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Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast Digital Marketing Podcast Hosted by Greg Bray and Kevin Weitzel

102 Dealing with Difficult Buyers - Bob Mirman

In this week’s episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Bob Mirman of Eliant joins Greg and Kevin to discuss dealing with difficult buyers and how managing expectations is a key factor in doing that.

Some home buyers have become more challenging in recent years and Bob says, “There's a reason for this. Everybody's frustrated. We're tired of this pandemic. We used to be empathetic about the pandemic. We accepted it. We accepted the excuses. We understood. No, the honeymoon's over. We don't understand anymore. We don't want to understand anymore. So, yeah, these were the same buyers that are coming into our sales offices and our design studios, and they're creating havoc in our sales offices, unfortunately.”

He continues, “We're impatient people these days, and I think that was obvious even before the pandemic. The pandemic has just exacerbated the whole situation and made it much more obvious, much worse.”

Home builders can alleviate many of the challenges they face with home buyers by managing and setting realistic, honest expectations. Bob says, “Changing expectations is the number one thing that our builder clients can do to ameliorate some of the problems they have right now with their angry buyers. That's really the number one thing to do.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about handling problematic home buyers.

About the Guest:

Bob Mirman is CEO and founder of Eliant. With offices in Aliso Viejo, CA, and Raleigh, NC, the mission of this 37-year-old firm is to assist consumer-driven firms in systematically delivering an extraordinary experience to every customer, thereby turning delighted customers into referral generators.

Eliant has provided international customer experience monitoring, training, and consulting for over 1,600 homebuilders and major mortgage and escrow firms across the U.S., Canada, and the Middle East.

Eliant has also provided customer experience management services for BMW, Toyota, Beckman Instruments, IBM, and many other consumer-oriented organizations.

Trained as a Clinical Psychologist, Bob left clinical practice to join General Mills as Director of Customer Perception Research and sales motivation programs. He left General Mills in 1984 to start National Survey Systems, now known as Eliant.

Bob is well recognized as one of the building industry’s highest-rated speakers and is a familiar face on the stages of the International Builder Show, Pacific Coast Builders’ Conference, and the boardrooms of many of the nation’s most successful consumer-driven companies.


Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody, and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine,

Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse,

Greg Bray: and we're excited today to welcome to the show Bob Mirman, the CEO, and founder of Eliant. Welcome, Bob. Thanks for joining us today.

Bob Mirman: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you, guys.

Greg Bray: Well, Bob, for those who haven't had a chance to meet you yet, let's start off with that introduction. Help us get to know you a little bit better.

Bob Mirman: All right. Here's some quick information. I just moved here to North Carolina, Pinehurst, North Carolina from Southern California where I resided[00:01:00] for almost 40 years, and we just opened up our new office here in Raleigh.

So, I decided to come out and open up the office and then play a little golf out here. My wife's a nationally ranked amateur golfer. So, we're serious golfers out here, but we're spending a lot of time dealing with clients on the east coast. So, it turned out to be a good thing. I was born in New York City. Went to the University of Vermont. Graduated there. Then ended up teaching for three years as a special education teacher in New York City.

Went back to get my special ed master's degree. Ended up teaching at the University of Vermont for a couple of years. Then went to a University of Kansas on a fellowship for my doctoral studies, and then, right at the end, after I'd finished everything, spent a couple of years as an intern in state hospitals. I got a job offer from a guy in Atlanta to come down and work for a company that had a group of psychologists that he had put together to do business consulting, and I was doing that on the side and I loved it.

I [00:02:00] decided to move down to Atlanta. Left my studies. Thought I'd go back and finish, but never did. I got so busy and spent a lot of time in Atlanta and then went on from there to work for General Mills for seven years, which was one of my clients as a consultant. They ended up giving me a full-time offer.

Moved to Minnesota. I spent seven years as a staff psychologist with General Mills and after seven long winters in Minnesota, decided that Southern California might have my name on it. So, I ended up moving to Southern California and starting my company, National Survey Systems, which we changed the name in 2002 to Eliant. So, that's a little background on me.

Kevin Weitzel: Well, that's a lot of business and a lot of moving. Tell our audience something interesting personally about yourself that they'll only learn here on this podcast.

