Marketing & Sales

Get CX Right Now, Or Else ... Set 7 Essentials For Customer Focus

"We are the last category in the world to adapt to modern customer experience and digital transformation,” said CEO and co-founder John Cecilian Jr.

Marketing & Sales

Get CX Right Now, Or Else ... Set 7 Essentials For Customer Focus

"We are the last category in the world to adapt to modern customer experience and digital transformation,” said CEO and co-founder John Cecilian Jr.

May 17th, 2024
Get CX Right Now, Or Else ... Set 7 Essentials For Customer Focus
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I am an optimist by nature.

The back of my business card asks:

How might we?”

I love our industry and what it does to improve people’s lives. And yet, I believe when it comes to customer experience, it is beyond broken. I think a lot about the solutions that could help change customer experience in homebuilding for the better. The question is, can we do it? Stick with me and let’s dive in. How might we:

(1) Ask meaningful questions about how people want to live, listen to their answers, and design homes to meet these needs. Not just generic high-level surveys that return results like “buyers of all generations share more in common than we think, and they all want basically the same thing from their homes.” Why do we believe this? It is simply not true.

(2) Create brands with passion and purpose. Brands should offer benefits for the customer, and stories that connect with what they care about. We are drowning in a sea of sameness and a total lack of passion. “Celebrating 50 years of welcoming you home” is not a brand promise anyone cares about. If I cover your logo can your customer tell it’s your brand and why it matters to them? Or are we all saying the same passionless thing? 

(3) Act like the high-touch, high-value brands we should be, invest in the frontline, and listen to customers’ insights. A $500,000 home sale deserves at least the same service as a $4,000 handbag or a $500 per night hotel stay. Stop just talking about “hospitality” and instead find ways to deliver it. Customers of high-end stores expect the people who work there to remember them. And those customers are not spending $500,000. Can we deliver experiences like this, too?

(4) See customer experience as a revenue generator, not a cost center. When we replace frontline staff with QR codes to save costs, we remove the opportunity to observe and understand what customers might pay more for and what they value. We also ignore a whole group of customers who want to deal with a human. Yes, we can track which rooms people enter, and how long they spend there. But can we understand why, or what they wished we offered but don’t, and therefore couldn’t track? Those insights can drive new opportunities and revenue.

(5) Provide the same great experience at every touchpoint that customers have with our brands. What do you stand for? What are your pillars, the non-negotiables? Do they inspire and inform every single interaction with your customer, not just the “first date?” Does everyone on your staff know and understand these non-negotiables? Are there areas where you have gotten lazy?

(6) Name what we do and showcase the heart and soul of our products. Would you rather buy Plan 2185 or The Milk & Cookies? Would anyone ever think of naming their second child “Second Child”? Why do we give so little thought to naming and telling the story of the things and places we build?

(7) Build relationships with customers so they tell us what they want that we aren’t giving them. Earn the right to follow up and ask. Anyone who knows me knows I am no fashion plate, but when I shop the same funky clothing store once a year, the people there ask me where I most recently traveled for work, how I enjoyed the Krazy Larry pants I bought last year, and would I be interested in a new flowy top to go with them?

Innovative 50 – How Might We, Indeed?

In early May, the team at Cecilian Partners, a people-first technology company focused on improving the homebuying customer experience, held the inaugural invite-only Innovative 50 event at Hillwood’s Circle T Ranch in Westlake, Texas. It addressed these opportunities, and the impetus was to push our industry to be current by getting a little uncomfortable, especially when compared with leading brands in other sectors.

We are the last category in the world to adapt to modern customer experience and digital transformation,” said CEO and co-founder John Cecilian Jr. “It is vital that we bring in third-party perspectives from retail, hospitality, food and beverage, and automotive. They have adopted modern practices earlier and therefore have a longer history of combining best-in-class innovation with customer experience and data capture. We need to glean insights from them, whether it be past mistakes or learning best practices.”

The day was a series of conversations with brand leaders from customer-first brands including Ossy (a retail recruiting platform), Harley-Davidson, A&MPLIFY (the AI-powered digital unit of Alvarez & Marsal), and Rapha (a cycling lifestyle brand), with time for in-depth Q&A from invitees, and many spirited conversations continuing after the event.

My Takeaways and Why They Matter

Are we backsliding? In her opening keynote, Sheryl Palmer, CEO of Taylor Morrison, drew an analog (word choice intentional) comparing homebuilding customer experience today with a grainy, black-and-white film of homebuilding in the 1950s. Her point? Not much has changed.

I’m afraid we may be moving further away from the human connection with a greater focus on manufacturing efficiency,” she cautioned.

Product is secondary to the customer. Product should be created because of the customer, not despite them. The key to this means putting the customer in the middle of everything you do. Understand their shifting needs and create your products and services from there. Cecilian Jr. reminded attendees that Blockbuster and BlackBerry didn’t fail because of their product, rather, they failed because they ignored changing customer needs. Enter Netflix and Apple — products created because customer insights (i.e., no late fees, 5,000 songs in your pocket) defined new multibillion-dollar opportunities. 

Ruthless authenticity. Darren Read from Rapha asked everyone, “What do you want your customer to feel?” Develop a customer experience strategy based on ruthless authenticity that cannot be offered anywhere else. In Rapha’s Clubhouses (outposts, stores, places that celebrate bike culture), staff members are trained to know what kind of bikes customers ride, and to ask where they’ve ridden today. During the Tour de France, Rapha serves cheese from the regions in France the race rides through. Immersive, legitimate, and inspiring, no matter what level rider you are.

Set up your operating model to be customer centric. This sounds simple and it’s a big one. Teach your team to have regular conversations with and about the customer.

With just four questions we should be able to pick out the right bike for the customer,” says Lance Orso, from Dallas Harley-Davidson. His model is FORM— Family, Occupation, Recreation, Motivation. That’s the frontline, but are there other departments in the company (legal, warranty, finance, etc.) that are creating friction? Understand that and act. Lance said he believes, “the service department is the retention department.” 

ChatGPT is a really smart intern that has no context. A.I. won’t replace humans, but if you learn to ask it the right things in the right way, it will provide alternatives we humans haven’t thought about yet. Then, we can use our critical thinking skills to build on those ideas, similar to how you build on the work of an intern. Here’s a simple AI questioning model, one of many shared by Russ Kliman, founder and CEO of FutureCrafted, in a real-time demo:

R – T – F

  • Role: act as a Facebook ad marketer
  • Task: design a compelling Facebook ad campaign for a new series of home plans for first-time buyers
  • Format: create a storyboard outlining a series of ads, including ad copy, visuals, and a targeting strategy 

Do not get caught up in letting tech drive customer experience. Be clear about what you want the experience to be, then use tech the best you can to help deliver it. 

This was an honest, and unexpected, closing comment to a day convened by a tech company. It’s not about removing people from the equation. It’s about offering options for all — analog, hybrid, digital — that meet your customer where they are.

Our industry needs honest, convention-challenging gatherings like this to instill a little fear in the pits of our stomachs and look hard at how other industries use customer experience to drive revenue. We are the last holdout—losing opportunity and revenue—and as economic conditions put the squeeze on our businesses and our customers, the need has never been greater.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki

Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki

Principal + Storyteller + Brand Designer, tsk ink

Teri founded tst ink to work with developers, designers, builders, and planners to build communities and create brand experiences that matter… Ever curious about the intersection of people and place.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki

Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki

Principal + Storyteller + Brand Designer, tsk ink

Teri founded tst ink to work with developers, designers, builders, and planners to build communities and create brand experiences that matter… Ever curious about the intersection of people and place.

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