How custom homebuilders can better manage customer service

Columnist Tom Stephani shows how custom-home builders can focus on helping homebuyers understand the building process.

April 01, 2008

Customer service is often confused with warranty service, but it is much more. Warranty service takes care of construction defects or workmanship issues and is an important part of a comprehensive customer service program. Customer service refers to the client's complete experience with the builder. From first contact to contract to completion of the home and beyond, satisfying the customer at every step should be foremost in every builder's mind.

In my way of thinking, good customer relations start with the ability to see issues from the customer's perspective; the commitment to exceed the customer's expectations; a willingness to do what was promised; and a business ethic that puts honesty, fairness and integrity ahead of monetary concerns.

Good customer service is really a client management system designed to help them understand and appreciate the building process. It is also one that creates realistic expectations while setting limits and responsibilities for both the builder and the customer.

Some of the mistakes custom builders make that lead to customer dissatisfaction include:

  • Using incomplete plans and specifications. This creates misunderstandings and disputes during construction. You must strive to provide detailed plans and specs.
  • Over-promising and under-delivering. Optimism is great, but doing what you said you'd do when you said you'd do it provides a good basis for an excellent customer experience.
  • Utilizing confusing systems and haphazard procedures. These lead to eventual distrust between builder and client.
  • Failing to maintain consistent and clear communications with the client. Ignored phone calls are the most often cited problem that customers have with builders.

It has been my experience that most customers are satisfied with the finished home but are frustrated and exhausted by the building process. This frustration helps turn a normal person into a client from hell, so it's imperative to develop a system that shepherds the customer through the design/build process.

Too often, builders assume that clients have a much greater understanding of custom building than they actually do. One good way to rectify that situation is to create a series of manuals for the customer to refer to before, during and after construction. Although these manuals can be combined into one orientation manual, I prefer to break it down into three:

  • The Design & Building Manual, which spells out in a customer-friendly manner your way of doing business. All the steps of the custom building process are explained in detail so there are fewer surprises and areas of disagreement during and after construction.
  • The Construction Manual, which helps the customer organize the various documents created during construction. Here, you would provide sections for contracts, change orders, selection sheets, allowance information, schedules, surveys, draw sheets, field notes and other materials needed for a smooth construction process.
  • The Warranty Manual, which provides the customer with all of the information required to live in, operate and maintain their new home.

Showing the customer how to use the manuals during the construction and warranty periods will forestall many typical builder/client issues. Additionally, they are excellent marketing and sales tools that can be used to demonstrate your commitment to a positive customer experience.

Next month, part 2 of this article will cover how to create realistic expectations and avoid three warranty nightmares.

Tom Stephani, tom@custombuilding.com, www.custombuilding.com


Author Information
Tom Stephani, MIRM, GMB, MCSP and CAPS, is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer who specializes in custom homes; infill housing; light commercial projects; and developing commercial and residential land.

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