Bob Mirman: What people don't know is that the reason why I left University of Kansas, at the end of my studies, before finishing to go down to Atlanta, was [00:03:00] because I got a telephone call one day from a guy named Fran Tarkenton, who at that point was the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, but he's a business guy, and he had started a company of psychologists doing business consulting all over the country. Since our training meshed, my training and his group of psychologists, he offered me this incredible job, and that's the reason why I left. So, it was working with Fran and his team that got me out of Kansas to go down to Atlanta.

Kevin Weitzel: That is cool.

Greg Bray: I need to make a confession here to our audience. I did not warn Kevin that we were having a psychologist on the show. I just need to go on record that Kevin is coming into this without knowing what he's getting into, so...

Bob Mirman: Well, I did tell you to have a couch prepared for Kevin, so we could do a little therapy session.

Greg Bray: Well, Bob, how do you go from psychology and then getting into some of the survey work. How does that get you into home building? How does that leap happen?

Bob Mirman: Well, before I left General [00:04:00] Mills, I had started doing customer evaluation studies for General Mills, as a means of evaluating our salespeople. We get it right from the horse's mouth, right from the buyers at Kroger's and Safeway, et cetera, and I thought that was a great business concept. So, when I left there and went to California to open National Survey Systems. That's how it started, but after a year we had a tremendous amount of business that I took with me from General Mills and General Foods and Kraft and Kellogg, and IBM. We did a great deal of business in the first couple of years, but remember, in 1984, there was no internet. There was no computer. So, I put a Yellow Pages ad in the Southern California Yellow Pages. Got a call from a lady named Dana Kovach, who I still love and revere.

Kevin Weitzel: Who doesn't?

Bob Mirman: Do, you know Dana?

Kevin Weitzel: We do.

Greg Bray: Oh, yeah. We know Dana.

Bob Mirman: Dana is an amazing mentor for me, and she asked out of the blue if our survey company could do a survey of Shea Homes' [00:05:00] customers because she was managing the Shea Home business then and probably still is today, or until recent years with Kovach Marketing, but I said, absolutely. Absolutely. So, she set me up with a meeting with a guy named John Shea Jr., who was then running Shea Homes in 1984.

 I went in there and he asked me to put together a program and I said, yes, but I have a condition. I said, I'm going to do this for you for one year at no charge if you set me up with some of your colleagues and competitors, so we can put together the same survey with all of your competitors, so you can benchmark the results of your survey. Otherwise, there's really no way to tell whether the scores you're getting are good or bad. He agreed with that instantaneously, and in basically two months I had twelve home builder clients, and in five years we had 300 home builder clients across the country participating in our benchmarking [00:06:00] program, and we're still running that today. So, that's how it started, and now we're in 30 states, Canada. We do a lot of business in Saudi Arabia. So, it's a big deal. It's been a great ride.

Greg Bray: So, on that first survey, how did Shea's results look compared to those benchmarks?

Bob Mirman: Shea Homes then, and I'm sure still is because they've taken it internally. They're doing their own internal survey, but Shea Homes was a star. They were just totally committed to their customers and they've always done very well.

Kevin Weitzel: So, I've got a question about them taking that internally because we always are concerned on the digital marketing side, whether they do it on in-house or an OutHouse, outsourcing, see how I got one little shameless plugin there. Anyway, when somebody brings in a customer satisfaction survey in-house, are they setting themselves up for potential drinking their own Kool-Aid?

Bob Mirman: Yeah absolutely. It has happened to us a few times over the years. Shea was one of the first to do that. Shea is a very professional organization and my understanding is they did a great job with that, [00:07:00] but typically what happens is the response rates drop and buyers are not as willing to be honest to their own builder as they are to a survey company that is going to provide the data back to the builder or back to the lender.

So, that's where it falls apart is when that happens, and unfortunately, it happens too often from the builder standpoint. Now, most of the clients that we get, they're using other companies that are not doing a great job for them, or they're doing it themselves and they're getting 15, 20, 25% response to their surveys when we average almost 70% response on our surveys. So, there's a lot of advantages for us to do it.

Greg Bray: So, Bob, before we go a little further, let's just get the background on Eliant and the services you offer so that people have that for context for the rest of our discussion.

Bob Mirman: Yeah, basically 98% of our work is with home builders, lenders, escrow companies, design studios related to the new home building industry. We conduct surveys before the [00:08:00] purchase prospects, new buyers in escrow, homeowners who just moved in, homeowners two, three, five, seven years after to get a rating of the durability of the product and the quality of service during that period of time.

