Image

As we continue to recover from the worst recession since the 1930s, it appears that most industries have relegated service to the back seat. But not housing. The home building industry has done an incredible job improving its customer satisfaction over the past six years.

Home buyer satisfaction surveys, conducted by AVID Ratings, reveal that the home building industry has improved its annual Total Home Buyer Experience Score by 7 points from 2005–2009. This statistic is backed by J.D. Power and Associates, which also cites year-over-year improvements in the industry. However, compared to other industries that have also faced severe financial stress—such as the banking, airline, and auto industries—the housing industry’s customer satisfaction scores are even more impressive.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), the national barometer of customer satisfaction across industries, reports that the airline industry is down 2 points in customer satisfaction since 2005 (and down 11.1 since the index’s inception). The index shows the banking industry as flat since 2005, but down 3.75 points since 2009 for the big-four financial institutions. Meanwhile, the auto industry is up 4 points, but Toyota is down 1 point since 2005. (Go to www.builderonline.com/business to view charts on these industries.)

Image
Data aside, personal experiences confirm the numbers. Recently, I was at my local bank and noticed it had introduced a new, higher interest rate savings program, but the bank prohibited switching existing funds into it. I asked, “So, if I cancel my account and redeposit my money, then I get the good rate?” The bank manager said, “I guess so.” How smart is this new rate program in maintaining customer loyalty? Well, I am in the process of switching to a competitor that is offering double my bank’s “special” rate. Interestingly, were it not for this customer-unfriendly program, I would never have found the better rate elsewhere.

Another real-life anecdote illustrates why Toyota’s woes should be a warning to those in management who think they can skimp on service and still leap ahead. My wife and I decided it was time to trade in our eight-year-old car and perhaps cash in on all the discounts in the auto industry. We visited numerous dealers, including Toyota, looking for a mid-size SUV that could tow more than 7,000 pounds. This limited our choices, but the Toyota representative insisted we could tow that weight with a Highlander (which happened to be the special that month). I was horrified at his suggestion because I had already studied the factory specifications, which clearly state a 5,000-pound limit for the Highlander.

Overall, this was the worst dealer experience we had. Notwithstanding my disappointments in vehicle quality, I believe Toyota’s world-class company culture is broken. On the bright side, we did find an honest customer-centric salesperson and a quality-built vehicle at a Honda/Acura dealership, where we eventually bought our car.

I believe the current recession has caused a massive reversion to poor service, except for housing. It’s almost like some companies have given their employees license to treat customers poorly in the name of making the budget. However, great service is about showing customers how much you care—in policy and in action.

What does all of this mean for us in housing? On many fronts—especially service—the bar has been raised, and with it the barrier to entry. Keep up the good work, and don’t lose your way amid shrinking budgets! Keep service as a primary goal of your company and celebrate service excellence as you did before hard times struck the economy. This too shall pass, and the reputation you maintain is fundamental to defining your long-term success.

Housing is a local business that can turn quickly, and recovering from a soiled reputation isn’t easy or always possible. That’s why quality builders have such an incredible advantage.