Chief Executive explains how customer service has adapted to the pandemic and for the future.
Builder & Developer: How has the New Home Company adapted its customer service offerings as a result of the pandemic?
Leonard Miller: The first thing that we did in March 2020 is immediately send out communications to our homeowners explaining that we were going to greatly reduce our service for the first several months due to health and safety. That meant when it came to our customers’ reps and follow-ups we really limited it to emergency situations.
We still ended up doing homeowner walks and orientations, where you’re turning over the homes for the reps, but we put safety protocols, with heavy sanitation, COVID-19 questionnaires, and requiring that masks be worn by both our customer service reps and homeowners. We did deep cleaning and sanitization of the home both prior to and right after the orientation. We did things like left doors open, left windows open for airflow. We really set an expectation for social distancing and everything that came with that.
I think simply, what I would say is this, is if customer service is a true core value, you have to walk the walk. If it’s a true value, you’ve got to stand tall and model for that for your team.”
From a corporate or divisional standpoint one of the keys was over-communicating and setting expectations so none of the homeowners, whether it was for current service needs or orientations, were surprised.
B&D: Were there any noticeable customer trends that you saw for 2021?
LM: The industry has really experienced a lot of demand and a so-called flight to the suburbs. Without people having to go to the office everyday, they are looking for a more traditional home that offers backyards, outdoor living spaces.
One of the focuses that we’ve seen as people continue working from home, they’ve had to school their children from home, is having home offices, work spaces for children so that they’re able to do their homework. Those sorts of private spaces. There was a big push in the industry over the last decade to have an open home. I think that will still continue, but you have to be very thoughtful in the spaces so secondary spaces that allow people to work from home.
The other thing has been a big spike in the amount of upgrades and choices people want. I think people value their home more than maybe they did prior to. When you’re living in it for 9 to 12 months 7 days a week, your home becomes more important.
B&D: The New Home Company has been recognized by Eliant for customer service. Can you talk a little bit about that and the importance of good customer service?
LM: We have something that we call the New Home Credo. It’s something that has always been a part of the company since it was founded but really want to make sure we articulate it to our employees. It’s really our five pillars that define the New Home Company. The first one is about customer experience.
To give you some context, in the last 8 years the New Home Company has always been rated among the top two in all builders in the US and Canada that are evaluated by Eliant. And in four of those eight years has ranked No. 1. But more than scores, like to think that we take great pride in meeting our commitments and standing behind our homes.
There’s a surveying instrument we receive from every homeowner — a move-in, a mid-year and a year-end survey. Every morning I receive those surveys. I read every one of them — good, bad or indifferent. I send a note to those team members that are listed on the survey.
If we have a situation that maybe the homeowners pointed out that we felt short, we try to learn from, inquire about it. Everybody from the organization, from the CEO, to the division president to their department head, that they’re focused on it, then it becomes a focus for the company.
Not only will I read every survey, but I’ll basically put those comments and do a weekly update for all of our employees every Monday morning. Part of it is, “Hey here’s the score, this is how we’re tracking,” but there’s also a whole section on customer experience and you may see 15 different surveys with quotes along those.
It’s just modeling the behavior we aspire to. We have so many great people on our frontlines setting an example. Acknowledging them and the job that they do is really important.
B&D: Do you have any advice for any homebuilders about meeting homebuyers wants and needs and providing good customer service through a variety of ways?
LM: There are a lot of builders that are out there doing great things. I think simply, what I would say is this, is if customer service is a true core value, you have to walk the walk. If it’s a true value, you’ve got to stand tall and model for that for your team. If you don’t, then it’s not truly what I would consider a core value.