One of our biggest programs right now is Trade Star, which is a mobile app, which we provide to our clients and allows their superintendents, customer service reps, and purchasing agents, on their mobile phone, very quickly, in a minute portrayed, one minute portrayed, we evaluate the trade and submit that. So, the builder has ratings from the people who know the most about the trades.

The best part about that is then the trades are asked to conduct or participate in a survey to evaluate their builders and it turns out that second part has been the most valuable part of the exercise for home builders because they rarely get that kind of feedback. The other big thing that we're working on right now is a build to rent. It's the [00:09:00] fastest-growing segment in the country, We're putting together a build to rent national benchmarking system. So, we're going to be surveying the residents for all these build-to-rent builders and giving them benchmarking. The same way we've been doing for almost 40 years now for home builders. So, that's been an exciting part of our process as well.

Greg Bray: Thanks for that background. I think too, Bob, from our conversation, one of the areas that you seem to also provide is some training and consulting, as well, beyond the results and how to apply those and I think one area we wanted to dive into that I think you've done a lot with is just helping builders deal with some of those challenging buyers or customers when they come along, right? So, let's dive into that a little bit deeper. You know, do you think that it's getting worse? Are buyers getting harder to work with based on some of the results of things you're seeing?

Bob Mirman: No doubt about it. You know, I just read yesterday that there's a Golden Corral restaurant in some small town in Pennsylvania. They were serving and it's like [00:10:00] a buffet, I guess, and somebody started fighting over a steak. Somebody cut into the line and there were forty people at the end of it, forty of the customers and staff fighting, throwing chairs around, breaking furniture. You may guys may have heard of this. At a Golden Corral. I mean, come on. It's not like this is Morton steak or anything.

Greg Bray: Oh, my goodness.

Kevin Weitzel: I didn't hear about this, but it sounds like a hobby that I could really get into.

Bob Mirman: Yeah, Kevin. I think you do very well in this, which is probably why Greg thought you might need some psychological assistance.

Greg Bray: Now, wait a minute. I did not say that he needed psychological assistance. I may have implied.

Kevin Weitzel: You may have implied, you may have hinted, but yes.

Bob Mirman: I think the inference was clearly there. In the Bronx, where I was born in the Bronx, there is a Chipotle, which was also in the news this week that they stopped serving food indoors, and they're only doing takeout. Because of the staff shortages and the availability of food products, their delivery of their products has been slow [00:11:00] and every night, they get a bunch of people standing outside of the restaurant, and just on Monday night of this week, they had thirty people standing out there. They got into a ruckus. Started shoving and fighting and throwing furniture against the window of Chipotle cause they were mad that their food wasn't coming out on time.

The basic message here is, the answer to your question, Greg, is absolutely. We're dealing with a level of anger in our society right now, which is unrivaled in time. Road rage, fights, and incidents on airlines. I mean, airlines had 5,000, I'm going to give you this number cause I study this, 5,981 reported incidents in the last year on airlines.

There's a reason for this. Everybody's frustrated. We're tired of this pandemic. We used to be empathetic about the pandemic. We accepted it. We accepted the excuses. We understood. No, the honeymoon's over. We don't understand anymore. We don't want to understand anymore. [00:12:00] So, yeah, these were the same buyers that are coming into our sales offices and our design studios, and they're creating havoc in our sales offices, unfortunately.

Greg Bray: So, how much of that Bob is pandemic-driven versus just people being less and less patient in general and just wanting what they want now because I think digital has created a little bit of that too, right? Just this, we get answers quickly. We get what we want. We have that instant gratification and so when someone tells us it's going to take how long to get this house you want, and it's going to have how many bumps along the way. That we're not used to having to wait for things anymore.

Bob Mirman: We're impatient people these days, and I think that was obvious even before the pandemic. The pandemic has just exacerbated the whole situation and made it much more obvious, much worse. I gave a workshop a few months ago on how to deal with difficult buyers and we identified, for this group, the seven types of difficult buyers that we have seen, and we went through the steps to deal with these kinds of buyers [00:13:00] based on psychological research and best practice experience.

