December 09, 2021
Elevating The Home Builder Customer Experience
If you look at the historical data for online mentions of "customer experience", you'll find a steep curve climbing up and to the right.
For most, this isn't much of a surprise. Customer experience—for home builders or otherwise—is something that continues to become top-of-mind.
The truth is a great customer experience will often go further than any other brand-building effort. It's the difference between simply selling a satisfactory product and creating a lasting brand-to-buyer relationship. And today, it can be the difference between success and failure.
Home builders must consider customer experience throughout all touchpoints to establish strong brand awareness, increase brand engagements and differentiate the business from the competition.
Let's take a look at what the customer experience is, why it matters and how it applies to the homebuyer purchase journey.
“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”
What is a Customer Experience?
Customer experience is the collection of touchpoints your buyers have with your brand throughout the customer journey including their path to purchasing and engagements with the business. From first encountering your brand to after purchase, your customer experience essentially refers to how frictionless and rewarding or frustrating and underwhelming it feels to buy from your business.
More simply, the customer experience is exactly what it says – what it's like to be your customer.
Of course, you want the experience to be a positive one. But you also want it to be easy to follow. Customers who are enjoying their experience know where they are, where they are going and how to get there. A good business strategy directs them along the way and ensures their satisfaction at every touchpoint. Developing an exceptional customer experience is understanding that people desire to feel seen and valued by the brands they like and finding ways to demonstrate that your brand does just that.
As with most experiences, people want to have an idea of what to expect and where the finish line is. This minimizes confusion and builds confidence in your brand. It’s important to consider customer expectations for the brand and become present on every medium where potential buyers engage to increase reach, establish strong credibility and build brand loyalty. Doing so is highly beneficial because it both boosts your customer’s confidence in their purchase decision and leads to future recommendations.
In 2021 and beyond, there are more opportunities than ever to provide experiences that go beyond typical expectations. Don’t settle for the bare minimum within your brand marketing strategy, seek to impress your buyers and set high standards for the customer service they receive.
Before we move on, let's think about a couple of factors that make the real estate and home builder customer experience unique.
Home builders face two unique dynamics:
- Relatively long sales cycles
- A high-ticket purchase (perhaps the highest most people will ever make)
Naturally, this means the customer journey takes longer and matters more. It also means you have increased opportunities to make the experience an exceptional one. Rather than a short-lived sales cycle, home builders have a significant period to connect with their buyers, deeply understand their needs and build long-lasting client relationships.
Why Does it Matter?
A predictably positive customer experience is essential. But why? Let's go through a few reasons:
There are a lot of players in any given industry. And as you know, home building is no exception. Because businesses exist as one of many choices, customer satisfaction is key. Research shows that 73% of consumers view their experience with the brand as a highly important factor of their purchasing decisions, even more so than price and quality. This means relying on the exceptional quality of your homes or great price points to make sales isn’t the best strategy. While those also make strong selling points, there’s no denying the impact of providing a positive customer experience to strengthen homebuyer trust and confidence in purchasing a new home with the brand.
Here are some compelling stats for you:
- The number one reason customers change to a new brand is because they feel unappreciated.
- An upset customer will tell at least 15 people about their negative experience.
- 73% of companies who are ranked “above average” for customer service financially outperform their director competitors.
The takeaway here is that among everything you can be doing to earn market share, developing a great customer experience is one of the strongest tools available.
And without it, poor performance will come quickly and grow rapidly.
Tip: Think about a brand you’ve had positive interactions with. Let’s say you discover another brand with similar, maybe even better, products, but their customer service is poor. Would you be tempted to stop purchasing from the first company and switch to this new brand? Our guess is probably not! That’s why it’s important to focus on the customer experience as that is always a top consumer priority as they make purchase decisions.
Social proof, crowdsourced info and customer reviews that are available to homebuyers at the click of a button mean the curtain is drawn way back on every brand out there. Today, the average consumer can go anywhere and find anything – or stay home and find anything by simply utilizing the power of the Internet.
The output of this connectivity, coupled with huge gains in brand-to-buyer relationship tools, is customer expectations set at an all-time high. Although this may seem like a challenge, it’s an opportunity for brands to creatively engage their customers, consider their desires and utilize that information to guide their strategy.
Because winning brands can and do offer overwhelmingly positive experiences, customers no longer have patience for the alternative. Prior experiences have shaped them. There is simply no longer room for disappointment. The bar for customer experience success is higher than ever, which means there’s no better time to find ways to improve the buyer journey and discover where customer service can improve.
Most people who buy from you will have expectations about:
- The product or service
- Communication (frequency, style, and channel)
A great customer experience includes enough checkpoints through the right channels to empathize with and attend to a customer’s expectations. If you don’t plan for meeting implicit and explicit expectations, you’ll likely lose out.
Tip: Think about some of your favorite brands. What exactly did they do to win you over? What is it like to work with them? Today, there's no shortage of good experiences out there. So find them, and emulate them.
