There are things we do in business, not because it will make us more money, but because not doing them is likely to diminish what we’ve achieved so far, our relationship with our customer base, staff and suppliers, and our public image and identity. Not doing certain things will supress and limit our investors return on investment. It can stifle growth and prosperity too – just a few stark realities of the modern business world!
House building is not exempt from these rules. A manufacturing business by any other description, building and developing property requires a high degree of, well, pretty much everything. Knowledge, expertise, guile, luck, political agility, determination, land, planning approval, reliable contactors, suitable suppliers, purchasers and of course money - large quantities of it. And in recent years none of this has got easier, most of it has certainly become much harder.
It might be deemed that once a property has been finished and is ready to sell, all that a developer needs is a customer with the necessary finance to complete. And once upon a time that was true, but no longer.
Take the money and walk away at your expense and considerable risk, because now you need to focus on the next two years and provide a slick, professional and supportive service to those customers. It’s true, you could opt to save your money and decide not to bother. Here’s what can, and usually does happen, in such circumstances:
Firstly, you need to work up a convincing response to the first purchaser who, during conversation with your salespeople, asks “who do I contact if ever I have a problem?” … hopefully you have someone in mind who already works in the organisation and can be counted on to always be available, always sound friendly and happy to hear from an occupant, always know what questions to ask when a problem is reported and always know what to do next. That won’t be you, any of your fellow directors, your pa, site manager or receptionist because while they all possess some of the necessary qualities, none of them will possess all the qualities (after care really is a challenge requiring a very particular skill set). The same question will certainly arise again somewhere around completion/handover.
Secondly, you will need to have thought through several important processes. When an occupant reports a problem, their expectation is for a swift resolution, invariably requiring a contractor to attend and fix something. How do you plan on doing that and will whoever you have in mind to be your after care resource, be capable of applying and repeating those processes dozens and dozens of times again?
Third point – how and where will they record the details of the problem? A dedicated CRM platform is the only way you have any chance of managing this successfully. In the absence of one, neither a Word document nor an Excel spreadsheet will do the same thing and it will be a matter of days before they get in a pickle about what they have done, who they have instructed and what appointments have been agreed.
And when points 1, 2 and 3 don’t work, then you can expect to receive a complaint. Occupants will allow (mostly) a few days to a week for their problem to receive a response i.e., an appointment for the contractor to attend. Much beyond that and they will start to get fidgety and ultimately annoyed that not much/anything has so far happened. Complaints exist at many levels, largely dependent on the person complaining and the severity of the unresolved problem. At low level it might just be a phone call or email to someone more senior in the company (more senior than the person you have in mind for after care). At a higher level you could find yourselves on the wrong end of a damming Trust Pilot review, Tweet (‘X’) or a residents committee meeting. When it gets elevated to this stage issues can quickly spiral out of control … reasonable complaints become unreasonable complaints, and the cost of satisfaction continues to rise.
Ultimately there’s always the possibility your warranty provider is drawn in to assess a formal complaint. New industry codes have been instigated in the last couple of years (New Homes Quality Code) and there is now an Ombudsman.
Most of these points are short-term issues but don’t overlook the longer-term reputational damage that no after care can cause. Publicly owned businesses have experienced a devaluation in their share price when the temperature of complaints and lack of service become too intense. Smaller, independent developers risk localised damage to their name, driving business into the hands of their nearest competitor.
So, that’s what happens when there is no after care. Good after care can cost as little as a few hundred pounds per plot for 2 years cover – but if you still feel that it’s better to save that than to engage a seasoned, professional service provider, constantly working to serve your customers and protect your business … well obviously that’s your call.