the siting of the house on the lot, and selections the buyers have made,” Hughes says. Buyers may view their selections online for informational purposes, but would still need to call the sales manager to request changes.
The feature of the site that has been the biggest hit with buyers, Hughes says, is a picture gallery that is updated every week. Instead of wondering how construction is going or physically driving to the site unannounced, buyers can get a glimpse of how their homes are coming along. “The buyers are really excited about this,” Hughes says. “They don't have to come out to the site all the time, and it really works well.”
Now that the PriorityOne program is in place, Brookfield wonders how it got along without it in the past. “Before, we didn't have our sales manager call every week,” Hughes says. “Instead, they set up certain milestones. That's when we made our calls. The system was not proactive.”
Things are very different now. Customer satisfaction has improved, and the construction process flows more smoothly. “[The program] makes the buyer feel more involved in the process, and it allows us to more efficiently manage build time,” Hughes says. “Also, buyers don't have to visit the site as much.”