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174 Creating Happier Home Buyer Experiences - Danette Beal

Creating Happier Home Buyer Experiences - Danette Beal

Show Notes


This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Danette Beal of Digs joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how home builders can improve the customer experience by communicating, saving, and sharing all the information about a home in a single place.

Home builders lag other industries when it comes to focusing on customer experience. Danette explains, “Home building is really one of the last areas that are not prioritizing or is just starting to prioritize, customer experience. And it's really important that they start to or consumers are going to start to demand it. They're going to start finding the information on their own. They're poking around, they're doing their own research, they're asking uncomfortable questions. And if you can get ahead of that and provide them experience and provide them information ahead of time, it's going to make them a lot happier and a lot more loyal, and it's actually going to give you more money because they're willing to pay more money for that type of experience.”

One of the explanations for why home buyers often have an inferior customer experience is the lack of consistent interaction with home builders before, during, and after the buying journey. Danette says, “There's a lot of pain points...there's a lot of processes that builders go through, to create a home. But some of the big, kind of gotcha moments are consistent across everybody that we spoke to is that communication and collaboration during a home build process was really hard, and information gets lost.”

Creating a happier home buying experience isn’t as difficult or time-consuming as it might seem. Danette says, “…creating good customer experience or better customer experiences and service for your home buyers and your clients doesn't have to be hard. It can be very easy. Most companies out there are already doing the work and they're already creating those processes, it's just thinking about that customer experience through those processes and creating small moments, you know, those wow moments through those processes can go a long way. So, it's not changing the wheel or building the airplane while you're flying it, it's really taking what you have today and finding small baby steps to create some of those service moments.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how better communication and collaboration can foster a better home buying experience.

About the Guest:

Danette Beal has spent the last 20 years helping some of the world's most well-known brands deliver exceptional experiences with technology. Currently, she is Head of Go-to-Market for Digs. Digs collaboration software leverages human-centric design to make it simple for home builders to store every detail and decision during a home build and create a one-of-a-kind digital handoff for new homeowners.


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 Zonda Livabl.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome to the show, Danette Beal. Danette is the Head of Go-to-Market for Digs. Thanks for joining us today.

Danette Beal: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Greg Bray: Well, Danette, let's start off by just helping people get to know you a little bit and give us that quick introduction and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Danette Beal: Yeah. Thank you. Again, my name is Danette Beal. I have been working with technology [00:01:00] for several years, probably about 20 years now, with customer experience technology. Most of my focus has been working with large enterprise consumer brands on delivering better customer experiences at scale. So, now I'm working with Digs. Digs is a software that's working with home builders to make better customer experiences between home builders and their clients.

Kevin Weitzel: That's a lot of company jargon right there. How about this? Let's take just a quick little break to find out something very personal about you that people will learn only on this podcast that has nothing to do with work.

Danette Beal: Yeah. So, probably the one that comes to mind to be completely honest with you. Have you, either one of you watched Yellowstone, the show?

Kevin Weitzel: Yes.

Danette Beal: It's really popular right now. So, I live in Montana. I live in Bozeman, Montana, which is nothing like Yellowstone, the show, but what I'm most proud of is that my hometown is in Butte, Montana. So, if you're a history buff, it was a mining town, small town now, but at the turn of the [00:02:00] century, it was the largest city west side of the Mississippi.

So, it was right around a hundred, 150,000 people in its heyday, and with the spinoff, 1923, a lot of it was filmed in my hometown. So, what I can tell you about that is Butte Montana itself is way more colorful than anything you'll ever see in the show Yellowstone. So, very proud of that.

Kevin Weitzel: That's another first, Greg.

Greg Bray: I know. I know. Do you have a cowboy hat we just have to ask.

Danette Beal: Of course, yeah. Everybody in Montana has a cowboy hat and we all know Kevin Costner.

Greg Bray: Oh, you all know him. Awesome. Awesome. Well, Danette, tell us a little bit more about Digs and the kinds of tools and services you guys are offering.

