Customer Perception

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By Sheila Morgan

Pick up any business related book, newspaper or trade journal and you will probably find an article about customer service. This important component of any business is fodder for columnists and writers. The quality and effectiveness of a customer service program can determine how successful that business will be.

Regardless of product or price, how customers perceive their importance to a business can make or break that business. Survey after survey has proven that point. Unfortunately, many customers don’t respond to survey requests; they just quietly take their business elsewhere. Some don’t go quietly, telling everyone who will listen about their poor experience. Often the smallest problems or slights do the most damage.

Robert Spector, well known customer service expert and author of The Nordstrom Way, sums up the importance of service: “Customer service, by itself, is not a guarantee of success, but the absence of customer service is a guarantee of failure. Customers are more savvy these days,” Spector says. “They have more choices.”

So what can a builder do to ensure that his buyers and homeowners perceive their importance to his business?

  • Build Relationships — Buyers want to feel that they are more than a lot and block number. Small and custom builders who do much of their own selling and building tend to interact directly with the buyer. Their relationships may be forged by default. Mid-size and large production builders must be more aware of cementing those relationships when the buyer is handed off to each department throughout the sales, construction and warranty processes.
  • Listen, Absorb and Then Respond — As obvious as this statement may be, it is a normal human tendency to react or respond without giving full thought and attention to the situation. This tendency can be deadly, especially if you are embroiled in a dispute with your customer. Everyone wants to be heard and emotions can run rampant.
  • Speaking of Disputes — If you have access to an informal dispute resolution process, use it. Third party assistance, regardless of the outcome, is a buffer between you and your homeowner and can help to maintain your relationship.
  • Keep Them Informed — Use whatever communication is most effective for you to keep your customer in the loop. A status update, either delivered on a regular basis or as each major stage has been completed, will help to assure that customer that they and their home are important to you. Take it one step further and schedule site visits, which may minimize (but never end, of course) those unannounced visits.
  • Ask for Feedback — A status update or site visit should be more than “Show and Tell.” Encourage questions, be aware of any uncertainty from your buyer. Better to clarify now then have issues arise later. Another human tendency is to let sleeping dogs lie or avoid opening a can of worms. If you take that tact, you may be surprised when that dog wakes up and bites you during the orientation or you end up with worms on the closing table.
  • Send a Thank You Gift, Card or Gift After the Closing — Don’t just leave something on the kitchen counter. Have it delivered, preferably by someone who has established that relationship. Then do the unexpected and send a small gift or card at the end of the warranty period. Remind your homeowners of their importance to your organization. This gesture will continue the good will and may get you a referral.

There are many ways to help your customer feel like an integral part of your business. Think about how you would like to be treated were you to go through the process of buying most likely the largest purchase you’ll ever make. This isn’t complicated, just common sense and consideration.

Although the terms are used interchangeably, remember that consistent and thoughtful customer service results in customer satisfaction and that should be every business owner’s goal.

Sheila Morgan is the Director of National Accounts for Bonded Builders Warranty Group. You can reach her by emailing smorgan@bondedbuilders.com or by calling (800) 749-0381, Ext. 3601.

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