The Honeymoon is Over! The Rise and Fall of Homebuyers’ Pandemic-Based Empathy
As many of you may have heard me discuss during recent presentations to Jeff Shore’s Summit conference (Shore Consulting), and Anthony Grasst’s podcasts (Homebridge Financial Services), the period from March-December 2020 saw a highly unusual phenomenon in the world of the new-home purchase experience:
The Situation: Builders were severely stretched to deliver homes on-time and to provide staff/materials for a timely response to homeowners’ post move-in service requests.
The Assumption: Many of our builder clients assumed their customers’ ratings of the purchase and service experience would, as a result, strongly decline, i.e., tank. And based on EVERYTHING we have experienced in the past 40-years, this assumption was a sure bet.
The Irony: After an immediate 1-2 month decline, not only did new buyers’ satisfaction ratings quickly climb and make up for the drop, but they continued improving for the remainder of 2020 to the highest level since 2011! Wow!
Why? Two basic reasons:
- The best builders changed the way they made promises to their customers.
- It took most of them a while, but they became very sensitive to their buyers’ strong desire for transparency and honesty about likely delays.
- I am proud to say that Eliant assisted this process with our training, articles, and webinars about the proper ways to set realistic expectations.
- Customer ratings of “Pro-Active Communication of Construction and Loan Status” improved from the late Spring (2020) through January 2021.
- Beginning in May, 2020, the biggest reason for the dramatic climb in customers’ ratings of their purchase and service experience was a noticeable increase in buyers’/homeowners’ empathy with the difficulties faced by their builder in delivering the purchase and service experience.
- In the tens of thousands of customer evaluations received during the ‘Honeymoon’ period (i.e. the first 9-months of the pandemic), a strong proportion mentioned the delays and talked about the poor service (although without the normal level of anger and complaining).
- Surprisingly, most of these negative comments were also supportive and included a phrase like “But we understand…” or “We look forward to having this repaired as soon as things normalize.”
- Our team labeled this phenomenon as “Pandemic Based Empathy (PBE).”
In fact, as we examine last year’s ‘Honeymoon’ period, there is a psychological concept which helps us understand how this almost unbelievable level of customer empathy existed:
- It is called the “Common Enemy Theory”: Builders and buyers are together in the battle against Covid, the common enemy.
- We are all experiencing the same difficulties during the struggle: labor shortages; shortages of lumber, drywall, and toilet paper; illnesses; hospitalizations; deaths.
- One homeowner wrote “How can I blame you when you are facing the same problems as my family, my company?”
So we are now in October, 2021, about 18-months into this pandemic. You and I are totally ready for it to disappear, for this nightmare to be over. We both want and need normalcy. Although virtually every one of your customers is experiencing pandemic fatigue, we have just recently headed into another series of lockdowns and increases in hospitalizations. We are all frustrated and anxious, no longer willing to listen patiently to excuses for delays and poor service.
That is why…THE HONEYMOON IS OVER!
Customers’ evaluations of their purchase & service experience have been trending down since March, 2021. The patience expressed by homebuyers in 2020 has been replaced by anxiety, depression, and anger. Consider the increasing road-rage events; the altercations in our airlines and on the streets. Depression rates are up 30% (Journal of Affective Disorders; June 2021). The pandemic has limited our belief that we can control the events in our environment…and that creates frustration, anxiety.
From the examples in the above article (Florida Today, 9/4/2021) and the declining ratings on Eliant’s customer evaluations, we are predicting that your homeowners are likely to become increasingly vocal about the real or perceived issues with their new home. Eliant expects that your customers have already begun being…
- More impatient
- More demanding
- Less apt to passively accept excuses and delays
- Likely to become aggressive when these demands do not receive the expected level of attention
Here are Five-Steps builders should be taking now to deal with the homebuyers’ growing impatience:
- Prepare your field representatives: Your field reps are on the battle line, and it won’t be getting any easier in the near term. Train them how to set proper expectations with their customers. Train them how to deal with difficult customers:
- Listen carefully; empathize; validate the customer’s anger; apologize; thank customers for their patience; state intended action; follow-up note; gift card if appropriate
- Support your reps completely when their customers become angry or try an end-run to get you to change the decision.
- Pro-actively manage expectations: Recognize that your customers are tired of being patient. Your excuses will not be as easily accepted. Be totally honest, transparent. Under promise: Only make promises you know you can beat.
- Overcommunicate: Immediately share all you know about delivery dates, product delays due to supply chain issues, any other things which may disappoint the customer. Don’t let your customers be surprised by bad news. Look at it this way: How would you share this information if the buyer was your best friend?
- Be pro-active: If you share information only when asked by the customer…it’s TOO LATE. You can’t build trust by simply responding to customers’ questions. Let them know you are actively looking out for their best interests. Buyers in escrow MUST receive frequent updates on (1) the status of their loan and (2) progress in constructing their home (Photos work best!).
- Call buyers and homeowners just to see how they are faring, to express empathy with their situation. Make it personal:
- “I know you are moving in two weeks. Is there anything we can do to make this a smooth process?”
- “How did your move-in go last week?”
- “I know that water leak created some inconvenience for your family, so I am calling to make sure it has been fully repaired.”
- Division executive calls: “I know your dishwasher is not operating, I can appreciate how inconvenient that is. I can assure you that our team is doing all we can to expedite the delivery of a replacement.”
Listen carefully, sincerely express empathy about their situation; promise to look into a solution and to get back to them by a specific date (i.e., a date you KNOW you can beat); actually get back to them earlier than the promised date with a status report.
As mentioned in the Florida Today article, remember that while your customers may be angry, they are not mad at you as much as they are frustrated with their situation. They/we are tired of the continuing difficulties when we all thought we would be back to normal by now.
For information about Eliant’s soon to be released home builder video training series about “Managing Homebuyers’ Expectations” and “Dealing with Frustrated Customers” (Release Date is December 2021), contact Christy Salmon at christy@Eliant.com. As the building industry’s Customer Experience experts, we’re committed to providing you the necessary tools to deliver extraordinary experiences.