Danette Beal: Yeah. So, as I mentioned before, Digs is a home building software. So, we are out there trying to make it easier for builders to create better experiences for home buyers and their clients, and we're doing that really by making it easier for builders to get information about the home and save that [00:03:00] information, and pass it on and collaborate with clients and home buyers during the home building process. So, we're doing that through a couple of different ways.

We have a file management portal where builders can save all of the information on the home. So, even when they're building the home and they're framing that home and they're doing something special behind the walls, they can save that upgrade or that craftsmanship into the system so that they can pass on that information to the home buyer at the end of the build. What that does is it creates a better experience for buyers that make them feel more confident and be able to manage and maintain their home for the rest of its life.

Greg Bray: So, how did you go from big consumer brand customer experience into home building? What kind of attracted you to this industry and to working with Digs?

Danette Beal: Yeah, that's a great question. For me personally, being in Bozeman, it's a very high build area. So, it's one of the largest growing areas thanks to shows like Yellowstone recently, in the past several years. And so, you know, I've been around home [00:04:00] building for 20 to 25 years, myself.

Digs is a company, the founders have been working on this concept of compiling the information and sharing it with homeowners for quite a few years over several projects. So, when they decided to work directly with home builders, we collectively wanted to start at square one and understand what are the pain points from builders, everybody in the industry, honestly. So, builders, vendors, homeowners, what were some of those friction points in the home building process, and how could Digs help make those pain points easier?

So, the very first thing we did for probably nine months before we ever put any code into the program was to do a lot of user research, talk to as many builders as we possibly could, and really decompile everything in that home building process so we could understand where we best fit in and didn't disrupt those processes, but more, made them easier for builders to collaborate with their home buyers.

Greg Bray: So, in that research, [00:05:00] what are some of the top one or two pain points that you discovered?

Danette Beal: Yeah. There's a lot of pain points. I will start with, there's a lot of processes that builders go through, and just everybody to create a home. But some of the big kind of gotcha moments are like, yeah, that's consistent across everybody that we spoke to is that communication and collaboration during a home build process was really hard, and information gets lost.

So, you know, as you think of email is probably the easiest way for people to communicate or text messages. Those texts get really far down on your inbox, or those emails get really far down on your inbox very quickly. So, if we could up-level that information, create a space where they could save that information, it was something that was really a big advantage that we could help the market.

Greg Bray: So, when you're talking with these builders and potential buyers about these types of pain points. You know, builders go through this process over and over and over again. Buyers not so often, [00:06:00] right? It's more of a few times in a lifetime potentially. Sometimes, maybe only once especially with a new home. So, how did you find people that could really articulate those patterns and say, this is what frustrated me when they hadn't done it before or were doing it, you know, just kind of the first time?

Danette Beal: Yeah. So, part of our user research was to really talk to builders for their point of view and to understand where they had some of those friction points with homeowners, and a lot of it was just around that communication process. And then a lot of it was, we also actually researched different types of homeowners. So, homeowners from a custom build process, they had gone through a brand new build, they owned their own land all the way through that process.

Into people who bought into a community, so maybe they had a floor plan and they started at a certain point within that process or that journey, and understood where some of their friction points were. All the way into, somebody like myself who, I bought two brand new [00:07:00] builds, but got into it at the very end of the build process. So, didn't really get to make a lot of decisions on what went into the home, but really trying to understand, you know, the quality and the craftsmanship of the builder from the homeowner's point of view, and try and get as much confidence as I could going into purchasing those two homes.

So, that to us was really important to, you know, talk to both sides. Not only just the builders, get their point of view, but the homeowners. And what we found is a lot of the friction points were the same from two very different point of views, but they were the same on both sides. They were having the same struggles.

