Generally, when home builders talk about customer service, the focus is on how to make the building process smoother,​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​how to speak to customers on their level, and how to mitigate problems and delays. However, in a presentation at the 2015 Avid Conference in Madison, Wis. last week, C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs at Meritage Homes, argued that the quality of the product is a customer service in and of itself.

2015 Avid Conference, Madison, Wisconsin
2015 Avid Conference, Madison, Wisconsin

While most companies will tell you it’s all about location, floor plan, and price, Herro will argue that if you get those right, then all it means is you didn’t screw up. If you don’t get these basic elements right, then your homes won’t even make it to the top five of a customer's wish list. A buyer's true priorities only emerge when you compare two houses in the same location with similar floor plans and similar pricing.

Herro cited a recent survey that showed basic buyer preferences: After ‘single-family detached’ and ‘better home layout,' consumers said an energy efficient home was the most important aspect, beating out considerations such as new interior features, a large private yard, storage, and a bigger home.

However, with recent innovations in building science to improve home performance, some consumers don’t yet know what they could have in a new home, which is where Herro says builders need to reset customers' expectations—they could have a home that serves them better than what their parents had.

“[Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs] starts off with ‘I need to feel safe, I need to know that you’ll be there’—fundamental customer service—but then it also includes, ‘I want the most I can have,’” said Herro. “And when you’re resetting customer expectations, [it should be] ‘I want you to take care of my family’s health, I want a better investment, I want the best thing I can find.’”

Courtesy 2015 Avid Conference - "Battery-based Communities" presentation
Courtesy 2015 Avid Conference - "Battery-based Communities" presentation

So, builders have to refresh the conversation around the benefits a new home can provide a family. According to J.D. Power and Associates, the top five reasons consumers buy green or make green improvements is cost savings on power and heating, reduced use of water, reduced impact on environment, improved air quality, and increased home value. And when consumers are buying a new home, why shouldn’t they expect the same?

 “We want to exceed their expectations and reset what a good quality of life feels like, what should your home be able to do, what should your lifestyle be,” said Herro.

It’s not about the bells and whistles, he cautions. It’s about the benefits. Consumers don’t aspire to own the best windows or the best insulation. They aspire to healthy living and financial gains.

To that end, Herro said, builders must create awareness, validate the innovation, and show the financial benefits. If consumers aren’t aware of new technology and advancements in home building, teach them. Present all the new options and what they can do for a home's performance. Then validate those innovations by showing their performance through building science learning centers that physically prove the difference between standard windows and low-e windows. Then, monetize the performance to prove the financial benefits they can gain. Compare energy bills between two homes, a standard home and a high-performance home, where one bill is $250 while your home's is only $5.

After seeing that, Herro claims, when your customers look at two similar houses in the same location and in a similar price range, they will realize your firm actually cares about the families who will be living in these homes, that your firm wants your customers to live healthier, smarter, and better.