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Perhaps it’s time to retire the phrase “customer satisfaction” from builders’ lexicons. To aim for customer satisfaction is to set the bar far too low.

Suppose a builder boasts about its 92% customer satisfaction average on its website. What do we know when we read that statistic? We know that 8% of their buyers are between disappointed to royally ticked off. That’s it.

It’s true that life is easier when fewer of our customers are upset, of course. We spend less time on lawsuits and firefighting. But focusing only on reducing complaints puts us in a position of playing a completely defensive game in which our focus becomes making people "not irate." That same energy could be spent creating elated customers who will bring us scores of new buyers from referrals.

Put simply, satisfied customers go through the process without a lot of saber-rattling, but these satisfied customers don’t proactively refer their friends and family when the process is complete. Referrals come from customers who are passionate about their experience.

In our new book "From Contract to Close, How to Create Compelling Home Buyer Experiences that Earn Referrals," we offer 40 years of builders’ best practices for turning satisfied customers into passionate, elated homeowners, or the type of customers who practically feel obligated to recommend you to their friends.

We’ve listed five quick implementation strategies below. Of course, customer care goes much deeper than these five approaches, but these first small steps will get you headed in the right direction. Start small on your journey to customer elation, but start now.

Strategy One: Introduce the Community Team Early

Home buyers come into the purchase experience with a host of stilted perceptions about home builders, home quality, and the level of service they will likely receive. The quick way to alleviate such concerns is to humanize the organization through an early introduction to the community team members, comprised of all those members in the organization who will interact with the customer at the community level.

“My husband became totally committed to purchase here after meeting the superintendent and customer service manager. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” (A buyer from Marietta, Georgia)

The earlier the team is introduced, the greater the customer’s confidence in the entire process. High confidence builds trust. Heightened trust leads to stronger "willingness to refer" a friend. That is why, when feasible, we recommend introducing community team members before the purchase agreement is even signed.

One creative way to do that is to give the buyers a one-page “lifestyle bio” of each community team member prior to the face-to-face introductions. This is not a resume. In an effort to immediately highlight common ground between the buyer and each team member, the lifestyle bio offers personal information about family, pets, travel, and hobbies.

Strategy Two: Change the Way Your Team Makes Promises

The following premise is worth repeatedly reminding everyone in your organization: You don’t get extra credit for meeting expectations, only for beating expectations. Remember, the goal here is customer elation. You have to exceed expectations to accomplish that. The trick: Only make promises that you plan to beat.

You know a fix can be accomplished within 48 hours? Promise 72. You’ve promised a return call by 4 p.m.? Make the call by 3 p.m. It’s a simple idea with a huge impact.

Strategy Three: Find 'Surprise and Delight' Opportunities

It’s home building. A ton of things will go wrong in the time it takes to sell, build, and complete a home. Builders must do everything possible to keep customers positively engaged throughout the process.

One way to do that is to look for “surprise and delight” opportunities, or little and unexpected moments that keep the positive emotions high and serve to counteract the inevitable negative influences along the way.

“I never expected a builder’s salesperson to send me a reminder about the upcoming Little League baseball tryouts. My son would have been devastated if he’d missed this!” (A buyer from Plano, Texas)

Think about small moments that make the customer pleasantly surprised, such as:

  • Builder-branded box labels for packing;
  • Gift cards to local restaurants;
  • Invitations to a “get to know your neighbors” party;
  • Interior decorating magazines;
  • Builder-branded keychains; or
  • The opportunity to sign a wall stud before drywall.

Brainstorm ideas with your community team members. This should be the fun part.

Strategy Four: Update Without Updates

Proactive status updates are crucial to the overall boosting of your customer elation rates. In fact, according to joint research by Eliant Experience Management and the USC Marshall School of Business, proactive communication of construction and loan statuses are the No. 1 factors in driving a buyer’s willingness to refer.

“Shirley’s coordination of the weekly update phone calls was absolutely the key factor in allowing us to be part of the construction process.” (A buyer from Fredericksburg, Virginia)

But what about when you have nothing new to update? Our advice: Call anyway. The call from a team member can sound like this: “There are no new updates; we just wanted to see if there’s anything you’re concerned about or any questions we can answer.”

That offer will go a long way toward proving that you’re paying attention to the buyer’s construction schedule and are truly concerned about the buyer’s overall experience. It takes almost no time to make that call, but this simple step brings about a powerful return in the form of customer trust.

Strategy Five: Invest in the Key Ceremony

Don't make the common mistake of undervaluing how important the “key handover” is in the mind of your customer. This should be a highlight moment of the entire experience, the culmination of all the hard work and mental energy.

How can you make this special? Get everyone involved. Your team will want to participate in such an initiative. And why? Because it is not just a celebration for the customer; it’s also a celebratory opportunity for the community team.

“My sales agent was quarantined for COVID and couldn’t attend my closing. But she sent a warm congratulations video to the escrow officer who surprised us with it during our closing. WOW!” (A buyer from Colorado Springs, Colorado)

The path to customer elation begins with simple steps. And the payoff is extraordinary. You didn’t get into this business to aim low. Stop aiming for satisfied customers. Go out and make them elated!

This is the third iteration of a three-part article series by "From Contract to Close" co-authors Jeff Shore and Bob Mirman. Read the first article on the six essential referral drivers and the second on customer care best practices.