Little things mean a lot

Detail oriented: little things mean a lot

Carol Smith

Whether shopping for a new car, a new home, or a college education, the latest customer service focus is on the importance of an overall buying “experience” that puts the buyer at ease. What can custom builders do to enhance the home-buying experience? Believe it or not, it starts with the small things.

To make sure your customer service is first-rate, review every process, paper, and environment your buyers are exposed to as they work with your company. Search for details you can manage more effectively Of course, clients are counting on you to build them a top-quality custom home, but customer service is about more than that. Don’t overlook the small everyday things that can lead to tremendous customer satisfaction. To illustrate, I’ll share some of the blunders I’ve seen custom builders make:

Unwelcome sign. The paper sign taped to the front door of the model home admonished all who entered to remove their shoes or don paper booties in order to avoid soiling the floors and carpet. This is a real “Buyer, go away” message; if it were me, I’d simply leave right then and there in compliance with the order.

Missed appointment. After the buyers re-arranged their flight home to keep a design/selection appointment, the consultant stood them up without warning. Tracking her down later in the day, the buyers heard her explanation: She had an appointment that ran over–it was with an important client who was buying two houses.

Touchy topics. With all participants (salesperson, real estate agent, and buyers) comfortably seated, the superintendent began with this introduction: “Well folks, today is your preconstruction review. The first thing I want to talk about is mold….” Now if that doesn’t make a meeting fun I don’t know what does. All meetings with buyers should begin and end on positives. Discuss the tough topics in the middle and in a matter-of-fact tone.

Messy tour. Not to be outdone, another super in another state walked me through a home in the framing stage. I was astonished to learn that the buyers had toured the home the day before. Conditions included mud on the footers between the garage and the laundry room, no doubt from some considerate person who tried not to track mud through the entire home. A coffee cup, tipped on its side beside a puddle of cold coffee was another nice touch, as were the nails, sawdust, and wood shavings. The tour de force was the bathtub that contained three or so inches of stagnant yellow water, accented with cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and plain old dirt.

Jobsite cleanliness and respect for the product being created is second nature to those with a passion for quality and appreciation of the buyer’s opinion.

Doubtful orientation. Halfway through the demonstration of the kitchen, the buyer pointed out a dent in the bottom panel of the dishwasher. The orientation rep responded, “Oh yeah, we know about that.”

In discussing the wisdom of this approach later, the orientation rep explained to me that he did not want to upset the buyers with another item; he was hoping to replace the panel without them needing to know about it. The company’s concern was that by calling attention to such items, they stimulated buyers to look closely at the resulting repair, often leading to further complaints.

This strategy not only failed but in the process planted a doubt about the company’s integrity. Was the builder going to let this slide? Would the builder deny action because the damage was not listed on the orientation form? Trust can be damaged by suspicion as easily as by an overt action. The rep could have mentioned in his introductory remarks, “I’ve noted three items already–I’ll point them out as we come to them,” and avoided this uncomfortable moment.

Closing delay. Buyers sat waiting for 35 minutes at the closing office with no explanation, no offer of refreshments. When the husband tried to ask the receptionist what was going on, her response was, “I don’t know what’s wrong but they’ll come out and get you when they’re ready for you.”

People feel important when we pay attention to them, notice their comfort level, and respond accordingly. First choice of course is to avoid such delays. Should one be unavoidable, a hospitable attitude would be in order. Wherever buyers transact business in the home building process, they should be treated like guests in your home.

Warranty inspection. The homeowner’s disappointment was readily apparent. She had expected repairs and she got an inspection. When she asked when repairs would actually occur, she got a long story about how the trades in the region were overworked and it might be weeks before she heard anything more. When the homeowner raised objections she was told how excellent the builder’s service is and that she should feel proud to own such a lovely home.

The simple step of explaining the purpose of this meeting when the appointment was set would have prevented the first disappointment. At that same time a heads-up like this one would soften the delay: “This area is so popular that the trades are scrambling to meet the demand. Service is a bit slower than any of us like right now. However, we monitor every work order and see to its completion.”

Some of these service blunders are simply due to poor communication skills, some show a serious lack of empathy, and some are just plain rode. All of them put customer satisfaction at risk by making the home-buying experience unpleasant. With thought, planning, and training of front-line personnel, you can make the experience enjoyable from start to finish by taking care of the details.–Carol Smith offers customer service assessment, consulting, and training programs for home builders. She can be reached at

COPYRIGHT 2005 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group