In their article, Seven Reasons Why the Customer Experience Matters to Home Builders, CustomerThink comments that "home building is becoming commoditised". They further say: "Look at nearly any builder's sales and marketing materials and it is obvious that quality, craftsmanship, design, cost/ft², and energy efficiency are de facto Unique Selling Propositions. With standardised (and digitised) processes combined with high turnover in the industry, there is nothing really unique about most builders' offerings. The location could be considered an exception, but with such fierce competition from developers, land advantage is difficult to sustain in the long term."
So, where does that leave the home construction industry?
How do you create a brand that relies on more than website and brochureware to attract the hearts and wallets of the modern homebuyer? (Remembering that the Millennial generation especially has high customer experience expectations, whether shopping for food, shoes, or a new house).
Staking your claim in no-man's land
I'm going to hark back to the CustomerThink article (and yes, I wish I had written it!). One of their 'Seven Reasons' to invest is that you increase profitability when you improve the customer experience.
And again, I quote: "Great customer experiences have a proven impact on the bottom line: Shorter sales cycles, decreased warranty claims, lower cost per sale, lower employee churn, and good customer reviews are benefits too large to ignore. Improving the customer experience is a long-term investment that delivers measurable value to the entire organisation. It takes time, but it's worth it."
Where am I leading with this?
Today, the customer experience (CX) before, during, and after a home build is king. But without technology, it's pretty much impossible to deliver an exceptional CX that's consistent, nurturing, efficient and quite simply impressive – let alone having an experience that’s timely, deliverable at scale, and both personalised and automated.
How are home builders using technology to stand out from the crowd?
As an example of doing it right, one large-scale home builder offers a range of homes designs, and house/land packages. They have ready-to-view, fitted out display homes and villages located in a range of estates. So nothing new at this stage.
But from the moment an aspiring homeowner steps in the door of one of the show homes, their personalised, end-to-end customer experience commences. As the sales consultant, tablet in hand, does a walk-through with the prospect, they (with permission) capture their contact details, and the answers to a series of questions which determine the requirement for house/land, or just house, location, budget, family size, number of levels and rooms, and more. To note: the questions are developed in conjunction with experienced salespeople and reflect a typical conversation.
Once they enter the database (which happens in real-time), the prospect promptly receives an email or SMS thanking them for their interest, and is added to the marketing database. The ongoing marketing messages they receive contain content filtered to provide information based on the prospect's new house criteria (i.e., location, design, size and budget, etc.). And naturally, every communication comes with a call to action – from arranging a pricing consultation, to booking further home tours.
Given that most display homes are co-located with other builders' show homes, visitors will normally view everything on offer. So, the ability for this particular home builder to start a relationship, and enter a person into the sales funnel on the spot is critical to gaining a competitive advantage.
Once a prospect is converted to a customer, it doesn't stop there. The CX solution interfaces with the home builder's financial system to generate quotes, which are turned into invoices once the agreement is signed. As the build commences, the CX solution provides the customer with regular progress updates (with the cadence reflecting their preferences) and then through to the handover and warranty stage.
With multiple, timely and strategic touch points throughout the relationship, the customer experience offered by this home builder, in particular, elevates their brand and reputation, and helps them stand out from the crowd.
Simplicity above all
However, while technology enables a complex and sophisticated CX, it's not just how customers interact with the solution that counts.
From the sales team perspective, a well-designed CX application must be easy to use, seamless, and intuitive. It must help them do their jobs – or, bottom line, they won't use it. Regardless of the amount of training you invest in, simplicity is key to user adoption.
This doesn't mean that the business process automation behind the CX application needs to be simple – far from it. On the contrary, in an ideal world, it should manage the entire customer lifecycle, from the initial meeting to ongoing marketing, right through to moving in.
But above all, the application should provide your sales teams with the ability to easily capture clean and accurate data and forge enduring customer relationships.
Building a brighter future
The potential of technology to help capture and convert new build prospects to customers is huge – and exciting.
From providing virtual, shareable tours of dream house designs, generating quick quotes, through to portals where a customer can watch the progress of their new home build, technology changes how the home construction industry can inspire, attract and convert customers.
But like anything, getting the basics right of a CX application from the outset is critical.
- Strike while the iron is hot, while a prospect is still basking in the glow of seeing a home that has captured their heart. Your first digital engagement needs to be engaging and fast.
- Think end-to-end. A great CX experience doesn't end with the sales process, but enhances and supports the entire customer journey, including marketing, financials and customer portals.
- Make it user friendly. If your end-users don't want to use the system, you've wasted your time, money, and effort.
- Start simple – but do start. You can't afford to play catchup with your competitors. So it's better to get the basics up and running and build more complex process automation into the back end when ready.
The home builder who invests in a great CX experience will open the doorway to more sales. Going back to the CustomerThink article: “Great customer experiences have a proven impact on the bottom line.”