The first one I introduced was the buyer who is very much assertive, abusive, name-calling, demeaning to the salesperson or to the design studio, and I said, you probably don't have very many of these instances, but should they occur, here's how to deal with it, and I said, first, with a raise of hands, show me in the recent couple of months, how many of you, and there were 65 people in this room, how many of you have had to deal with this kind of abusive buyer? I expected 20, 25%. Almost everybody in that room, I would say over 80% to be safe, raised their hand. I was blown away by that.

Kevin Weitzel: Let me ask you this. Is it because people have become these keyboard warriors? That they are isolated with social media? That they feel that they can say whatever they want via text or a phone call because they're not in person cause trust me, I'm not a very big dude, but I'm relatively [00:14:00] intimidating. So, people aren't going to in my face say the things that they'll say over a text, or an email, or even over a phone call. So, do you find that because we are so socially isolated that people feel like they just can say whatever the hell they want to? Is that what it's coming down to?

Bob Mirman: I think so. Listen, Kevin, it's part of the deal. I mean, you don't look very intimidating right now when you're sitting down, Kevin, but I'm assuming when you stand up with a golf club in your hand, you're pretty intimidating, but yeah. That is part of it, but it's also, the way we've resonated from the pandemic. That we've become much more frustrated that we can't get what we want.

Our normal routines are helter skelter. We can't just go to a restaurant anymore. We have to consider where we're going and who they're going to let in. Everything has changed. The predictable has to become the unpredictable. So, yeah, it's about the social media thing and we can get into the social media context to this at length and probably don't have enough time to deal with that today, but yeah, that is a significant part of it as well. The isolation that you mentioned, that's a negative part of this.

Kevin Weitzel: [00:15:00] Absolutely.

Greg Bray: So, this group, Bob, they'd all had these angry experiences or angry customer experiences. What were they looking to you for in that context? What do you tell them to do, other than call the cops and throw them out?

Bob Mirman: Well, let's face it. We have seven types of difficult customers, broken down into two major groups. One is, what I call the aggressive, angry customers. The aggressive, difficult customers, who are either verbally aggressive. Forget about physical assaults. We don't have very many of those, thankfully, in our industry, but they're demeaning. They're demeaning to their spouse, to their partner in front of the salesperson or the design studio consultant, which makes it extremely difficult and uncomfortable for everybody. So, that's the first group, the overt angry.

Then we have the passive-aggressive. The people who are too fearful to express their own anger cause they don't want to get into a confrontation. So, they do things like sit back with their arms closed while you're [00:16:00] talking, don't respond quickly to emails, cancel meetings, postpone meetings. There's the amiable insincere, the agreeable insincere, who are overly agreeable to everything you say, but then never do what they promise. So, these are all passive-aggressive.

There's different techniques and the one thing I told this group because there were so many people in that group that had to deal with the overtly assertive. I said, at some point you just need to warn them and say, you can't speak to me in that tone of voice.

You can't use those words in this conversation. It doesn't make me feel comfortable, so I'd like you to stop doing that. Let's have a genteel conversation if you will, and then if they do it again, there is one absolute way to stop it. We taught them to stand up because when you stand up in front of a buyer like that, you're now saying this is an important message that I'm going to give you. You say we've discussed how this makes me feel uncomfortable, how your voice, how your attitude, the [00:17:00] words you're using make me uncomfortable. So, I'm calling an end to this meeting today, and if you want to meet with me again, I'd like you to call my manager and make that appointment.

Then call the manager immediately in front of the buyer and describe to the manager, the sales manager, if that's the case, what's going on and that'll stop it and that'll probably stop it the next time as well. It puts an end to it. That's the strongest technique that we offer, and there are seven different types of difficult buyers for which we have a different technique for each one of those. So, that's been a great success, and helping people understand that.

Greg Bray: From a salesperson who may be fearful of losing a sale by standing up for themselves, do you have any feeling for how often has that person just marching out and never coming back and you lose the sale versus calling them down and helping them become a little more polite?

Bob Mirman: Here's the beauty of this. First of all, if you're afraid of losing a sale to someone who is absolutely [00:18:00] abusive, verbally abusive, assaultive in a verbal sense, demeaning, remember this, you're doing your builder and yourself a favor to lose that buyer. Fire the buyer. We talk about it all the time and it has happened.

