There is no cookie-cutter look of who can best serve customers in this industry. You can do just as remarkably as the others, even if you don’t have the background for it. Chris Dalzell, owner and Founder of Shoreline Construction, is someone who greatly exemplifies this. With awards and recognitions that show how their experience in the field is second to none, Chris shares the great stories they have created for people with their great customer service. He proves to us that out of the box ideas in the custom home building industry often pay off more than the conventional methods. Chris shares the importance of core values and the four pillars and phases they go through on customer experience. Hear stories filled with champagne parties and of people crying of happiness—all of which, in the name of customer experience in this crazy yet equally insightful ride with Chris.
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Crazy Ideas In The Name Of Customer Experience With Chris Dalzell
In this conversation, we’re going outside the box. We’ve had HVAC people, banks and real estate agents. We’re trying to showcase the thought and the fact that you don’t have to be a crazy baseball team to do remarkable things for your customers. Someone who exemplifies that is Chris Dalzell. He’s the Owner and Founder of Shoreline Construction, which is a custom home builder here in Bluffton, South Carolina. The awards and the recognition that they’ve gotten for their work are outstanding like publications, magazines, and TV shows. They built the HGTV Home of the Year. Their experience in their field is second to none, especially in this industry. What they’re doing for their customers and the customer experience that they’re creating for people and the stories that are coming out of this is remarkable. Chris is going to share some of those stories and some of those things that they’ve been doing. They’ve been in existence and been doing business for a while. The focus on customer experience has been in the past few years. The things they’re doing are not normal in the custom home building industry. You’re going to hear champagne stories, people crying, closing parties and mariachi bands. You’re going to hear crazy things that they’ve thought of and it’s all in the name of customer experience. Here’s my conversation with Chris Dalzell.
We are with the Founder and the Owner of Shoreline Construction in Bluffton, South Carolina. We’re sitting down with Chris. Thank you for welcoming us and having us talk to your team. Thanks for being on the show.
You have been in construction for a long time. Give us the background of where you were at and the beginning of starting in that industry, coming up and now you’ve launched your own business. Tell us where you came from.
I went to Georgia Southern University and graduated with a degree in Construction Management. I went to work for National Builder for a couple of years. The 2007 business year wasn’t great for the construction industry. I found myself looking for a job. The good news was I had already had plans to start my own business. That’s where it started from the ground up.
From 2007 to 2008, it was a scary time to try to launch a business. What were you going through there? You’ve seen national business, now you’re going to try to go and do some on your own. What was that process like?
We all knew that it was going to be feast or famine but personally, I didn’t know. I knew how much money I needed a month to live. I went and scraped and that’s what we did. We did small remodels, repair lists, punch lists and anything that we could get our hands-on. We weren’t too proud to do it. If they pay us, we’ll do it.
Even if they didn’t pay, maybe you would do it. That then transitions to Shoreline Construction. Give people an idea of what Shoreline Construction is. Who are they? What do you do? There are the awards and all these big things, but what are you doing? What product are you delivering in the construction business?
Our mission statement is we discover the meaning of home. That’s going to mold and has been molding because of the commercial business that we’re now in, which organically happen. We started building custom homes and that’s still our main business in a little area in Bluffton called Palmetto Bluff and in Hampton Lake, a couple of neighborhoods here locally. Our clients wanted to invest in the community. They wanted to invest commercially. That’s where that spun off. Shoreline Construction, we’re a general contractor. We like to call ourselves a design company. We have interior design in-house. We design and build commercially and residentially. We like to call ourselves a design company that happens to be in construction.
You talked about you worked for a national company. There’s the Mungo Homes and DR Horton. How are you different from the big national chains? How are you a different model? What’s your sweet spot? What are you focusing especially on the residential side?
It’s apples and oranges. There are two different business models. The national business is volume-based. It’s all about the numbers. They have a lot of capital that they outlay because normally they develop land or either they bought lots. We don’t buy lots. We build on people’s lots that they own. We have done some lot development ourselves, buying lots and building houses on it. We found that’s not our sweet spot. One of our core values is fiscally responsible. We have no debt, which is unique to a construction company. We’re proud of that. That’s why I’m okay with saying it. What we found is that it takes us out of competing against any of these regional or national production builders. We’re not willing to take that risk to go layout enough money to build multiple homes. Shoreline Construction’s sweet spot is still a high touch and high design-oriented custom home business. That’s what we do. We meet those customers from the time they buy a lot. We walk them through the experience they’ll have with our company.
I wanted to make that distinction because you were saying that you only have 25 to 30 customers a year. Is that by design? Was it 5 customers a year and then it became 10, 15 and 20? That’s a tight number of customers. How are you managing that? How have you mixed and molded that as it was going along?
It’s not a simple formula. I manage the numbers as the owner of the business, so I’m looking at the overhead. We’re in a small market. There’s only so much for everybody to do as well. We’re based on such a high touch company that we take what we know we can exceed expectations on. It’s a simple concept but there is more work we could get. We want to protect our margin. We talked about being fiscally responsible. The second piece is that another core value is ours is process-driven. We have the team set up to deliver an exceptional process hopefully. We know that we can only deliver that at a certain level with many houses. That’s what the driving factor is.
