Charlie Scott has more than 25 years of hands-on homebuilding experience, much of this in senior management positions with an award-winning, nationally recognized Midwest builder. He credits a "Voice of the Customer" firm as instrumental in his homebuilding company's strategic growth and success. Today, Charlie is an owner of that "Voice of the Customer" firm – Woodland, O’Brien & Scott – and helps North American home builders grow their own customer-centric cultures, pursue operational excellence, and increase referral sales. Charlie is an internationally known customer satisfaction expert and has presented keynote addresses in the U.S., United Kingdom and India. Charlie also authored the book, “Construction Knowledge 101” to help builder personnel in all functions understand the nature of homebuilding. He would love to hear you from you at: CharlieS@woodlandobrien.com.
I often wondered why a consulting friend of mine wrote of his miserable air travel experiences, and now I get it. The airline industry, with its product and personnel scenarios are a reasonable proxy for the homebuilding industry. How? Read on.
As a Platinum level patron, I am often “upgraded” to first class. It is amazing how different the first class experience can be on the same airline, aircraft, and route. All else being equal, what is the determining factor? It is the personnel, of course!
Take for instance two recent flights. One flight attendant, Elaine had truly bought into the company's customer service philosophy. She was visibly happy to be a flight attendant. My row-mate asked Elaine how she could be so customer oriented and her response was “I always wanted to be a flight attendant, and help people travel from place to place, and I am happy that this airline lets me do it.” Wow, Elaine got it! She was full of gratitude and great attitude. She made everyone happy to fly her airlines, even if it cost a bit more. Elaine was a customer satisfaction creator.
That same week, I flew the exact same leg, on the same plane, with a different crew. The experience was starkly different. This flight attendant, I’ll call her Robin, was a minimalist. She announced the company mandated script “We would like to extend a warm welcome to our Preferred flyers…” with the zeal and authenticity of a rug. Robin didn’t wear a name tag, smile, greet passengers, collect and hang 1st class passenger’s suit coats, offer pre-flight drinks, or any of the other first class “perks” the company promotes. Robin was, and is, a customer satisfaction vampire, sucking satisfaction out of loyal customers.
Ok, what are the two industries’ similarities? In the airline business customers are pretty much a captured audience, in a tube of aluminum, at 30,000 feet, and can’t get up and walk out of the transaction. Homebuilding is similar. Once a customer plunks down their down payment, they too are a captured audience and their experience is at the mercy not of the COMPANY, or its’ POLICIES, but rather their EMPLOYEES. Each industry provides both a product and a service. For instance, both flights departed and landed on time and the employees flawlessly covered the safety mandates, but it was their interpretation and buy-in of the customer experience philosophies that ultimately became the company asset or liability.
Similarly, in homebuilding, the house is usually well-built, but it is the customer handling, communications, and overall care and concern experience that is more often detrimental. The home buying experience is people driven, and clearly illustrates that having the wrong people on the plane (or job site), regardless of how well your policies, or corporate values are written, the trip is going to be less than rewarding for everyone….and it is the company that ultimately pays price.
Voice of the Customer satisfaction surveys (especially if conducted by an objective third party source), help identify these types of experiential breakdowns. The survey structure needs to capture both the rational facts (plane arrived on time) and the more emotionally based experience comments. It is not unusual to find one or two employees per company who are customer satisfaction vampires, and are known by management to be such. However, it isn’t until the Voice of the Customer’s metrics exposes these satisfaction vampires that the management acts. Rarely is management caught by surprise about the personnel, but they are often shocked at the consequences as measured by lost customer enthusiasm, lower referral sales and brand erosion.
Good home builders are just that – good home builders. Our customer satisfaction studies show that approximately 15% of all customer dissatisfaction is caused by “Home Quality” issues, while 85% of customer dissatisfaction is caused by “Process” (or personnel) issues. Why is it then that we, in home building obsess over the product quality, when it is the customer experience that is the most influential in our future referral sales, reputation and brand equity? This is precisely why customer satisfaction surveys should be skewed towards the customers’ homebuying experience, while still sufficiently covering product quality.
Ok, here are your management lunch questions for the week – who are your customer satisfaction creators (Elaines) and who are your customer satisfaction vampires (Robins)? Do you have an objective “Voice of the Customer” program in place to help you identify your vampires, be they product, processes, or personnel and their overall cost to the organization?
Post script: Elaine’s behaviors resulted in two “Above and Beyond” recognition certificates from her passengers. Robin’s behaviors produced an unfavorable blog post. Welcome to the age of social media!