Kevin Weitzel: With the various types of clients, you know, you mentioned custom build buyers, maybe build on-your-lot versus like maybe somebody's buying a first-time spec home. In all reality, there is a huge difference in the overall initial portion of the process. But did you find that there was like this apex point to where the process basically melded into here's x number of days before handoff, and this is pretty much the [00:08:00] same whether you're looking at a spec home or a full custom on-your-lot home?

Danette Beal: Yeah. That's actually a great question. So, you know, and this is actually a lot of the learning since we've had since we've released our first launch of our product until now, is to understand where those points are and where we could really add the most value. So, where we're finding those points are is with really a majority of the custom home builders, it's in the pre-selection process, in that pre-sales process.

So, it's helping make a customer very comfortable or making that client very comfortable with partnering with them in the pre-sales process, helping collaborate and make it easy for the home buyer to make all the decisions during the pre-construction process, and then making it really easy to hand off all that information during the handoff at closing.

For your larger builders, so your production and community builders, what really is becoming the most important is in that pre-sales process. So, making them feel very comfortable partnering with that large builder, and [00:09:00] then in the handoff process. We're actually finding that a lot of large builders are trying to differentiate with customer service, and they're trying to give more of that information to their homeowner. And so we're really solving a gap for a lot of home builders that are out there at all sizes.

Greg Bray: Danette, you kind of hinted at something I wanted to dive in a little bit deeper into. It's like, why should a builder even care about this customer experience and smoothing the journey, so to speak? Right. Because it's like, well, this is how they've always done it. It's one thing to say that, oh, the emails got lost in the inbox. It's another thing to say, did they actually even send the email or tell them anything at all from a communication standpoint? So, why should builders even care about customer experience in your opinion?

Danette Beal: Yeah. One of the big things that we are dealing with as a society right now is that we have a lot of millennials out there. They are the largest buying group in the world. They've now taken over. They're the largest [00:10:00] employee group in the world. They're starting to be a majority of first-time home buyers if not second-time home buyers. For years, they have really differentiated on experience.

Ten years ago when you listened to the news, you would hear that millennials are deciding to take vacations over buying products and buying homes. So, they really prioritized experiences and that type of experience over buying any sort of product. So, now as they're getting older and they realize the value of home buying, they are looking for those experiences. So, you know, a lot of what I was helping with enterprise companies who have been going through this for probably about 10 years now, is to differentiate themselves on customer experience and provide more information and more experiences for their consumers.

So, home building is really one of the last areas that is not prioritizing or is just starting to prioritize customer experience. And it's really important that they start to or[00:11:00] consumers are gonna start to demand it. They're gonna start finding the information on their own. They're poking around, they're doing their own research, they're asking uncomfortable questions. And if you can get ahead of that and provide them experience and provide them information ahead of time, it's gonna make them a lot happier and a lot more loyal, and it's actually going to give you more money cuz they're willing to pay more money for that type of experience.

Greg Bray: Now, Kevin, is this the first time we've ever heard somebody say that home building is not first in line on adopting some of these ideas?

Kevin Weitzel: It is not the first time.

Greg Bray: Okay. All right. I was just making sure I wasn't confusing something else.

Kevin Weitzel: But Greg, it is the first time that I've heard somebody say that people are willing to pay for that better experience. I don't think that they want to pay more. I just think that they are forced to pay more.

Greg Bray: So, Danette, do you have any thoughts then beyond the communication of how do we improve that experience? Obviously, people wanna know what's going on, right? They wanna be up to date. There's a lot of moving [00:12:00] parts in a new home build. What other opportunities are there to improve that experience?

Danette Beal: For me, it really comes back to square one, and I'm kind of pulling from a lot of the experience that I have with larger brands in creating this. But most consumers and most people out there just want the information and they want to self-serve. They wanna find the information themselves. They don't want to have to call a builder or a project manager or somebody on-site to get the information that they need. It should be readily accessible to them.

So, builders are trying to get the information to their clients as much as they possibly can, but they're doing it through a million and a half different ways. And I think what they really need to do is to just provide the information in one space where if the home buyer wants that information, they can consume it. So, that's step number one. It doesn't have to be hard. It can be really easy just to provide them a way to self-serve.

