The Problem is Not The Problem

Gwenith Ramirez

"Customers don't expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong."

- Donald Porter, British Airways

Kind of surprising to read the above statement from an airline guy. I don’t know about you, but when I am sitting in the cabin of a plane preparing to take off, I’m kind of thinking that from that point forward, there’s no room for anything BUT perfection. I actually believe Mr. Porter has it right. Consider this: Even with the high-quality automobiles being produced these days, we all accept the possibility that complex products like automobiles (and new homes) will require repairs at some point. That is why auto dealerships and new home builders have customer service teams. It is an accepted part of the deal. With that realistic expectation in mind, you probably won’t stop buying that next Mercedes because your current model needed a minor repair. But you may consider buying another brand or certainly changing to another dealership if you repeatedly experience difficulties in making convenient appointments, or were treated rudely by service personnel, or—and this is the worst—had to return for a second visit to re-fix the same problem. The problem is not the problem. It is the lack of a timely and complete response that is the real problem.

Fast Response versus Quality Response
Eliant’s research over the last three decades (Editor’s Note: Jeez, has this guy been around that long?) and our statistical work with USC, Marshall School of Business, has helped prioritize our efforts in creating homeowners who are willing to refer their friends to their builder. Here’s the real deal: Speed of service response, as you would expect, is important. But even more important is the quality of that service. The top-line metric for determining ‘quality of repair’ is this: Was the repair completed ‘right-the-first-time’? No one likes to take an extra half-day off from work to come home to meet the warranty rep or trade partner because the repair couldn’t be completed the first time. Whether it is warranty service on your car or your new home, return-service visits are deal killers, severely diminishing your customer’s willingness to recommend you to his friends. Homeowners who provide low scores to our key survey question “Were service repairs completed ‘right-the-first-time’?” also indicate that they are significantly less willing to refer their builder to a friend. The real problem isn’t the issue being reported by your home owner, it’s your lack of a timely and complete response. When our Eliant account managers are analyzing a builder client’s customer survey scores and comments, we have found that it’s good to track the issues which draw the most complaints (interior paint, appliance operation, leaky faucets, etc.). However, it’s even more important to track the number of complaints about the lack of or delay in responding to home owners’ complaints, or the difficulty in making an appointment, or the failure to meet the promised schedule for correcting the problem. Your lack of an acceptable response to the problem is MUCH more telling than the frequency of the problem.