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Avalon Makes Building Easy

By Christian Caswell and Paul Cardis

Still wondering if green construction can lead to greater customer satisfaction? Look no further than Avalon Central Alberta - this year's AVID Diamond Award winner for best customer experience in Canada - for proof. Founded by CEO Ryan Scott's parents in 1983, the company has seen a positive growth in its client feedback since making green building a trademark of every home it builds. In fact, the company's goal is to build only net-zero homes at no additional cost to consumers by 2015.
A lot goes into Avalon's outstanding reputation for customer delight and loyalty. Most notable are the company's drive to make the home-buying process stress-free and enjoyable for every customer, and its commitment to never mailing-it-in with a customer. Instead of writing off a disgruntled client as impossible to please, the company bends over backwards to resolve issues and turnaround any dissatisfied customers.
"When there is a difficult customer or a problem that comes up, it's not who has to deal with it, it's who gets to deal with it," Scott explains. "It's a different culture where you're not trying to avoid the problem; you're trying to turn it around."
The company is driven by a central question: Why accept unhappy customers as inevitable? This attitude is pervasive throughout the organization and it has helped the builder achieve 21 years without a single customer complaint, according to the Alberta New Home Warranty Program.
Things weren't always so rosy on the customer service side of the business. When Avalon first started building homes in Red Deer, its customer satisfaction ratings were nothing more than respectable. As the company grew to 50 starts a year, however, their scores dropped - primarily because customer expectations were not properly set. With the help of a consultant, the company was able to identify some problem areas and turn things around.
"We weren't willing to be second best," says Ryan Scott. "That year, we went from the bottom to the top, and each year we continue working to improve our level of customer service."
To that end, the company offers employees basic and advanced training in customer mediation each year, as well as weekly seminars on customer service.
"We use our home buyer survey reports from AVID Ratings to assess how well our policies are working, and we spend a lot of time talking to our customers," Scott adds.
Avalon also does everything it can to head off complaints before they arise, which is why the company schedules 30-day, three-month and one-year post-closing inspections to take care of warranty repairs a homeowner may not even know exist.

Winning Raves the Green Way
Ryan Scott at the awards ceremony
Perhaps the most important factor in Avalon's customers' enduring loyalty has to do with how it has embraced the green movement. By tapping into this niche market, the company has been able to attract customers who are more concerned with the kind of product they are buying than the price at which they are buying it.
"We're not competing on price anymore," says Scott. "We have a product that is different from our competitors' products. Our customer has gone from someone buying just on price to someone who is buying what we offer, something that specifically meets their needs."
Each year, Avalon builds a research home to further understanding about sustainable building. This year's discovery home, as it's called, is a net-zero home - which means it produces as much energy as is needed by its occupants. Currently open for tour, the home is visited by about 300 people each weekend and dozens more during the week.
Though Avalon insists that its homes meet certain standards for sustainability, home buyers are still able to choose a lot of options, which makes them feel like their home is customized.
Meanwhile, the company makes sure that all of its trades mesh with the company's goals for sustainable building.
"There were a number of trades we worked with for some time, but we had to change them because they didn't meet our philosophy for sustainable construction," Scott says. "But once we determine they're a good fit, we have a great relationship. They understand what our expectations are. Plus, the attention to detail when building a sustainable house leads to a better quality house."
In the end, it's about removing the stress and making the home-buying process pleasant and fun. With more than 40 per cent of the builder's sales coming from referrals, you can bet that homebuyers are answering those questions with a resounding yes.

Paul Cardis is CEO and Christian Caswell is General Manager of AVID Ratings, Canada's leading provider of customer loyalty research and consulting to the home building industry.

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