In a recent home owner satisfaction survey submitted to Eliant, a home owner complained that his wife was being frequently harassed (i.e. “courted”) by the builder’s sales person. The home owner’s comments were so detailed, so compelling, that I was convinced the sales person actually had been pressuring the wife to enter into an illicit relationship.
But as my Mom is fond of saying “There’s always another side to the story.”
I’ll spare you the salacious details, but there was another not-so-surprising side to this home owner’s story. Hint: The sales associate still has his job.
Customer complaints have always been an inevitable element of every business. What has changed is that we must now respond to these complaints in an entirely different manner, while still remaining attentive to the other side of the story.
Complaints and High-Anxiety Purchases
In the world of residential construction, we are not selling a simple product like toothpaste, we are selling new homes, the most expensive and emotionally charged purchase the customers have ever made. The anxiety and fear inherent in such a purchase can easily turn a small oversight into a major complaint.
In the book, “A Complaint is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong” (Barlow, 2008), the author presented a wonderfully convincing argument that while customer complaints are an expected part of business, it is better for you to hear these complaints than for the customer to only complain to his circle of friends.
In today’s world of social media and public review sites, the typical “circle of friends” has expanded exponentially. For example, home owners who complain to their builder in one of our surveys can easily be dealt with on a one-to-one, private basis. But when that complaint reaches Yelp, the Better Business Bureau or Google, privacy is lost. The complaint is now visible to all prospective customers.
Here is the reality about complaints posted in social media: They will have a disproportionately negative impact on your reputation and future sales.
In a recent consumer survey*, 94% of consumers said they had been convinced to avoid a business or buy a product after reading a negative review.
Motivation and Weak Response
Home buyers are motivated to provide negative reviews to assist prospective buyers’ decision making, but also to retaliate against a builder who they believed had wronged them. These reviews are also used to motivate the builder to correct a problem or “convince” the builder to offer a solution.
Unfortunately, even though half of consumers optimistically expect management to respond to their negative posts within one week, two-thirds report that the business never responded at all.*
Let’s get specific: Of 155 builder clients, 88% have at least one negative review in a major social media site (including on-line complaint forums). In a sample of these reviews, here is the percent of occasions in which the builder posted a response to the negative review in four sites:
- Better Business Bureau: 61%
- Facebook: 57%
- HOUZZ: 38%
- Yelp: 24%
Since 45% of consumers say they are more likely to frequent a business which responds to negative reviews*, home builders have clearly been slow to wake up to the importance of a response to customers’ criticisms.
Handling Negative Reviews
The best way to counter the inevitable negative reviews is to overwhelm the site with positive reviews. Since “discretionary” review sites like Better Business Bureau and Yelp tend to attract customers with an axe to grind, it is important to proactively prompt happy home buyers to post their comments. When surveying your buyers, give homeowners links to popular social media sites so they can transfer their comments to these sites.
To deliver an extraordinary customer service experience, remember, “The problem is not the problem. The lack of response is the problem.”
Here are some tips to follow when the inevitable occurs:
- Never ignore a negative review. Your response shows that you are interested in your customers’ opinions.
- Do not respond immediately. Consider your response carefully. Interview those team members who dealt with this home buyer. Take time to cool off. Bite your tongue. No one likes to be criticized, so an emotional response is certainly understandable, but unproductive.
- Don’t offer a litany of excuses. You can mention the bad weather and the late product deliveries, but then apologize for not keeping the buyer updated about the impact of these events on their delayed move in date.
- Keep your response short and sweet. No one will read it if it is lengthy and overly detailed.
- Follow psychological principles for responding to most customer complaints:
- Empathize (“Boy, I’d say we really screwed up your day, didn’t we…I am so sorry.”)
- Suggest a solution
- On the other hand, the customer is not always right. You don’t always need to agree with the complaint, but you can express your response in soft, empathetic tones. There is a time to say “No” to customer requests and demands.
Home buyers are not always rational, and their expectations are often unrealistic. Integrity and honesty must be maintained. Remember, there is another side to every story, and sometimes it is absolutely appropriate to tell yours.
Above all, remember that the number one source of home buyers’ complaints is your team’s failure to meet the overt or inferred promises they made to the buyers.
*Research from ReviewTrackers.com