A HOME BUYER'S EVOLUTION into a homeowner is a difficult transition. After being wooed by personal sales service during the buying process, the homeowner often feels abandoned by the builder once the check is signed. Couple that with the fact that most homeowners spend more than they intended on their new home, and their expectations of the post-sale services they deserve are ratcheted sky-high.
In the wake of these heightened expectations, builders often choke. Many see a continued relationship with the homeowner as a potential nuisance and liability. But Owens Corning is turning continued customer care into a business building strategy. Through its HOMExperts division, builders leave anything from warranty repairs to preventative home maintenance up to, well, the experts. Leveraging the company's skill and brand name, builders improve service, increase customer satisfaction, and stimulate more referrals.
MYTH OF THE SATISFIED CUSTOMER According to Owens Corning's Life of the Home survey conducted in the fall of 2004, only 44 percent of new homeowners—those who purchased new homes within the past two years—were satisfied with their builder's customer care after the home purchase. Moreover, 81 percent of those new homeowners said that making repairs promptly and offering services beyond the standard home warranty would be a “very big” or “big” influence on their builder satisfaction.
Customer satisfaction gurus see those numbers as a case in point. J.D. Power and Associates' senior director of real estate industries, Paula Sonkin, says “With production builders—generally speaking—in a given market, the product from one builder to the next isn't all that different. So, what differentiates one competitor from the next … are non-product–related things like customer service.”
A number of builders have caught on that a sophisticated warranty service goes beyond fixing cracks in drywall; it repairs fractures in the builder-homeowner relationship. By focusing on post-sale service, builders turn warranty people into sales people. In fact, the Owens Corning study revealed that 73 percent of new homeowners said they would be more likely to refer their builder to family and friends if the builder offered continuous customer care.
That's why some builders—including those with the highest customer satisfaction scores—count on HOMExperts' services. Frank Sette, a director for HOMExperts, says four out of the top five builders and 11 out of the top 15 have currently signed on. Although HOMExperts is only available in the 20 top building markets, Sette says it will be available in 10 more markets by 2006.
CONTINUING CUSTOMER CARE HOMExperts takes continued customer care above and beyond warranty service with its Life of the Home program. One of an array of products that HOMExperts offers (see “Pick Your Product,” page 97), it gives builders a chance to initiate customer contact through a preventative maintenance program.
The program gets its legs from the idea that like a car, a home requires regular maintenance to ensure peak performance. So, HOMExperts will initiate home “tune-ups” on behalf of the builder at three key points throughout the first year following move in for less than $1,000. Builders can sign on for program contracts of up to three years, after which home-owners have the option of paying for the service themselves.
Sette stresses that the program is not an extended warranty service but a proactive maintenance plan. “We're not going to fix your water heater, but we will check to make sure it's operating properly,” Sette says. However, once HOMExperts crews have identified problems, they will recommend solutions and even complete repair work for a fee to be paid by the homeowner, assuming it's not a warranty issue.
Matt MacLaren, KB Home's Inland Valley vice president for customer service, says his division rolled out the Life of the Home program in July. Already a fan of the move-in service, in which a HOMExperts service technician helps out new homeowners on move-in day, MacLaren personalized the program to supplement KB's current customer service. The HOMExperts service technicians focus on educating every homeowner on proper maintenance and care of a new home. “It provides a specialty that we would've had to develop a special team to do,” MacLaren explains.