Customer Service as a Sales Tool

Education & Training with

We speak with Anthony Zarrilli, Zarrilli Homes, Brick, NJ

Try telling Anthony Zarrilli that there’s a housing recession.  He just smiles.

We’ve spoken with other builders who say that “refuse to participate in the housing slowdown,” but Tony is living by those words.  His New Jersey homebuilding company, Zarrilli Homes, is about as busy as they’ve ever been.

To what does he contribute his continued success?  “It’s a lot of little things that contribute to the whole,” he says.  He’s got the basics of good customer service down so that he gives fast, focused response to every customer throughout the sales, construction and service cycles.

Here’s how Anthony describes his processes:

A lot of little things add up to the whole. I get a lot of people saying ‘Thank You’ just for returning phone calls. I don’t know why, but in this business people call asking for prices and they don’t get a lot of calls returned. I make sure that when someone calls us, before the end of the day they get a return call. We try to respond by email or sending out information in the mail that day or the next day. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

After we set up an appointment to meet with them we try to be as accommodating as possible. We get them as much information as we can based on the information we get about the home. We get them to be as comfortable as we can, and then we invite them into the office.

Planning Meetings
We invite them in, have them fill out a few forms, and have them bring their survey with them so we know what kind of property we’re dealing with. Before they come in we call the zoning office of the township they’re in so we know what we’re allowed to build. I don’t want to say we’ll get back to you in a week after we find out what size the front and back sides are or what the height of the home will be.  I’ll try to get information on the type of foundation they’re wanting, lot grading, etc., too. It’s not enough for an exact design, but that will help me get closer to a preliminary price for them.

Ultimately, the house is very important to the customer but everyone wants to see that bottom line. We try to get them there as quickly as possible while keeping it a realistic number so that they know there won’t be any surprises or major deviations from the cost that I give them.

My goal at our first meeting is to get enough information to put a design together. The design takes me about 3-4 days and includes a full specification page detailing how the house is constructed through completion. Within a week of them coming in they’ll have a price on their house. Once we have that initial layout and they feel comfortable, that’s when we take the deposit.

Our customers feel very comfortable with that. We might not pick everything out but all of those specifications are in there. If they change stain color of the hardwood, it’s not going to change the price. We are 95% on with that price unless some particular major change is done. When customers know that and they see that it’s done, they feel comfortable in giving us the deposit and moving forward. It’s a very good formula that keeps them feeling very comfortable.

Customer Service
We have a project manager on each home that keeps in constant contact with the customer. They have their number, email and my contact information as well. If they have a question, they get a response back that same day. If I physically cannot get the answer, then I will tell them when they will have it.

Going through the project, an open line of communication is the vital. Your customers want to be able to speak with someone if they have a question, are not sure of something, or if they want to make a change.  If they can’t reach you or your staff when they have a question, they’re comfort level will rapidly erode; they’ll panic.  And you’ll lose their trust.

Also, at the end of every project is a punch list of items to be completed. We do that before we go for the final certificate of occupancy. After they move in there will be warranty items that need to be addressed, but you want to keep those to a minimum. We make sure we do the walk through with them before they move in, then again 30 days after when everything on the punch list is completed, and then we’re done. We’re very happy with that procedure.

It comes down to communication and not letting things linger. We have a lot of issues, for example, with utility companies.  The Project Manager and myself will go out to the site to meet with the Utility company representative and, if need be, the engineer and homeowner. We’ll see the problem and come up with the right solution because there’s never just one solution to a problem; there are always several – some expensive, some not. We meet at the job, come up with solutions and implement them without losing time.

Live Testimonials
Customers like seeing what other work you’ve done before. They don’t want to just see a drive by or another home, but meet and speak with your past customers.

We have a list that we give to everyone that walks in. It has the dates of all the upcoming starts.  Below that is a list of “Houses under Construction” followed by “Completed Homes.” Under each of those are the homes and contact names and numbers. So they can speak with a customer that at any stage of completion.  I really believe that makes all the difference.

When our customers see people come into the area or driving by their home, they will go outside, invite them in and talk with them, some even become friends. We had two who met that way go to a wedding recently together. So the web is made and that referral is absolutely huge.

We like to walk away with the construction part of house with them happy. We never entirely walk away from any home. We have customers call a few years later with questions. We work with them. We keep in touch with them, sending Christmas cards, etc. We keep a very good rapport with all of our customers. Just because the house is done it doesn’t mean the relationship is.

Marketing, Advertising & PR
Besides referrals, the second biggest piece of the puzzle in advertising is a well put together, quality web site. We recently launched our new site and we received a tremendous response from it. Last year if we had 90-100 hits in one week on our site I was ecstatic. This year, since we did the SEO, we are getting 150-200 hits a day. When our customers come in I ask them for feedback on the site and we use that to update it regularly because I ultimately want this to be a tool that helps them to understand our business and what we do, and turn that into a sale.

Many of the homes we build are on sites with existing homes that need to be removed.  On every home we knock down, we call the local fire, police, swat, or dog handler teams to come in and run drills on the house. It gets them training in a different house every time.  We’ll send out press releases and a lot of times the local newspaper will come and do a story about us donating a home for that use. That keeps our name out there.  It builds good relationships and you feel like you’re giving back to the community.

We do have some billboards and direct marketing. We also keep a prospect list of every customer that walks in or emails us and every quarter we’ll send out an e-mail blast to those customers. We’ve actually had customers tell us they were glad we contacted them because they were thinking of moving forward and we set up an appointment.

We also do a lot of email blasts. If we have a promotion running, we like to start off with that.  It will also be featured on our website so there’s uniformity. But the cost involved is minimal compared to what you get back in doing it.

We also have a virtual brochure that keeps the customer informed of upcoming projects. If a start is coming up I’ll send out a blast to 20-30 people I’ve met with recently as a reminder. We make our starts into events. I had one 8 months ago with a gentleman that was very involved with his church. His entire congregation attended. All these people came and watched the set and we got sales out of that. Worst case scenario you get branding out of it and now they know our name, logo and these people out there promoting us.

Ultimately the success comes down to customer service, building a quality home and standing behind the home you built. That’s been our formula and it’s worked well to keep us moving forward.

Listen to the audio interview.

Comments (1)

Carl Winters
Canyon Lake, TX

A quick return telephone call will get me my next home inspection. I've found that good customer service is expected and should be given. I would expect the same.

Nice blog, thanks for sharing.

Carl Winters

Nov 07, 2010 09:39 AM