“…. Any new homes provider that fails to recognise what the customer wants will eventually fail.”
Being in business is about many things, not least it’s about being constantly challenged. Competition never gets less, customer expectations only grow bigger and all of the other usual constraints apply including the availability of finance, market conditions, technology developments, consumer need, seasonality etc. etc. – it’s what comes with the territory.
But being in the residential new-build sector, comes with some additional issues which make for a very interesting scenario. Here is a market where, in theory, demand is greater than supply by a factor of some 2:1 … we need 250,000 new homes a year but over the last decade we have averaged less than half that. In 2004 completions were 32% lower than the national goal, yet still 22% higher than in 2015. This isn’t another industry debate about how to achieve the degree of growth we all know to be needed – that will take more than a few hundred words to resolve. Increased output is only a part of the problem … quality control is also high on the political agenda.
In July this year an All Parliamentary Group (for excellence in the built environment) published their findings “More homes, fewer complaints”. There are some clear links back to the Barker report which was very much the talk of the town around the time After Build established its own business, providing fixed-price customer care. Initially we focussed on defect management and nothing else, but over time we’ve expanded into additional services.
There have been two themes running in parallel …. more homes, better quality (or fewer complaints about the quality). We have no ability whatsoever to assist with the first issue and as such can’t offer anything by way of a helpful suggestion. But we can (and do) help impact on the quality – both of the product and the service that must follow. A range of factors influence the debate over quality:
The consumer expects more (and that’s not unique to house building)
Complex property designs (technology and systems) means there is more to go wrong
Skilled resource is less readily available
Non-critical resource removed during the economic downturn
Unlike most others industry sectors, new homes don’t follow the same rules when it comes to building and developing customer relationships.
In the fast moving consumer goods arena it is vital to foster that relationship because you need to sell that can of beans and packet of cereal to the consumer week after week after week. Almost two thirds of the UK population move house every 15 years, so the relationship is short-term and punctuated by exceptionally long intervals. There are only two instances to make the right impression – the pre-sales performance, and the speed and efficiency by which you respond post-sales when there is a problem. The first part makes the company money, the second part costs the company money and with no direct upside (they’re not going to come and buy another house from you next week, next month or even next year). Of course what they can do – and are doing in increasing numbers is tell others of their poor experience and to this end, the meteoric growth of social media has helped massively.
The consumer expects a far higher level of support and response than ever before and will react badly when they don’t receive it. As the prospect of an Industry Ombudsman appears likely, this pushes the topic of customer care yet further up the boardroom agenda.
Those businesses who have never had their own dedicated internal resource, or who disbanded it to help survive the downturn are faced with a dilemma. Do we employ, train, equip, manage and support our own team or, out-source to a specialist who has the resource, the experience, system and track record? There is a strong parallel to other business needs that have become more complex in recent times.
Health & Safety
These are all essential costs, but costs nonetheless, so the economics have to work and, out-sourced services are growing enormously in popularity for that very reason. After Build went one step further at inception; we fix our price for all services, irrespective of the call volumes we may be handling, so a developer knows what we cost and can budget accordingly from the outset. It’s a highly attractive benefit and one that has uniquely differentiated our business from others.
In the last 3 years, we have been asked to provide a white label version of our services, so we operate in the developer’s name or the name of the development (rather than After Build). It is seamless – everything we use is branded accordingly with dedicated telephone lines, email and postal addresses.
The bespoke technology base links all aspects of how we deliver the service to ensure that our client (developer or Housing Association) can see what’s happening, whenever they need to, from any web-based device through a secure Client Portal. Similarly, every occupant has access to a secure Occupant Portal to report and track defects.
As the industry moves inexorably towards tougher legislation and higher standards, we adapt our service to accommodate this ever changing need. And we do this knowing one thing …. any business that fails to recognise what the customer wants will be less successful.
Our purpose is to cost-effectively release you from the day-to-day burden that has become customer care and let you have back the time needed to focus on doing those things that make you profit.