Fire the buyer. Tell him you don't want him to come back. If you allow that buyer to continue coming back and end up buying a house, you're inviting years worth of trouble and lawsuits. Now, we don't have any data on that. I wish I did. I'm an empirical kind of guy with measurement on the mind, but I can tell you that when you lose a buyer like that, and it doesn't happen that often, you're absolutely putting yourself in a better position than you would if you would allow that buyer to get into your system. Customer service people will thank you.

Greg Bray: Well, and especially given that a new home transaction takes so long, right? There's so many opportunities for future interactions compared to maybe a checking out at the grocery store type of confrontation.

Bob Mirman: I've had builders tell me that they fire buyers [00:19:00] even after they've given them the deposit because they're such a pain, and these days, being a pain is a mild indiscretion here. We're talking about people who are much worse than just being annoying. This is not just an annoying buyer. This is someone who threatens you, who doesn't make you feel comfortable, if you're feeling uncomfortable, maybe that's the best way to go about it.

Greg Bray: So, Bob, how pervasive are these different groups that you talked about? I mean, is there one group that's like 90% of the challenges versus kind of evenly distributed? How does that look?

Bob Mirman: We don't have any data on that, but it seems to me that the passive-aggressive is the more likely scenario to happen. Maybe the husband is not as interested in the new home as his spouse and makes it clear by sitting there, sitting back and just listening and not participating, hands crossed over his chest. That kind of activity where they just, they don't show up to meetings on time. Their meetings are postponed. They don't respond to emails.

All the talk about the timing. The cutoff dates [00:20:00] for design are ignored. It's a passive-aggressive action. At some point, you have to face the buyer with that statement. You have to let them know that you're aware of that. There seems to be some negativity that you're expressing by not following through with what we have agreed to do, et cetera. What's the hold up here? What can we do to make you feel more comfortable? You're clearly not comfortable with the scenario here. So, the passive-aggressive is the more likely scenario and that's a lot more subtle.

Kevin Weitzel: How often do you think that it is where it's not necessarily they're intentionally passive-aggressive, but it's a response to them feeling intimidated by the overall process that the builder is putting them through.

Bob Mirman: Yeah, that could be, but you, as a builder, if you're a salesperson in design, you have to look for body language and cues that the buyer is confused. Listen, we have so many of our builders that have pages and pages of options. The more options you give, the more likely it is that the buyer is going to be confused with the choices. Just as an example. You got to look for cues that they're confused, that they can't make a [00:21:00] decision, and help them to make it a decision.

So, we train our design studio people. Hey, listen, if you get a buyer who seems is holding back on making a decision. It could be because they're just overwhelmed. So, narrow it down. Instead of saying, which of these eight do you want to order, say, which three of these really interest you the most? Narrow it down. Let's narrow it down to three. Let's gradually narrow it down. So, you have to be aware of the context. Look for the body cues. Look for what they say, what they don't say, and try to help the buyer make a better decision.

Greg Bray: Along those same lines, I guess my personal experiences is that a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction comes when expectations don't match reality, right? It's that gap between what I walked in expecting, and then what's actually happening. How much do the builders create some of this confusion unnecessarily in that whole process because they haven't set expectations upfront in a realistic manner?

Bob Mirman: Thank you. You [00:22:00] really hit on the crux of the matter. There are two sets of expectations in every meeting when the buyer first walks in the door with a salesperson or design consultant. The buyer has his or her own expectations of what this process is going to be, what they want to get out of it, what their fears are, and every one of them has fears and anxieties. Even those who have been through it many times before. Sometimes a little knowledge is a bad thing. It creates more anxiety, but buyers have their own set of expectations.

Then number two, builders add to those expectations because they set themselves up in such a way as to sell themselves to these prospective buyers with such grandiose promises and expectations that can never be met. So, builders tend to exaggerate their ability to deliver the home on time, deliver it in great condition.

They use words like perfect after the final walk. They're not honest and transparent, as a general rule in this industry. We have some of our clients that do an [00:23:00] absolutely amazing job in providing realistic, transparent expectation. Once the contract is signed, to hold the buyers' expectations down to a more realistic level that they are planning to either meet or better, to beat. So, expectation management is a big thing.

I said earlier that we are just bombarded with requests for information about how to deal with difficult buyers, but the second thing that we do along with that is meet the challenges of how to set and manage expectations. So, the video series that we've produced is on both the difficult buyers, how to deal with them, and about how to manage expectations. What are the specific steps to do that? What do you say? What don't you say? What do you never promise? It's part of the game and it has to be looked at seriously. So, you're right, Greg, that is a big deal.

