Customer satisfaction and reviews are now the second most trusted source of brand information on the Internet, according to Nielsen Ratings.

This fact underscores how important it is for builders today to focus on delighting its potential homeowners.

We are in a wired world where builder performance is readily shared online via open customer review websites. The builders with the happiest homeowners are the companies with glowing reviews that gain market share, while the rest are simply struggling against a growing tide of poor reviews.

While you might think that making a homebuyer happy is a simple and straightforward endeavor, ask any seasoned builder and they’ll confirm it’s far from that. Here are the top five strategies we have learned from two decades of working with homebuilders to make customers happy.

1. Set proper expectations.

In the home building industry, setting expectations is the most crucial thing you can do to delight customers. If you allow customers to establish their own expectations about the building process, you make life difficult for you and your team. Buying a home is a very different than buying a factory-made item like a car because a home is one of only products that is still built on-site in an uncontrolled environment where a buyer can see the process start to finish. (I challenge Ford to build a Focus sedan in each driveway and see how happy their customers are!) In order to properly set expectations with buyers, hold a mandatory meeting right after contract signing to share with them about the realities of home building and how the process really works. Don’t sugarcoat things; they will appreciate hearing the truth and can prepare themselves accordingly.

2. Inoculate.

Inoculation is a unique form of setting expectations whereby you specifically point out some negative things that may happen during the process. Things like delays in closing, material shortages, labor shortages, or warranty claims that may take up to several months to resolve. What this does is prepare the buyer for the unfortunate (and often common) realities that may happen when building a home. Think of it as giving your buyers a small dose of the bad to help them build immunity for when the real issue(s) is upon them. Not only will it make them emotionally stronger to deal with these difficult situations, but also in the end it will build trust between you and your customer.  Buyers might initially react negatively to an inoculation message, but the feeling will normally pass as you continue through the build process. Inoculation also doesn’t work after the fact. If you don’t inoculate until a real problem is evident, the buyer will view your comments as an excuse and the whole strategy will fail. Be proactive.

3. Build relationship value.

Establishing a working relationship with the buyer is overlooked by many, but so important in cultivating flexibility from your buyer. During the first few meetings with a new buyer, spend the first 120 seconds of conversation on personal life and avoid discussing the business at hand. This “120 second rule” is a great strategy to help you and your team members establish a relationship with that buyer by discovering commonalities and areas of interest. Show genuine interest in each buyer and put on your best smile. The key is to make that connection, which will pay dividends throughout the process. This strategy is used extensively by Southwest Airlines, which makes it a point to be funny and likable, by design. If you are genuine, it really works.

4. Create a “wow” moment.

A “wow” moment is that point in time during a purchasing experience when something good unexpectedly happens. It is not something that occurs all the time but when it does it really impacts overall satisfaction. “Wow” moments can be a simple as installing outlet protectors in the house for a family with young children, having a step stool in the kitchen to reach those upper cabinets, or giving a gift basket to your homeowners on move-in day. The point is that you need to think of ways to show you care and that you appreciate them. It’s something most buyers don't’ expect, but goes a long way to increasing customer delight.

5. Build a great home and be transparent when things go awry.

You can provide great service all day long, but if the house is built poorly, none of it will matter. Fortunately, most of the builders we meet produce quality homes and issues are not generally about the workmanship, but rather how customers are treated.  If a subcontractor messes something up, be transparent about what happened and take ownership to fix it (and fast). Buyers will appreciate your honesty and your willingness to correct it. If you try to make excuses or avoid taking ownership, buyers will get angry and are likely to begin searching for more problems (a formula for disaster). So, take it on the chin and show you care, even though you weren’t perfect.

Most buyers today are not expecting perfection, just a builder who will get it right. Integrate these five strategies to make customers happy and great reviews and sales are sure to follow.