Progress in the area of a customer's experience--whether that customer is a home buyer prospect, a laborer, an employee, a stakeholder, or the a home building company buyer of products, materials, services--in home building is abundantly and dramatically clear, ... in select instances.
One of the big ways we can say there's been improvement has been a deliberate, effortful reframing of the terms, work on what this area of business practice really means, how it works when it works, and what its costs and benefits tend to be.
Think, for instance, of the currency of terms used over the years among small, medium, and large-sized home builders, even as design, pricing, materials, and workflows have gone through gyration after gyration in dynamic change.
- Customer Service
- Customer Satisfaction
- Customer Care
Each of the terms means what they mean. Done right, the return on invested time, money, and energy result in positives home builders might affirm as worth it: fewer warranty claims and call-backs, a better shot at referrals to other potential customers, possibly even repeat purchase behavior (loyalty) not often associated with such big ticket items as a new home purchase.
And, taken together, most of us might observe a progression, an evolution in how we as organizations--big or small--need to rearrange our mental furniture around this notion of a customer's experience.
An industry whose prevailing practice is to "trap-fence" its customer prospects from a sales office to its model homes needs to continue to work on rearranging that mental furniture.
The evolution in home building--thanks to the work of companies like Avid Ratings, Eliant, and Woodland, O’Brien, and Scott--has been noteworthy. In the Dark Ages, the fact that a new home was delivered nearly on time and nearly on budget was considered customer service, satisfaction, and care rolled up into a nice bundle.
That notion did not survive the emergence of the "experience economy," and companies like Zappos, Four Seasons, Marriott, and few others started to awaken builders to the reality of three facts.
One was that customer care is something any seller needs to do as an integral part of a deliverable. The deliverable may be physical, but what the buyer demands is more than the result of engineering, finance, real estate, and design. So, customer care is in the customer's mind.
Two, it's not a tactic, nor a bolt-on, nor a "final-stage," it's part of the business culture, part of the business model, and part of the business strategy and vision, just like getting land off-market for a great price and putting the most profitable neighborhood on it.
Three, customer care and customer-centricity speak to experience, to emotion, to primal forces like fear, delight, protectiveness, etc. In the current line-up of the Harvard Business Review "latest" content, a piece by Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas, and Daniel Leemon, entitled "What Separates the Best Customers from the Merely Satisfied," addresses this point. They write:
Customers connect emotionally with brands when the brand resonates with their deepest emotional drives – things like a desire to feel secure, to stand out from the crowd, or to be the person they want to be.
Bottom line, most people buying a house are spending the most money they spend on any single thing in their lives, and their tendency is to be emotional about it. What they want is to be heard, to feel they have a "say," to know that, like everything else, they should get to "change" something in the process.
By hook or by crook, home builders are learning to take this seriously. The same goes for manufacturers, materials suppliers, and, yes, even laborers, in the mix of the ecosystem that delivers homes and neighborhoods to people.
Particularly in the next stretch of recovery--quality and aesthetics are table-stakes among competitors for home builders’ business. Service discipline that’s nimble and responsive in time, production, installation, and warranty work has become a key differentiator.
Service--among builders' partners--gives builders the ability to turn on a dime, whether it’s in response to a home buyer’s desire for an alternative to a floor plan, a design direction, or a construction cycle shift due to trade labor constraints. Midstream modifications, installation flexibility; local support; and satisfaction follow-up.
Have a look at another piece, Seth Godin's rumination on customer care and experience, "Understanding the Doublings."
One of those "easy to say, hard to do" things. Hard. But worth it.