Greg Bray: How do I deal with the fact though that my competitor that they're talking to is making all those promises [00:24:00] and they sound really good because it's what they want to hear and I'm trying to be realistic and fair? I don't want to say more honest, we'll stay with realistic, but I feel like they're going to go, because they're hearing what they want to hear, over there, and then they're not going to find out until it's too late, that there was, you know, a little more fluff there then maybe there could be.

Bob Mirman: There's a lot of fluff these days. I think it's important whether it's on your website or whether it's in your first meetings with the sales representative with a prospective buyer to say, without naming any names of any competitive builders out there, to just talk about the fact that you're going to hear a lot of promises being made by the home builders that you're probably talking to along the way.

This is a difficult period in our industry. We have supply chain issues and staffing issues. The one thing you're not going to hear from us is an exaggerated promise. Now, I'm going to tell you how long it's going to take to build your home and I'm not going to give you fluff about that. We're going to tell you how long it's going to take, and if you decide not to buy from us because you think it's taking too [00:25:00] long and go to a builder who's promising it faster. That's great, and we welcome that kind of response to our honesty, but we're always going, to be honest. We're not going to exaggerate in order to make the sale. That you can trust.

Kevin Weitzel: But Mr. Customer, will you do me a favor if you choose to go down that road? Will you come back to me in June and let me tell you aha. I told you so when you're still not in your home.

Bob Mirman: It happens because of the fluff and because of the exaggerated promises. You know, there are buyers who were falling for that and then they get disappointed, and the last thing you want as a builder is disappointed buyers. So, we stress the realism, the transparency. We stress making promises that you can beat, not just meet. Meeting promises does not gain you anything more than satisfied buyers and satisfied buyers don't refer their friends. Delighted buyers do. To get delighted buyers, you have to go out and beat your promises, not [00:26:00] just meet your promises.

Greg Bray: Angry buyers tell the whole world on social media about how bad you are. They don't just tell their friends, right? They tell the whole world.

Bob Mirman: And unfortunately social media is filled with negativity because that's the most common thing to do on social media is to complain. You don't have very many sites that are dedicated to positive comments, but you've got so many sites that are dedicated to angry buyers. There are dozens, of dozens of sites for fielding complaints from angry home buyers. That's all they do.

Greg Bray: We've had conversations with clients on an SEO standpoint of, well, how do I get my stuff to rank above these bad reviews that are showing up here when people search on my name? And I said it's not an SEO problem. It's a warranty production issue, so...

Bob Mirman: Yeah. We handle that firsthand by posting and sharing the reviews that we collect and we have hundreds of thousands of surveys that are coming in. We take those surveys and most of our builder clients use our review site [00:27:00] where you can go in and take a look at all the comments and all the ratings. So, it's totally transparent for each community on each subject. That's the best way to be transparent. So, it's third-party. It's not based on what the builder decides to post. It's an honest representation of what's going on and builders trust that, as they should.

Greg Bray: So, Bob, where can the website fit into this role of helping set expectations in the process and supporting the conversations that are happening along those lines?

Bob Mirman: Well, the website has to mirror what we were just talking about being honest. I mean, you can say in the website, you can hear from a lot of builders about what they're going to do, and a lot of that is exaggerated. We can promise you right now that we will never exaggerate what we expect to deliver and you're going to get an honest, transparent picture of what's going on from us. You could use different words to describe that, but that's part of the value equation that you're selling.

The second thing is post your reviews on your website. Put a link on there. No [00:28:00] one knows more about the quality of your home and the quality of the service that you're providing, your ability to meet your promises, than the people who have purchased from you, have gone through it themselves and are now living in your homes. So, post what they have to say. If you're doing well, as you just pointed out, Greg, if you're paying attention to your customer service and your warranty, your scores will be good and it'll be demonstrated there. Post your reviews. Give them access to that. Don't make them look for the negative sites. They're going to find them. Don't make them look for it. Give the information right here, right now. It's total transparency. Trust.

Greg Bray: So, Bob, do you think this is a trend that's just going to get worse as you look ahead, or do you think it's a temporary COVID-induced issue that will fade as that hopefully fades?

