As the retail industry continues to makes bold strides to understand its customers, putting their needs front and centre, within the housebuilding industry we often hide behind our local offering.
We sell a ‘needs-based’ purchase in an area where people are already looking. “Build them and they will come”. We have always made our consumers do the hard work, pushing deals at them when we want to.
So, whilst a large part of the retail industry may not be nearly as effective as us when it comes to face-to-face communication in a local vernacular, what learnings can, and should we be taking from the successful retail companies?
Do we have an industry gap? Have we been slow to adopt OR perhaps this is the industry opportunity? Will those who get it right first, steal a march?
For many years, good customer care was post-completion. In came the handover packs, customer care tracking tools and our beloved “RAF” leaflets. All of these took many different forms and shapes.
Then as we evolved our strategies, it began post-reservation, with many companies creating online portals/apps/websites to ‘save your searches’, ‘choose your options online’ and ‘track your build’.
Over the years these tools have become much better, and linked with post completion tools, many are now adding to the customer journey, helping to limit cancellations.
But where are we now? Today’s consumers expect us (and our brands) to know and understand them quickly and WOW them everywhere. So, we need to start to build and manage relationships with brands BEFORE people even start their search. Today your brand is no longer your logo, or brochure or even website. In the words of Jeff Bezos: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”.
People now spend time researching brands online, before they visit a website and certainly before they’ll take the time to visit a development. They turn to Facebook, TrustPilot, Instagram, YouTube and many, many more, in order to learn all about us. The read reviews and engage with customers who have already bought. They all talk about us and ask questions, gathering views and opinions. If a typical buying journey includes over 900 digital touchpoints* in a 3-month period, our customers can find out everything they need about us before they even engage with us fully.
Whilst many customers will take to the internet and social media to share their joy at becoming new homeowners, it’s an indisputable fact that these same sites have given disgruntled customers a platform and a voice to air their frustrations about us. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world and things do go wrong along the customer journey.
Although we may not be able to stop those things happening, how we deal with them is what makes all the difference. When people complain, either directly to us or in the wider arena, they expect a thoughtful and relevant response. They expect us to care, and they do not expect to be ignored. So, whilst it might be a quick and effective solution to formulate an automated response, it’s time to take our heads out of the sand when dealing with customers. It’s about being there, caring and offering solutions to fix the problems when they happen.
So, once the research has been done, when customers finally do contact us, (typically about 12 weeks after they started looking), in our industry we ‘process’ and ‘count’ leads, often forgetting these are individuals. This digital age has created something of a monster when it comes to communication and as marketeers we are constantly asked to ‘increase lead levels. But for what? So that can ignore them, or simply send them more irrelevant emails?
We can sometimes treat our customers as if they know nothing, despite the fact we are dealing with a more informed consumer than ever before. We enter them into static database and continue to push marketing information and deals at them, ignoring the basic information about them such as who they are and what they want. We then pride ourselves on emailing our entire database with a ‘Home of the Week.’
But, here is the industry opportunity! It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need a genuine shift in approach. A ‘single customer first’ approach.
In a recent mystery shop audit carried out on behalf of a top ten developer, 91% of their sales staff forgot to ask any form of lifestyle questions. In fact, 37% failed to even ask for a name!
Those of us who took the dreaded GDPR period as an opportunity are now likely to have a database to work with, something that could make a genuine shift to dealing with customers as individuals. But if we continue to just send them emails, or text them irrelevant deals, we will never change.
We need to start treating all customers as people (even those we count as leads!), we need to be open and honest as brands.
We need a change in mindset when it comes to customer relationships, across the industry. Whether house buyers have a budget of £100k or £1m, it is important to remember that people expect the same treatment. In some cases, I would argue that for those with a lesser budget, effective customer relationships are even more important.
People would rather do business with a person (or brand) they like or trust. That is often more important than the quality or price of the product. It’s this that needs to flow through the full customer journey, from our very first marketing touchpoint through to the final stages of aftercare, we need to ensure that our sales and marketing strategies are aligned at all points with a customer-centric view and are not over-reliant on a tech stack.
As a marketeer I often get asked “What platform is the best?”, or “What’s the best way of getting more leads?”, or my favourite “I need an app!”.
My answer is always the same - Forget about IT, think about what you are trying to achieve, what are your business goals and what does your customer want/need.
It’s time to remember the basics; forward plan, embrace our customers and only then, look at how a tech solution can make it smarter, faster, better. This will ultimately help us sell more houses while holding value.
So, while this may sound like it’s doom and gloom, we should remember what we do very well, and in many cases, what we do better than the large retailers. We talk to people in a local area about a local product.
So, the industry opportunity is to be better than the retailers by simply closing the gap on how we treat people once we’ve made contact with them. When we achieve this, they could take a leaf out of our book and us from theirs.
Author: Rachel Asquith – Business Director at Aylesworth Fleming. A specialist Property Marketing Agency.