Giving customer service staff the same corporate stature -- and comparable pay -- as construction, sales, and other key managers is one key ingredient to customer satisfaction, argues Larry Webb, CEO of John Laing Homes, of Newport Beach, Calif. So is having customer service report directly to the CEO, he said. Webb, speaking at The National Roundtable on Customer Satisfaction Oct. 23-24 in Anaheim, Calif., championed the importance of hiring the right people, reducing turnover, promoting from within, and compensating everyone for the results.

So did Bert Selva, CEO of Shea Homes, in Walnut, Calif., who said what makes the difference in sustaining satisfaction is not just hiring the right people, but focusing on their behavior and not their experience. Define what is expected of your team members, emphasize customer satisfaction, and pay for performance, he added. "Surveys are just a tool." Creating a world-class workforce and a customer-obsessed culture that thrives on feedback are the goals.

The underlying mission is to turn delighted customers into unpaid sales reps and the source of referrals, said Alex Roqueta, president of Eliant, in Irvine, Calif., which hosted the event. More than 200 builders shared practical ideas on ways to enhance buyer relations. Among the ideas: Plenty of community social events that better orient buyers, including inviting satisfied buyers to a welcome party when nearby developments open.

Everyone should know that their job is not to build a house, but to care for the home buyer, said customer service expert Carol Smith.