And then on top of that, once you actually get to a point where you're [00:13:00] talking to somebody on the phone, you don't have to start with some of those square one conversations. You know, what is the flooring that's going in? Have you bought that flooring? What is the basic information? You can start that conversation with, Hey, how are the kids? You know, what's going on in your daily life? And it removes a lot of that friction that people are feeling within that home building or that home transaction process.

Greg Bray: Hey everybody, this is Greg from Blue Tangerine and I just wanted to take a quick break to make sure you know about the upcoming Home Builder Digital Marketing Summit that Blue Tangerine is hosting together with OutHouse, October 18th and 19th in Denver, Colorado.

This is gonna be an amazing event full of digital marketing insights, knowledge, best practices, and most importantly, some fun. So, be sure that you get registered today and come hang out with us, an amazing team of speakers and presenters that are gonna be together. Again, that's October 18th and 19th in Denver, and you can learn more and get registered at buildermarketingsummit.com. We'll see you there.

The tools and software that you're providing, where do they sit in that process from a user standpoint? Who is the primary person that you see facilitating this communication on the builder side?

Danette Beal: Yeah. So, on the builder side it would be, say for a smaller builder, it could be the builder himself that's going in and providing the information into a collaborative space. So, we have provided a space for builders to be able to collaborate directly with homeowners, to where they could comment back and forth on different information, save and share files, and really [00:14:00] share that information with anybody on the build, but primarily the home buyer.

And in that space, the home buyer can then look at all the information within that home build, understand the information, and if they have questions, it's a different conversation. It's an elevated conversation at that point. Once the home build is complete, the home builder can then pass all that information off to the home buyer.

Some of the other people that we see within the system are project coordinators and project managers as well as sales and marketing teams. So, you know, as you're starting to create those home binders on the sales and marketing side, you can then create that digital space in the cloud to where the home buyer can have all the information that they need and maintain that home.

So, we've got a lot of different people who can interact with Digs everywhere from the pre-sales process where you're starting to get ready to bring that homeowner into the process all the way through to the closing process where you're compiling all that [00:15:00] end information and passing it off to the homeowner.

Greg Bray: So, as you have deployed these tools, have you been able to get some feedback on whether it's making a difference in this process and helping people? What kinds of success stories have you seen out there?

Danette Beal: Yeah. We've heard some anecdotes from some custom builders, for instance, who are saying, everybody wants the experience. I can be the best builder in the world and create the nicest custom home that I possibly can, but they want that experience and so, homeowners are feeling that experience through Digs. We're also getting responses directly from homeowners as well who are going in and they're looking for this type of experience and being able to collaborate in this way and have the information on their homes. So, we're hearing directly from homeowners.

But again, we've done a lot of research and we're collaborating in working with some of the largest builders out there who are really excited about just providing a homeowner experience at the end of the build that keeps them and maintains that [00:16:00] relationship after they've passed off the home. So, as they go into maintaining and managing the home, the builders are then able to create a sticky relationship with their clients.

Greg Bray: Tell us a little bit more about how that can work. It's like, oh gosh, I finally got this home done. I got 'em the keys. Yeah, I gotta do some warranty stuff, potentially, if something happens cuz something always happens, but I just want to be done and move on to the next one. Versus the business opportunity of nurturing and maintaining that relationship after close and move in and what opportunities that might open up for a builder.

Danette Beal: So, I like to tell a personal story. I received my last house from a custom builder who was a great custom builder, but we received very little information about our home. And now as we're about three years into owning our home, there's some things that are coming up with the home. Our countertops are looking very shabby and there's little things that are starting to happen with the home.

And my husband and I started to make some [00:17:00] assumptions that was the craftsmanship in this home really good? Were these countertops really high quality or do we need to replace them? And started to feel frustration with the builder to the point where we have a good relationship with our builder. He actually lives right up the street. But there was enough there. And again, millennial who's an extroverted introvert, I was not about to have that conversation with him. I'm just gonna have my opinions and move on with my way. But I wasn't going to share that information with anybody.