Your customers have studied you. And they've studied your industry. They have looked you up online, asked social groups about you and vetted you. All before ever blipping on your radar. This is both a pro and a con.
If your branding and marketing are up to par, this works in your favor—customers come to you already knowing who you are and what you can provide. Better yet, they arrive ready to trust you.
The downside comes when they don't like what they find through research. Perhaps they didn't respond to the branding. Maybe the copywriting didn't land, or there was too much information left to be desired. It’s crucial to consider the entirety of the customer journey, even before consumer engagement with the brand begins.
The bottom line: we're all researchers now. If your customer experience doesn't account for all the time potential buyers will spend researching your brand and industry, you're likely missing something big.
4.Customer Reviews and Word-of-Mouth Recommendations
Satisfied customers are truly a brand’s best form of advertisement. By keeping customers happy, they’ll be more than willing to share their experience with others and provide effective social proof for your brand. Even if a customer doesn’t independently provide a review, you can always ask customers with whom the brand has a strong relationship to leave honest testimonials about their experience. Not only does this provide a positive first look at your brand for consumers researching the company, but it also establishes brand credibility and forms a beneficial brand reputation.
Consumers strongly trust recommendations from others, this has been proven time and time again. Friends and family are often seen as the most credible source of information about brands according to 92% of consumers.
When brands provide exceptional customer experiences, this leads to positive reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. Along with the power of word-of-mouth recommendations, 90% of buyers are influenced by reading positive brand reviews when making purchases. As more homebuyers recommend the brand, more new customers will be attracted and significantly boost sales.
Tip: Think about a time when someone recommended a brand to you. Most likely, it made you curious to learn more and look into the brand yourself. A simple recommendation goes a long way in boosting the brand awareness and attitude surrounding a company. That’s why it’s important to provide customer experiences that buyers want to share with others.
What is a Home Builder Customer Experience?
Now that we've covered what customer experience is and why it matters, let's take a more specific look at the home builder customer experience.
To elevate the experience you offer, it can be helpful to first break down each phase along your typical customer journey.
Phase 1: Awareness
The first phase in the buyer's journey is called the awareness phase. This is where the customer identifies their need for a product or service. This part of the real estate buyer journey describes the moment a customer decides it's time to look for a new home.
This decision is one of many that will happen before potential buyers cross your path. In most cases, the buyer will begin research with fairly solid parameters in place. These are typically rigid factors that set the expectations buyers have for their new home such as price range, location, square footage, etc.
While you don't have much control over consumer preferences, you do have control over attracting the right type of buyer for your homes. Consider the ideal homebuyer, what are their needs, desires and expectations for their new home? Use this information to direct your content strategy and provide details about your homes that will appeal to these buyers.
Immediately after this phase, well-branded and reliable resources will win the buyers' attention. Several home builders will be competing for homebuyers’ consideration, so it’s crucial to find ways to differentiate the brand during this initial search for information. Because customers are just on the verge of starting their journey with you, you need to prepare for an excellent first touchpoint.
With a strong marketing strategy, this is accomplished in many ways. But some of the most effective are offering a beautiful information rich website, digital collateral, informative copywriting, effective online assistance, engaging social media posts, podcasts and other forms of media that position your brand as a trustworthy expert.
Most of what we just listed leans heavily on your branding. In the first few seconds of interacting with your brand, customers start to form an opinion. Great branding guarantees it's a good one.
Now – let's earn prospects' attention and convert them into leads. This is where marketing takes the reins.
Phase 2: Consideration (Part 1)
Customers are looking for builders like you, so this means you need to broaden your pathways for exposure. The biggest mistake home builders can make is not advertising effectively or implementing routes for homebuyers to discover the brand organically. By neglecting these touchpoints, the customer experience won't matter for a clear reason – it won't ever begin.
Most of the following marketing tactics act as a buyer's first touch point with your brand:
- Paid search ads
- Landing pages
- Display ads
- Print ads
- Social media ads
- Traditional, offline advertising (e.g. radio, signage)
- Your website
- Content marketing
Whichever tactics you employ, a great home builder customer experience starts with a terrific first impression. How do the ads look? How does the content read? Does everything function seamlessly? Is there an appealing call to actions that pulls buyers further down the marketing funnel? Do you have an online sales presence that effectively and promptly responds to homebuyer requests?
Note: Today, it's especially important to bridge the gap between digital and in-person experiences. Online tours and vivid virtual offerings can capitalize on attention and set you apart.
For our home builder clients, we aim to create an overwhelmingly positive first touchpoint with their prospects. Developing a compelling brand is only one piece of the puzzle, but what’s also incredibly crucial is shaping the way customer relationships form with the builder. Take a look below at some of the digital and physical materials we built for them and notice how consistent, attractive design and personality-rich copy can draw people in to learn more.
