Customer engagement has become a high-tech holy grail in an era of social networking and mass customization. It’s no surprise that software solutions for it are popping up.

HomeFront Software added features earlier this year to its Internet-based Customer Portal product that lets home builders remotely collaborate with clients online. Buyers choose interior selections, upgrades, and other choices in context, and become more involved in the design process. Builders can apply limits to what clients can change and when they can change it. But any deeper engagement between builder and buyer helps, says HomeFront president Daryl Shenner. “The intent was to stimulate upgrade revenues, and it’s working. It makes for a more hands-on feeling for customers when they have the ability to be involved and stay informed throughout the construction process as well.”

Simpad’s Blackpoint is taking the idea to another dimension—literally. BBS Interactive offers buyers a 3-D tour of a home using Flash-animated BIM models. Buyers can access the software through a builder-branded portal at home or walk through it with a salesperson at the builder’s office. Customer engagement with BBS also keeps a house on the buyer’s radar longer, says Simpad CEO Richard Kashian. “They can pick and choose options on the fly,” he says.

Home builder design software developer SoftPlan is also going 3D with its new SoftPlanStudio. What’s different is that the Web-based app is intended for consumers. SoftPlan vice president John Jones says builders have not been fully using the professional software’s design component. He expects consumers designing their own spaces in 3D will eventually collaborate with builders. “One way or another, they’ll work together,” he says.