Come to find out, we just had granite countertops and we needed to do a little bit of work and seal them every couple of years. And after going through that process, they look amazing and beautiful. If we would've had that information provided by our builder in a place where we knew, had the warranty documents, had everything that we needed to maintain that home, we would've been evangelizing his name all over the valley. To say like, yeah, he did a great job. Cuz for all intents and purposes, we're happy in every other way. It was really that lack of information made it [00:18:00] really hard for us to share that information with anybody else or to essentially say that he's, yeah, he's a great builder. You should go with him.

Kevin Weitzel: Make sure I understand something. You live in Montana and you didn't just think of taking that home builder to the train station if you know what I'm saying.

Danette Beal: I mean, you try and create good relationships with people. We're cordial. We are a part of the community. But yeah, I was not willing to cause a ruckus in the town, so to speak. But we were very unhappy and come to find out it was 100% on us. It had nothing to do with our builder. It was a beautiful countertop that he put in.

Kevin Weitzel: All I'm saying is Rip is also very cordial when he drops people off of the train station.

Danette Beal: I know. Need to bring him to Livingston.

Greg Bray: It does take referral customer service to a new level when the builder is a few houses down the street from you for many years. So, that's definitely a whole nother level. But I'm sure he told you that the day you closed with all the other thousand [00:19:00] things that you don't remember that he told you. Right? So, that's why you need it in some type of document that you can go back and look at, for sure.

Danette Beal: With him, even though we knew him as a builder, we actually didn't create a relationship with him until after we took over the house. We had interfaced with the realtor in that process, and the realtor did a great job with the houses that we looked at to tell us what was not great about each house and why we shouldn't be looking at this house, but a lot of the times we didn't realize some of the things that we should. So, that information was never shared with us.

You know, how to maintain your granite countertops unless you ask a very specific question at a very specific time, which most people are not looking for that information when they're looking at buying a home. It's not gonna come up, but it does come up in the years after that.

And so that's where, with customer experience and elevating that customer experience, we're trying to create those moments where you're getting that information for the homeowner or the home buyer at the right place, at the right time, at any stage in the [00:20:00] process. Even if it's after the home has been completed and closed, and it's been five years after the fact.

And we actually hear from builders, large and small, that they still receive calls from homeowners 10 years down the road and they're trying to find that information in their own files, which again, through email or even Dropbox, might be lost. But with Digs, you have it all pinned to where it's at within that home, and you can find it pretty easily.

Greg Bray: We had a builder we worked with on their website and they were telling us that a huge portion of their contact form requests that were coming in were related to people asking questions like, Hey, I need a copy of my floor plan. Or, Hey, I need to know the paint color for whatever. And it wasn't that it was a warranty issue that the builder had to go actually do something with it, but they needed this information and they didn't know where to go get it other than they came to the website and we're asking.

And it was kind of clogging up the CRM and the sales process cuz they were getting all these requests for this non-sales related [00:21:00] thing from existing buyers and customers as opposed to new leads. So, it is a very valid opportunity to say, Hey, where do I store all this stuff that it's not just gonna disappear and I have no idea where to look for it when I need it?

Danette Beal: I'm sure you all are aware of ChatGPT, but anybody can really find any information that they want to in the world today on any subject except for their own home, which is the thing that they paid the most for in their entire life. So, it's starting with those little moments where if you can just make the information accessible and make it easy for them to find and to self-serve, it makes a really big difference for a consumer. And this is across all industries, it's not just for home building, it's across every industry.

One more note, the one that we hear the most about is light bulbs. Nobody knows what type of light bulb they have, but they're always frustrated when their spouse puts the wrong light bulb into that light, and then they have to deal with it for however long cause they don't wanna replace it again. [00:22:00] So, yeah, it's just finding that information right away and being able to make a decision on it.

