September 15, 2020
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.
Let's take a look at what we mean.
“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”
What is a Customer Experience?
Customer experience is the collection of touch points your buyers have with your brand throughout the customer journey. From first encountering your brand, to after a purchase, your customer experience is essentially how frictionless and rewarding or frustrating and underwhelming it feels to buy from your business.
More simply, 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 knows how to direct them along the way.
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. But in 2020 and beyond, there are more opportunities than ever to provide experiences that go well beyond typical expectations.
Before we move on, let's think about a couple 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 opportunity to make the experience an exceptional one.
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.
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.
Social proof, crowdsourced info, and customer reviews 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.
The output of this connectivity, coupled with huge gains in brand-to-buyer relationship tools, is customer expectations set at an all time high.
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.
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 is 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.
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.
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. In this part of real estate, it 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 the usual factors such as budget, 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.
Immediately after this phase, well-branded and reliable resources will win the buyers' attention. Because customers are just on the verge of starting their journey with you, you need to prepare for an excellent first touch point.
This is accomplished in many ways. But some of the most effective are offering a beautiful website, digital collateral, informative copywriting, social media posts, podcasts, and other forms of media that position your brand as the trustworthy expert.
Most of what we just listed will lean 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)
Because customers are looking for builders like you, you need to broaden your pathways for exposure. If you don't advertise yourself, or can't be found organically, the customer experience won't matter. It won't ever begin.
Most of the following marketing tactics will 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 great first impression. How do the ads look? How does the content read? Does everything function flawlessly?
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 touch point with their prospects. 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. 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. 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?
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 home buyers 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.
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 nurture them in a positive way? This is a crucial stage in the process, and one in which many prospects are lost. The secret sauce is often a combination of things like personal touches, valuable information and strategic invitations—most of which can be automated.
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 touch point 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 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 home buyers 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. 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. Things like:
- 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.
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 a long-term advocate who will themselves 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. But by taking steps to improve, you will grow your bottom line and rise to the top.
If you're not sure where to start, that's where we come 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.