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© Copyright 2007 Work-4 Projects Ltd.

Wow… with a Button

By Paul Cardis and Christian Caswell

We often talk about the importance of developing your own "wow factor" - the one thing that you excel at better than any other builder in your area. In today's competitive market, it takes a wow factor to impress home buyers and add value to your relationship. If you want to really make an impact on your customers, though, look for ways to wow them at every point of contact in an unexpected way.
In most companies the primary wow factor is part of a long-term branding strategy, something that is preplanned and often doled out by an administrator back in the main office. It lacks creativity and elicits a mediocre response from home buyers. A better approach that generates a true wow with customers requires seemingly spontaneous acts of kindness and gestures of goodwill that help cement your customer relations.
We call it Genuine Wow - an idea that originates with a housekeeper at a Four Seasons hotel. A business guest was preparing for a big presentation when she discovered a button missing on her blouse. When the housekeeper found the distraught guest and learned what was wrong, she told the guest she may have a matching button at home. With her supervisor's permission, she went home and then quickly returned to sew the button on for the guest, with plenty of time to spare before presentation time.
What sets this wow factor apart from more generic ones is that it was extremely personal and spontaneous. A wow factor is not defined by the act, but by how genuine the act is and the sense of gratitude it elicits.
Despite all the talk about best practices in customer loyalty, many builders still race through construction in an attempt to close as many new homes as possible. This reality of the market has builders erecting homes at breakneck speed, only to spend months fixing them up during the warranty period. Then they must try to win customers back with quick responses to service calls and complimentary gift baskets or dinner coupons. But this is so much more costly than doing the job right the first time and wowing customers in sincere, yet modest, ways when they least expect it.
Of course, this requires that you empower employees - like the Four Seasons housekeeper - to decide the appropriate opportunity to "Genuinely Wow". A good idea is to make a list of scenarios each person in your company might encounter when dealing with customers and pair them up with acceptable wow gestures. Have employees keep track of the things they do for buyers so that others in your organization can learn from them.
Whatever small gesture you do to impress customers, make sure they know what you've done. Though your staff should be trained to do these things to be kind, generous, supportive and helpful, they're also doing them to add value to the builder-buyer relationship. This can't happen if all of your good deeds go unnoticed.
A great builder example is one we experienced with a client who recently had a warranty service call in the kitchen. As the tile guy repeatedly passed through a sliding door leading to the backyard, he noticed that the door handle was loose. So he brought over his toolbox, removed the handle, fixed what was making it loose, and securely fastened it back to the door.
Later, he simply told the homeowner, "I hope you don't mind, but the handle on your sliding door was loose, so I fixed it." That was it. No excessive pause waiting for the homeowner to gush with gratitude. No mention of how much the free labour would have cost. Just a simple mention to let the customer know that the deed was done. This homeowner has since successfully referred his builder to two new customers.
If you pay close attention, you'll see these random acts of kindness more often than you'd think. There's the auto service shop that points out that your car was taken through the washer when they were done, the vendor who e-mails you an article or sends you a book just because he knows you're interested in the topic, or even the dry cleaner who sews back a button and puts a little card on that button indicating that it was fixed free of charge.
These unexpected surprises that evoke various "wow" responses are much more effective at building customer loyalty than trying to impress buyers with canned wows like car wash tokens and gift baskets.
Dig deep in your organization to create a culture that delivers genuine acts of kindness to your buyers. The return on investment is huge and it's one of the secret strategies used by those at the top
. HB

Paul Cardis (lefrt) and Christian Caswell are with AVID Ratings, Canada's leading provider of customer loyalty management services for the home building industry. They can be reached at paul.cardis@avidratings.com or christian.caswell@avidratings.com.

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