A Simple “Thank You”

I had a few spare minutes yesterday before I had to run to catch a plane (on my way home, thankfully) and wanted to jot down something that has been on my mind lately:  Why does it appear that some companies have lately forgotten that customers are their most important assets?

As I travel constantly I have developed relationships with frequently used (if not “favorite”) airlines, hotel chains and car rental companies and over the past several years I have probably given each of them tens of thousands of dollars in business. Yet within the past year, and even more visibly within the past few months, I have found that instead of their demonstrating that I am a valued customer they have acted in ways that appear to me to demonstrate a complete lack interest in my business. They have all reduced their benefits yet not reflected those reductions in their pricing, be it something as minor as discontinuing delivery of the morning paper to my hotel room or as major as substantially increasing the number of miles that I need to redeem for a free flight.  And in not one instance have I ever received a simple “thank you for my business” unless it was less than sincere “canned” introduction that came as a lead-in within an email or mailing as part of an attempt to sell me their affinity credit card (offers which I seem to receive daily).

The reality is that in all three cases I am a loyal customer and it appears to me that this loyalty is totally unappreciated.  Perhaps I am being unfair and these airlines, hotel chains and car rental companies actually realize that the customer is the sole source of their income and should be therefore be nurtured and cherished. But that is not the impression that I, as a customer, have received.

I have read hundreds of sales columns over the years from various authors and sources and one that I remember clearly was titled “8 Times When You Should Thank Your Customers” (my apologies to the author whose name I do not recall). The article suggested that not only should you thank your customers at the obvious times when they do business with you, when they complement you or when they recommend you, but also when they offer suggestions, when they help you to serve them better, and, the one that stood out most in my mind, when they complain to you as they have then given you the opportunity to improve and continue to do business with them. Continue reading

Perception

Brabara BillingslySitting at breakfast this morning at our local bagel shop I noticed a new couple in the restaurant and, at first glance, the woman appeared to be the spitting image of June Cleaver.  June Evelyn Bronson Cleaver, as played by Barbara Billingsley, was a principal character in the American television sitcom Leave It to Beaver which aired in the early years of broadcast TV over 50 years ago.  June and her husband, Ward, are often invoked as the archetypal suburban parents of the 1950s with two sons, Wally and “The Beaver”, ages twelve and seven (“almost eight”).  The episodes followed the escapades of Wally and Beaver and usually ended with a moral lesson delivered to the boys, but also often included reminders of childhood and minor lessons for the parents through the adventures of their boys – dull subject matter by today’s standards.

In the 1950s when I was ten years old and originally watched the series I recall that June Cleaver’s appearance was pleasant enough for an “older” woman but certainly nothing memorable. What led to an epiphany this morning was that looking at this woman now my thought was that she was very attractive which caused me to reflect on the realization that one’s perception is situational and, in this case, can change significantly with age or time.

Our family was blessed with the recent arrival of a new grandson and of course my wife and I flew up to see him and his parents.  When we returned home our family and friends asked to see pictures and inquired who he resembled and, as my wife was reaching in her purse for her phone, and as I have always been an advocate of honesty, I am afraid that I may have offended or at least greatly surprised several friends when I responded that, at least to me, my new grandson did not resemble another family member and, as with most newborns, he was simply not very attractive. 

This past week a homebuilder client was similarly upset when, in response to his question of what could be improved with his new homes, I replied that more attractive designs would help.

With our grandson, what a difference a few months made as he is turned into a little person and is really very, very cute.  Thanks to smart phones we are updated almost daily with pictures and videos and, being as impartial as possible for a grandfather, I believe that he could probably supplant the Gerber baby on their labels. 

On the other hand and unfortunately for my builder client, weeks, months or years will not make those homes more attractive.  I am not suggesting that these homes were repulsive and relegated to the realm of HomeVestors of America (you’ve probably seen the billboards – big black and yellow signs proclaiming “We Buy Ugly Houses”) but merely that they were simply plain, lacking any distinctive and superior flair or visual appeal.  Continue reading

HOMEBUILDERS – WAKE UP AND SMELL REALITY

Wake-UpI have taken the liberty of modifying the 1980’s adage of “Wake Up and Smell the Roses” which is probably the product of a mixing of metaphors – “Stop and smell the roses” (i.e., appreciate life) and “Wake up and smell the coffee” (i.e., get real).

The smell of roses and even coffee is usually quite enjoyable but what I am smelling lately in the homebuilding industry is something far less pleasant.  And we all need to take a deep breath of that reality and let it sink in so that we fully appreciate the implications if we are to survive and prosper in the future.  And that reality is the possible demise of the smaller, local production homebuilder who may well be forced into a permanent niche as an even smaller custom builder and remodeler. 

When I started in this business the homebuilding industry in this country was totally localized and smaller local builders dominated.  By the 1970s, the larger and more successful local builders expanded regionally and then, both through growth, merger and acquisition, the “nationals” came into being.  In recent times, aided by the downturn of the last decade, these industry giants have grown to the point that within the next couple of years they will account for over 50% of all new single family homes built in the U.S.A. and that is in addition to their overwhelming share of the multi-family for-sale segment. 

My uncle was one of those smaller local builders in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s operating in the Chicago area and producing 30 to 50 new homes per year on in-fill sites.  He was quite satisfied to continue with that operation as vacant lots were plentiful and construction financing readily available and he made a comfortable living.  

Certainly conditions have changed – improved vacant homesites are scarce or non-existent in most locales and almost all of the choicest sites have been picked up by the nationals. Prices of land suitable for development are rising almost beyond reason and A & D financing often still remains elusive for smaller builders.  Competition is fierce with the “nationals” typically often enjoying price advantages due to economies of scale and national contracts providing cost savings and also from economies of scale in marketing. 

Instead of just rolling over and playing dead, however, I believe that there still substantial opportunities for smaller local builders to prosper in every market if they will make the commitment to properly research and analyze their markets and create a strategy for success!  That strategy will identify realistic opportunities in the market and provide a step by step program for implementation and success.  Continue reading