Bob Mirman: No. It's going to get worse before it gets better if it gets better, and I think it will over time as builders get better. I mean, the societal issues that are going on right now, [00:29:00] unfortunately, are so prevalent, and so frequent, and so dramatically different than we were just a couple of years ago. I don't think that's going to go away very soon. The anxiety, the frustrations with society, with governmental issues. Every two years when we have elections, the pot is boiling over once again, and we're going to get reminded about that. So, I don't think it's going to go away.

I think it's going to get a little bit worse over the next year to two as the COVID thing lingers. People still haven't learned how to deal with that in the way they should. So, I think it's going to get a little bit worse before it gets better, eventually, as builders get better in dealing with it. Changing expectations is the number one thing that our builder clients can do to ameliorate some of the problems they have right now with their angry buyers. That's really the number one thing to do.

Greg Bray: From the survey work that you're doing, are there any other key trends that you might want to point out or share that you're watching, that you're seeing right now in that data?

Bob Mirman: Here's a trend that we've been seeing for 25 [00:30:00] years and it's still here and it just amazes me. We ask on our end of the first-year survey that we send out to all homeowners, it's our home quality survey, we ask them to evaluate all the different features and aspects of their home, and there are 18 primary things that we asked them to evaluate. The most negative score, every year, for 25 years, has been interior paint. Quality of paint is the lowest-ranked quality issue every year for almost every builder.

Some builders have found ways to do it better. We get some of our builders together to talk about it on calls and they share their best practices and those guys tend to get better, but it just continues , and it's an amazingly pervasive point of frustration for so many homeowners who move into their house and say, the first time I went with a washcloth to wipe off the dirt on the wall, all the paint came off on my washcloth. [00:31:00] That's the most common complaint. There are others that are just annoying about paint, but it's still the most negative issue that we have year after year.

Kevin Weitzel: Well, you know, Robert, there's an easy solution to that.

Bob Mirman: Yes.

Kevin Weitzel: Lead-based paint, baby.

Bob Mirman: Let's go back to it. I'm not going to say I agree with that. Let's go back to asbestos too. That was a good one.

Kevin Weitzel: Oh man. Those years were great. The good old days, right?

Greg Bray: Well, if there's any paint scientists out there, there's a market opportunity for you.

Bob Mirman: There are builders who have resolved it and they have changed paint. They have changed installers. They're going to a different kind of primer. There's a lot of things that they're finding to do, but it's still the number one lowest issue on our end-of-the-year home quality survey.

Greg Bray: Fascinating, and who thought we only talked about techie stuff. We're getting into paint now. Well, Bob, we really appreciate the time that you've spent and the knowledge you've shared. Any last pieces of advice for our listeners today that you'd like to share?

Bob Mirman: Well, here's what we tell our clients. The most important thing you could be [00:32:00] doing right now is to pay attention to your trades. There are too few trades out there as everybody knows, and there are even fewer good ones and there are very few great ones. So, to the extent that you prosper in the future, form the strong relationships with your best trades now. Take them to dinner. Have award ceremonies. Keep them informed. If you're not using Trade Star, our evaluation tool, great. Do it yourself, but get information from your trades. Do it anonymously, so they don't give you the information they think you want to hear in order to maintain the business relationship, but maintain the relationship with your trades.

Our best clients have trade alliances. They call it different names. A couple of times a year, get all the trades together and give them feedback, give them awards, take them to play golf, whatever they're doing to maintain the relationships with the trades that'll be there, their source for quality in the future, and for maintaining the level of business that you have right now in the future is dependent on the trades. [00:33:00] So, that's our key recommendation.

Greg Bray: Great advice. Definitely. It's all about those relationships, for sure. Well, speaking of relationships, Bob, if someone wants to contact you and start a relationship, what's the best way for them to connect?

Bob Mirman: I'll tell you what the best thing they can do is to contact Christy Salmon, who is at Christy with a T Y at the end, C H R I S T Y, christy@eliant.com, E L I A N T dot com Send her an email and she'll respond and get you the information that you need. Whether you need more information about some of the things we talked about. If you want information about the video series that we're producing, and will be out within the next four or five weeks, on managing expectations and dealing with difficult customers. That will be out soon. Or any of our other services, including the BTR, which is hot right now, or Trade Star.

Greg Bray: Yeah, we'll be sure to drop that in the show notes so that people can find it easy. Thank you Bob so much for sharing today and for spending your time and thank you [00:34:00] everybody for listening today to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine,

Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.

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