By Lisa Marquis Jackson. Align leadership: Creating a culture that agrees and believes caring about customer satisfaction is essential. To imbed the philosophy and ensure a buy-in from all levels -- executive, management office, and the field -- is no easy task. "When we work with builders, we get everyone in the company together and stick them in a room," says John Woodland, president of the St. Paul, Minn.-based research and consulting firm Woodland, O'Brien & Associates. "We talk about the vision and tell them what is in it for the company. It provides a unique opportunity to get them all singing from the same hymnal."

Maintain a consistent message throughout the company: One way many progressive builders do this is through compensation. "Unless this happens, you send mixed messages," says Ed Caldeira, president of Caldeira Quality. "You can't tell your people that customer satisfaction is the most important thing then base bonuses on profitability."

"It is too important to us not to use it as an incentive to take great care of our buyers," says Covington, division president of Estate Homes. "Just about everybody in our organization is tied through compensation -- but I don't want to put too much emphasis on that. The level of sincere importance that you put on it is much more important."

Measure satisfaction in the short and long term: At Pulte, customers are surveyed twice: at 30 days after move-in and 13 months after move-in. "There is a natural, predictable erosion between the two time frames," says Laing.

Quality consultant Lee Harkins, president of Harkins and Associates, in Richmond, Va., suggested that his client, Arvida, go one step further. "Some builders wait until after the homeowner moves in to try to capture the whole thing. We try to identify the critical milestones along the process." Arvida surveys in three stages: after sales and design; again after construction and closing; and 90 days after move-in.

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