Every builder provides essentially the same product. The elevations, floor plans, and square footage may vary, but it's all about providing shelter. So in order to differentiate your company, especially in markets that are beginning to soften, the question becomes one of how to offer customers something remarkable. For many builders, the days of selling out before construction begins are coming to a close. To move inventory, some builders have piled on the incentives, offering everything from closing costs to plasma TVs and more.

But savvy builders know that while incentives might generate traffic, they don't build loyalty, boost margins, or lead to customer referrals. These standout builders have found that the way to break away from the competition is to give home buyers what virtually no builder gives them—fond memories. They have transformed the process of buying and building a house from a tension-filled ordeal that customers wish they could forget into an experience they'll always remember.

These builders also know that the personal touches that wow prospects in the sales center and the models can't stop there. They have to continue on through the often-overwhelming selection of options and upgrades, the legal and financial intricacies of the mortgage and closing process, the fits and starts of construction, and the emotion and exhaustion of move-in day.

This special field report looks at builders who have mastered the art of customer contact at each of these steps and shares their strategies for success.