An NAHB Economics poll conducted during the first quarter of 2018 found that 17% of American adults plan to buy a home within the next 12 months.
Courtesy Adobe Stock/Monkey Business Images

Any builder who has sold and closed more than two homes will tell you that every experience with every home buyer is unique. As much as we would love to construct systems and processes that ensure a smooth experience 100% of the time, it never seems to turn out that way.

In today’s environment, builders are dealing with home buyers who display ever-decreasing levels of patience and very little tolerance for mistakes. Take an already cynical buyer, place them in a challenging market, and then add the inevitable mistakes, delays, and misled expectations. The end result is, well, not pretty.

The challenge for builders is to create the type of organizational culture where community teams—comprised of all customer-facing employees—can dependably provide a level of service that not only anticipates issues and quickly solves problems but goes on to provide levels of service that will delight the home buyer.

In the new book "From Contract to Close, How to Create Compelling Home Buyer Experiences that Earn Referrals," builders can follow the experience of two fictional home buyers—two friends who purchase homes in adjoining communities but from two different home builders. One has a wonderful experience worthy of referring friends. The other has a horrible experience, worthy of slamming the builder’s reputation at every turn.

It all begins by understanding the home builder’s motive and objective surrounding customer care. At the most basic of operational levels, a builder will seek to create enough efficiency in their organizational systems so that buyers will offer a “satisfactory” rating after move-in. The reality of that approach: Minimize the number of people who hate you. The problem with that approach: Neutrally satisfied buyers might not scream at you, but neither will they refer others to purchase from you.

Top builders develop fundamental principles aimed at exceeding buyer expectations. For example:

  • The best builders only make promises they know they can beat. (No extra credit is given for simply doing what you said you were going to do.)
  • Great organizations are masters of proactive communication. They regularly update their customers without having to be asked.
  • The best home builders find ways to say "yes" to customer requests whenever possible. Every "no" comes at a cost. Is that cost really worth it?
  • Top builders pay close attention to how a customer is made to feel about their experiences. The systems and processes might be efficient; however, if they cause anxiety to the buyer, they defeat the purpose of customer care.

None of the principles just mentioned require moving heaven and earth. They require commitment and intentionality. From the top levels of leadership in the company, customer care is not a program. Rather, customer care drips from organizational culture. There exists a habit of excellence.

Those habits become a storehouse of best practices, like how to make little moments loom large in the buyer’s eyes.

“Memorialize the moment: Alisha (sales representative) stopped by the Dollar Store and grabbed balloons and stuck them in the back of her car, because she knew it would be the day this family said yes," says Tri Pointe Homes' vice president of community experience. "Once they signed the contract, she took them back out to the homesite to celebrate and then sent their kiddo home with the balloons. Total investment = $4.”

We were impressed with another client’s simple, yet effective practice of taking Polaroid pictures when she told us: “I live for the moment we deliver the keys. I have an entire photo album showing pictures of me with clients when they receive their keys. It’s a special moment for them … and for me!”

Here are a few more best practices.

How do you help a customer gain confidence in the people who will be building their homes?
“We have created bios of our construction team to provide a photo and information about the buyer’s construction manager. The sales consultant provides this to the buyer at the time of scheduling their build quality introduction (pre-start meeting). They sing that team member’s praises so that the buyer feels like they know their builder before even meeting. Our sales consultants also meet with their construction manager ahead of the meeting to inform him/her on the buyer (why they’re purchasing, their story, hot buttons, etc.). Having this bridge on both sides helps to start the process off strongly.”
Pulte Homes' vice president of sales and marketing

Why is it critical to overcommunicate?
“No matter how many times you think you need to set an expectation with your customer, plan on explaining it a few more times. It’s easy for us to think we’ve been clear, but there is a lot that customers have to remember when purchasing a home, and it’s important that salespeople take responsibility for repeating themselves to ensure the message has been fully received.”
Lennar Homes' vice president of sales

How to minimize the customer’s most common stress points?
“We’ve found that the customers who are most frustrated with the process are the ones who feel like they need to manage the construction of their home. Let us handle the stress of broken windows. This is why you chose us; this is your time to sit back, kick up your feet, and watch the process unfold.”
Schell Brothers' division sales manager

None of this is particularly easy; all of it is beneficial. Employees want to be a part of a culture that values customer care. Delighted home buyers make our lives that much more enjoyable. For as hard as we work in this industry, doesn’t that make it all worthwhile at the end of the day?

This is the second 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 here.