Adapting Customer Service for a New Digital Age

Builders are promoting digital-first services and establishing permanent changes due to the pandemic

By Sophia Acevedo

In the last year, the homebuilding industry has experienced many changes. None, however, are as prominent as the changes that have occurred on the homebuilding customer service front.

While in previous years person-to-person interactions cultivated unique and authentic personal experiences for customers, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges to traditional customer services.

One of the best parts of good customer service is incorporating a personal touch — customers want to feel like they are buying a home from someone who is considerate and thoughtful. They want a guide, not a bother. In the last year, however, much of human interaction has been digital.

While in previous years person-to-person interactions cultivated unique and authentic personal experiences for customers, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges to traditional customer services.”

As a result, home builders have needed to reshape their current services to adjust to new circumstances, expanding their digitial services and establishing a long-term vision for the future beyond the pandemic.

Digital customer service has experienced tremendous growth due to the pandemic. According to McKinsey research, there has been record-high engagement for digital platforms in the last year due to shelter in place guidelines and social distancing.

A good builder noticed this growth and realized that strong digital services can help compensate for what can’t be done in person. Rather than provide it as an additional offering, home builders have needed to expand on digital services to create a seamless experience for customers. If these features were already available, then these offerings can be fine-tuned to create an even more positive experience.

The easier it is for customers to do something, the more likely they are to follow through. If a customer is interested in buying a home, then the first place that they’ll head to is the builder’s website. Having an easy to follow website with interactive features such as chat box options can help ensure that any questions that a customer may have can be answered.

According to research conducted by Salesforce, flexibility was ranked as the most important quality for customer service amidst the pandemic. For home builders, this translates to making sure that you can provide multiple options for doing the same thing.

For instance, some customers may want to see a home virtually while others may prefer to see it in person. To provide flexibility, builders such as the New Home Company and Taylor Morrison have created walkthrough virtual tours for those who would prefer to stay at home, and implemented mindful social distancing guidelines to allow others to see if safely in person.

Lastly, and most importantly, home builders have to be as transparent as possible about the building process. According to research from Experian, more than half of customers who feel like a business has treated them fairly during the pandemic say that they will continue to give them more business.

Amid all this uncertainty, customers want to feel like they can trust what they are buying. Knowing details about the construction and building process can be important for homebuyers when they are trying to figure out which home to buy. Furthermore, it also allows home builders the chance to present some pride in their work.

For example, if energy-efficiency and sustainable building are the pillars of a builder, then information about the building process should be easily accessible either on the website or through a quick web chat option. Furthermore, if extra steps were taken to build a home, such as as a third party green certification from LEED or NGBS, then that should be something that’s proudly displayed for a customer to see.

Moving forward, customer service may never be the same. Social distancing and COVID-19 ordinances will continue to impact society, both for workers in customer service and customers. Home builders in 2021 have therefore needed to provide their customer service and sales areas with new tools to create a positive experience for their customers.

Smart home builders will find ways to turn these changes into long-term solutions. After all, the pandemic isn’t the only reason that a digital-first strategy should be implemented. Younger generations also prefer it. Millennials and Generation Z have grown up with the Internet and are often turning to digital services first before phone or in-person services. Hence, a digital-first approach isn’t just ideal for now, but it is a new strategy that should be implemented for the future.

Home builders who have valued their customers and created a better digital customer experience will be ahead of the game. For those who set a long-term plan in 2021, they will be themselves for a new age of customer service.

Sophia Acevedo is the assistant editor at Builder and Developer Magazine. She can be reached at sophia@builder.media.

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