What do your customers say to their friends about their builder?
Their response is critical if you depend on home buyer referrals for new business. Could
you predict what they would say? What advice would they give a friend considering buying
from you? Chances are that they even though you survey your customers you still don't know
all you need to know.
"Are they a good builder?" the prospect asks your
customer. Their conversation probably lasts but only a few minutes. In that time your
prospect will learn how your customer feels about your company. If the prospective buyer
is serious, they'll ask for detailed advice on possible problem areas. These insights
given to friends are rarely seen by the builder. Still, what goes on in this conversation
is at the heart of your company reputation and referral business.
Finding out the real story is a matter of your customer focus. Most
builder's customer surveys ask only questions that the builder wants to know about. You
also need to ask questions that BUYERS want to know about. Builder questions are often
decidedly different from the type of questions one friend would ask another.
Of course builders need to gather detailed information on their
product design and features and departmental performances such as sales, construction,
settlement, and warranty. But home buyer surveys that stop there don't capture the
feelings that the home buyer has about their builder, the feelings that are the at the
heart of referrals among friends.
Take customer service for example. Customer surveys frequently ask
for operational feedback on response times, courtesy of personnel, and whether things get
fixed correctly. You need this to manage a service department. But a prospective home
buyer is more likely to simply ask "Did the builder stand behind your home after
closing?" Maybe you should too.
Shea Homes, San Diego, a 1996 NHQ winner, dedicates a page of their
survey to probe what their customers think about their builder. "Shea homes' goal has
been to make sure I'm a satisfied buyer" and "Shea Homes met its commitments to
me" are two of the ten questions that go beyond builder operations.
The need for a the customer's perspective was highlighted here at
the NAHB Research Center when we were called upon to design a home buyer satisfaction
survey. Our goal was to independently assess home buyer satisfaction with their home,
their builder, and the home buying process. We found that the Research Center questions
did not appear on most of the builder surveys. For instance, the questions "The
construction process went smoothly, with minimal mistakes or unpleasant surprises"
and "Your home was built with good workmanship and attention to details" are
more general than the operational questions normally asked by builders.
With customer feedback on questions like these, it's easy to
understand what kind of reputation you have and the nature of you customer referrals. In
combination with the more detailed operational questions you'll have a more complete
picture of your customer's home buying experience.