Greg Bray: Fascinating, light bulbs and that they're frustrated with the spouse, is where you go with that. I'm processing all the implications of that statement. Danette, this sounds great, right? You're gonna solve all these problems, but it can't be quite that easy. What's the biggest obstacle that gets in the way of somebody trying to deploy a system like this? What is it that is harder than they think it's gonna be when they sign up?

Danette Beal: To be completely honest, it's that builders have a lot of processes that they're going through. So, whether you are a large builder and you've got a lot of systems that you're passing data through, or you're a small builder who's doing it on your own, it's finding those moments in the build process to take a breath and to implement new software. So, that's where we have tried to come in and again, with that user experience and with our UX teams, made it really simple and easy to use.

There's not a lot of controls. It's not like a typical home building software that's out there. It's very simplized. It's [00:23:00] very consumer-driven and consumer-centric. So, we're trying to make it as easy for builders to implement as possible. The biggest hurdle that we have is that there's an assumption that it is hard software, and so it just takes them a minute to check it out. But once they do, they're like, oh, this is really easy. I can get my teams on it, and it does incorporate in with our other systems. So, we're not trying to replace systems. We're working with the systems that you have today.

Greg Bray: So, if there was one thing that a builder could do to improve their customer experience tomorrow, other than call my Digs, right? What piece would you suggest they start with when you think about all the things that you guys have learned about home buyers and their desires and needs?

Danette Beal: I think that there is an assumption that they don't need to share information with their homeowners, or homeowners don't want certain information. Everybody knows that they want appliance information and warranty information on those big-ticket items [00:24:00] in their home. But when you're a homeowner, you also want to know some of the small pieces, the craftsmanship that's put into that home, cuz it gives you that confidence of the home.

Not limiting that amount of information they're sharing and really kind of opening up and being as transparent as they can about the selections and that craftsmanship they put in their home is really important. They're doing all the work, they're putting the information somewhere, and whether or not that information gets shared with the homeowner is a different thing.

But again, I go back to people are putting craftsmanship into the home behind the walls that nobody ever sees. That should be showcased in that home. And so that's something that you should be proud about, and that's an experience, that's a piece of happiness that you're giving to that homeowner that makes them love that home even more. So, that's what we're trying to do, is just create happier homes.

Greg Bray: I love the idea, though, that you're making an assumption that the buyer truly understands everything you're doing, and what they're getting. They're not professional home builders, right? They don't [00:25:00] necessarily understand the nuances between your choice between this product or this product, or this material or this style or whatever little nuance that you're making. Some will, but a lot of us don't. It's like, oh, that looks nice. That's as far as we go. Right? So, yeah, to help drive that value and make me feel really special, I think that's a great insight.

Danette Beal: It's all about feeling better about spending as much money as you are.

Greg Bray: We appreciate you sharing so freely with us today. If you have one or two last pieces of advice to share, what would you like to share with our audience?

Danette Beal: The biggest thing I've already said, but I'll touch on it again, is that creating good customer experience or better customer experiences and service for your home buyers and your clients doesn't have to be hard. It can be very easy. Most companies out there are already doing the work and they're already creating those processes, it's just thinking about that customer experience through those processes and creating small moments, you know, those wow moments through those processes [00:26:00] can go a long way. So, it's not changing the wheel or building the airplane while you're flying it, it's really taking what you have today and finding small baby steps to create some of those service moments.

Greg Bray: Well, Danette, we again, appreciate your time today. If somebody wants to learn more and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Danette Beal: Yeah, they can come directly to our website at digs.com. So, it's D I G S dot com, and Digs will be free for the end of the year. So, we encourage you to try it out in your own business and connect with us. And like I mentioned, we wanna be a part of the community, so we wanna hear your feedback on what you think so we can make it a better product for home builders.

Greg Bray: Thank you again, and thank you everybody for listening to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin with Zonda Livabl. Thank you. [00:27:00]

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