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Is the Customer Always Right?

The short answer is no, and here's why that's a good thing

Some builders are what one might call 'order takers.' They do anything the homeowners want within the constraints of budget, timetable, and zoning or code regulations. That's understandable: everyone wants happy customers and positive reviews.

But the best builders understand that an anything-you-want approach really doesn't serve customers. We would go further and caution people to beware the builder who never pushes back.

Don't misunderstand—all custom builders try hard to accommodate requests. After all, they are building custom homes. At the same time, they also know that protecting customers may mean vetoing certain requests.

A good way to illustrate this is with the example of a heat pump. Installed costs range from $4,200 to $14,500 most of the US. (That's on average: the range will be higher in extreme climates and for big homes.) Now imagine a homeowner who does some research and concludes that an $8,000 system will do the job. Should the builder accept that conclusion?

The answer is that while budget concerns are important, long-term satisfaction depends more on performance than on price. It's the builder's responsibility to help the homeowner understand that.

The builder's HVAC contractor will calculate the optimal system needed to keep the home comfortable and healthy. The builder may then recommend a more expensive system or may limit choices to one or two very reliable brands.

Recommending the higher-priced product isn't a sly attempt to jack up profits. It's a sign that the builder is looking out for the customer's well-being.

Builders with a reputation for durable, high-quality homes earn that reputation because everything they do supports it. Using cheap products that fall short of the builder's performance standards would be like putting Hyundai parts in a Porsche. That's no criticism of Hyundai; it's a recognition that builders, like car manufacturers, have to deliver on their brand promises.

If the $8,000 system won't remove enough humidity in spring or fall, then the customer will blame the builder, even if the customer asked for that system.

This is only one example. Many homeowners also request specific windows, deck boards, interior paints and other products. A builder's willingness to use them depends on whether they meet the builder's standards. That's a good thing for the homeowner.

Builders with great reputations put a high priority on good customer relationships. Good relationships are based on trust, and one earns trust by telling the truth.

But trustworthy builders don't leave customers disappointed. Instead, they suggest products and designs that offer the benefits customers really want from their new home.