Preston Press & Charter, September 2007
How Homebuilders Can Deal with Difficult Customers
Communication is the key to settling differences when builders and buyers face off, By Ann Matesi, Professional Builder
Every home builder has stories about clients who make the home building process much more complicated with their demanding personality or with their personal demands.
Contentious customers are a fact of life for all businesses owners. Nowhere is that more evident than in the complicated process of constructing a home. With its countless material, mechanical and human components, the opportunity for mistakes, miscommunication and misunderstandings is always just around the next stud wall.
The reality is that the builder/client relationship is a long-term one, often lasting for a year or more. But, like building the home itself, laying a good foundation for the builder/client relationship takes work as well.
Recognize Risks & Opportunities
The sales adage, “Make your customer happy, and they’ll tell a friend; make your customer unhappy, and they’ll tell 10 who will each tell 10 more” rings particularly true in the business of building homes.
When a customer is unhappy with their builder or there is a problem with their home, the news spreads throughout the rest of the neighborhood.
Can there be a silver lining to the cloud that a difficult customer brings to a residential construction project? A challenging customer can actually be a huge service for your company by providing you with an opportunity to learn something new or improve on some element of your business by turning a negative into a positive.
Identify Causes of Conflict
Because many factors can lead to a customer’s being difficult, it is important that the builder understand the motivation behind customer actions. Buyers may have complaints about the construction of the home itself, about the products being used, the amount of attention they are receiving or they may just not understand the process of how a home is built.
The builder can use these situations as an opportunity to create a foundation for educating the buyer. Overall, most buyers are realistic and fair. They recognize that the builder, is bringing together the pieces of a very complex puzzle.
Communication is Key
Managing customer expectations by spelling out the details from the outset of a project through its completion is critical.
Make sure that the sales contract is thorough and understandable; products and materials use and warranty information is clearly defined; and that the buyer always knows who to go to when a question or problem arises. Also, offer customers a way to track the progress on their home’s construction. All of these things go a long way toward making a buyer more relaxed and less confrontational.
A well-informed client can be a big asset. Welcome them into the home building process by providing them with a format for asking questions and getting answers. The better they understand how things work, the more likely they are to understand where their own responsibilities lie.
And, keep in mind, when customers have a question, they really want to hear the answer from the person who makes the decisions rather than have it relayed to them via a third party.
Buyers Demand High Quality
Improved production techniques for products and materials resulting in extended warranties from manufacturers have raised the bar for what is acceptable, and home buyers’ expectations for quality, durability and energy efficiency have soared because of this.
Although buyers may be downsizing, they still expect top quality in their homes. This makes them more demanding than ever because they recognize quality as a value.
Recognize that you can’t add quality on; it must be engineered into the design and product selections prior to actual construction. This, along with constant oversight and inspections, can ensure a near ‘perfect’ home.
Value Your Team
Your employees serve as a key component to a builder’s success; it’s critical they understand their role in the building process.
To develop an effective residential construction team it is recommended that each staff member receive professional training in customer service issues.
Never permit your employees to be abused or berated by demanding customers, teach them how to handle difficult situations through training and role-playing exercises to improve their interpersonal skills.
Also, keeping employees up-to-date on current materials and construction methods will ensure they will have solid, reliable answers to customers’ questions.
Internally, it is important a builder backs up his or her employees so they work as a team and present a united front to the customer.
Don’t Take the Money and Run
Never leave buyers empty-handed once the project is completed; make sure that they receive — and clearly understand — their warranty package.
Another way to generate good will and recommendations from past customers is to provide continued access to your company. Customers will appreciate the fact that you are willing to give your time and attention, sometimes years later, even when they are paying the costs. Buyers often contact the builder long after the sale regarding non-warranty issues or repairs.
Remember, when the job is finished, your opportunity to generate positive referrals continues.
Thank our Air Force Veterans
Jay Steffel, Harbor Springs
Jim Brown, Harbor Springs
Nick Klein, Petoskey
Scot O'Neill, Petoskey
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