Phase 3: Consideration (Part 2)
At this point, a customer has identified their need for a new home. Then, through research or word-of-mouth, they've encountered one or more of your branding and marketing materials. At this stage, they have placed your brand under consideration as an option for finding their new home. But an important key to remember is that they have not made any clear decisions yet, so this is your chance to sway them and demonstrate the unique value proposition offered by the brand. Here, the goal is to convert them into a lead and nurture them through your sales funnel.
In some cases, buyers in the consideration phase will love what they see enough to reach out directly. This can happen through your contact form, a phone call, or perhaps an in-person visit. We call these leads "hand raisers" and consider them highly qualified.
But however the channel, it's critical these hand raisers have a rewarding and seamless experience while reaching out. They have made the first step of reaching out to the business, so it’s crucial to deliver an experience that values the buyer’s time and attention and meets expectations. When done poorly, even something as simple as a contact form can create friction. For clarity, let's briefly run with this example.
Ask yourself the following:
- What questions are being asked in the form?
- How many questions are being asked?
- Which questions are "required responses" and how might that be too taxing?
- Does the form function perfectly?
- When it's submitted, is there a well-written thank you message?
- Is there an immediate, automated follow-up email that sets expectations for a response?
- What is the response?
- After the automated follow-up email, how quickly is a personalized follow-up sent from your online sale counselor?
The point is every little thing matters. Just as we did above, you should also ask yourself similar questions about every other medium or channel a hand-raising customer can use.
For less qualified prospects, you'll need to do some nurturing. Aside from reaching out to you directly, there are plenty of other ways to capture and eventually nurture leads.
Because potential homebuyers need a lot of information to pique their interest, a good home builder knows to offer just that. The idea is to provide helpful, well-packaged information in exchange for basic contact details. The more value you provide to these homebuyers, the more likely they will be to continue their journey through the marketing funnel with your brand.
For example, in exchange for an email address and phone number, a builder could offer a downloadable digital brochure or a comprehensive guide to finding the right home. This entire concept is known as information-first marketing.
Once a lead is captured, how do you positively nurture them? This is a crucial stage in the process and one in which many prospects are lost. The secret sauce is often a combination of components such as personalization, valuable information and strategic invitations—most of which can be automated to speed the process and create more efficiency.
The truth is, lead nurturing is a massive topic on its own. But in terms of the home builder customer experience, we encourage you to audit every touchpoint in your nurturing process. More often than not, you'll find plenty of opportunities to empower and tastefully move your leads down-funnel.
Phase 4: Decision
The point of purchase is emotional — especially for someone buying a new home. There can be moments of euphoria. There can be feelings of doubt. Sometimes all at the same time.
But this makes it a huge opportunity to make them feel appreciated and looked after.
People buy a home for many fantastic reasons. But by the point of decision, the forest can be lost for the trees. It can be helpful to assume most new homebuyers will at least unconsciously ask themselves, "Am I making the right decision?"
As the provider of their very own home builder customer experience, it's your job to delight buyers even at the point of sale. When you deliver an amazing customer experience, homebuyers will feel assured and remain confident in their purchase decision from start to finish.
Aside from securing the sale, raising the likelihood of referrals and turning a customer into a brand evangelist, there are good reasons to be deliberate with your decision-making phase including:
- After a positive experience, customers are likely to spend 140% more.
- Empathy increases competitive advantage and market value.
If you're already mindful of your end-to-end customer experience, that's great news. But let's close with a final phase most businesses ignore or drastically underemphasize.
Phase 5: Post-Purchase
To wrap up, let's consider how a positive buyer-builder relationship can yield returns for years after the sale itself. While it may seem like customer service only matters during the homebuyer’s purchase journey, high-performing brands know that providing an excellent customer experience extends well beyond the point of sale.
As previously mentioned, customers desire to know that they are valued and understood by the brands they buy from – especially when they’re making such an important purchase like a new home. That’s why home builders need to demonstrate their passion for their customers by continuing to engage these buyers even after providing their new home.
Here are some post-sale tips for properly tying a bow on any given customer experience:
- Kindly ask for feedback
- Respond quickly and effectively to all inquiries
- Deploy follow-up sequences
- Send relevant and thoughtful newsletters
- Add value through resources, advice, and guidance
The ultimate goal of post-purchase marketing is to remind the customer they were more to you than a data point. Continue the conversation. Help where you can.
If you are a welcome and familiar voice, you will have abundant long-term advocates who will promote your brand. Today, the people have the power. And what a great thing that is.
A Better Home Builder Customer Experience
Customer-centricity is an ever-evolving framework and the bar for exceptional customer experiences continues to rise. But by taking steps to improve and meet customer expectations, you will grow your bottom line and climb to the top. It’s vital to shape customer experiences positively to form favorable impressions and create valuable buyer relationships.
If you're not sure where to start, that's where the Milesbrand team comes in. We've been building and improving front-to-back home builders' customer experiences for over 30 years. Contact us and let's talk about how we can help!