Go back to when you first started Shoreline. You’re talking about core values, process-driven and experience. Were you doing those things in the beginning or was it, “We got somebody who’s got a lot and they want to build this house, we’re going to go do it for them?” How long did it take you to start thinking about these things?
I spoke at my business coach’s event and he wanted me to tell the story because a lot of times people look at maybe where we are. Other companies say, “Look at them. We could never get there.” We’re all aspiring to be something. There’s always someone bigger, better, faster and more successful. That’s what gives us that one-click better. We want to get one-click better every day. It gives us that drive to learn. When we started our business, I was like anybody else. I was naive about the reality of delivering customer experience. I knew that I was going to do your job for X amount and I was going to make a little bit of money at the end hopefully. As my good buddy says his dad used to say, “Have a little jingle in my pocket at the end of the day.” That was the driving force. When talking about core values and mission statements, our core mission goes in line with our vision, I had none of that.We use our core values as a filter to make decisions. Click To Tweet
I guess that was a few years ago when you started creating those types of things. You start honing in on vision and process that were more than a home builder. About a few years ago, and this is where it drives this home, is you all started saying, “What’s the client experience?” Tell people how vision and core values and all of that lead you to start saying, “We’re going to take all this and we’re going to start applying that to our client experience.”
We use our core values as a filter to make decisions. Through that, we were having these experiences whether positively or negatively with our customers. We were able to drop back and say, “Is this fiscally responsible? Is this part of our process? Did we fail here or did we succeed?” What that allowed us to do is to have what we call mirror moments and then we started to say, “We’ve got these landmines that we know are going to happen in a consistent process. We’ve got to figure out a way to deliver an exceptional client experience and try to get past these landmines that we know are going to be there.” Jesse was a big part of that. He came and spoke at a business event over here and he started talking about this Fans First. It was a foreign language to me. I made a commitment to go down that path with my team to see what we could create out of it. I’m reflecting on it and I’m blown away of where we are.
It’s an interesting thing about the core values being that filter of client experience. It can be cumbersome and big and over the top where it’s like, “Client experience,” and then nobody knows how to make the decisions. Certainly, you can’t throw crap against the wall and say, “We’re going to see what happens here. Hopefully, it makes sense and the client appreciates it.” You were saying, “Is this fiscally responsible? Do they match all of our core values all the way down? Yes, let’s go through with that.” As you were starting to put these together, the story goes that you brought the team together and had your profit-sharing dinner. That’s when you first introduced this idea to the entire team, “We’re going to start delivering an exceptional client experience.” Talk about those first times you started mentioning to the team like, “We’re going to go all-in on client experience.”
They probably had the same look at me as I did when I heard it, but I knew it was the right thing to do. We’re all in the customer business. We hear that all the time. It wasn’t that we weren’t taking care of our client. We were building great houses. We wouldn’t be here this long if we weren’t, but so does everybody else. Many good builders can deliver. You drive through the neighborhoods, you can’t tell what a Shoreline Construction house is and what isn’t, unfortunately. That’s the nature of our business. What we realized is we’ve got to do business differently. What are we going to do to stand out? When I started hearing Jesse talk about this Fans First approach, it made sense. I told that story to my team and I said, “This is what we’re going to do.” We had this dinner and we laid out and broke our whole business down into four phases. We did throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.
It’s an interesting thing that you mentioned there. You have the same access to the same vendors that everyone else in your industry has. You can have some design touches or some inspiration, but you’re buying from the same wholesalers. You’re probably using the same painters and contractors. You have to compete on the same level that all your competition is competing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re building the same homes for the most part for people.
I keep dropping back to the experience piece. The design side of things is something that we offer that’s unique. To answer your question, a lot of them were made even by the same architects.
It’s like we’re selling the same hot dogs and hamburgers and we’re still a baseball team. You didn’t reinvent custom home building and construction, but you started reimagining the experience that people went through and said, “We’re the only ones that are going to do it this way and we’re going to start adding these touchpoints and these processes.” You mentioned the four pillars. I think people start thinking about this. They are breaking their business down into 3, 4 or 5 pillars. Talk about those four pillars and those four phases that you go through on the customer experience.
Once before the contract, believe it or not, our interface with our customers can be six months before they signed a contract with us. It is crazy. It’s a long duration. I hear people shoot holes in this like, “My business can’t do it.” I’m with my client for sometimes ten years if you want to think through warranties and things like that. The first phase was before the contract. The second phase was during construction. The third phase was at the closing, which we don’t call it closing. We call it day-one celebration. Technically, we’re not done. It’s the first day my customer gets to enjoy what they hired us to do. We call it day-one. The last is post-day-one. That’s post-closing and how do we handle our customer interaction and interface past the day they move in.
What was the easiest phase for you to start attacking it from the beginning? Some people want an easy quick win. I know you are a completely different business, but what was the easiest phase that you were like, “We need to start attacking this one now, pre-construction or full construction or post-construction,” whatever it is? What was the easiest one for you to start attacking?
Your first interaction with a potential customer can be as simple as a handwritten note. How do you handle that? That’s the client’s experience. That’s part of it. What do we do to interface with our customers before they decide to be our customers? That would be the easy low-hanging fruit. At contract signing, they’ve decided to put skin in the game. They’re parting ways with their hard-earned dollars to jump in with us. To me, that’s an easy one because we haven’t had to exceed many expectations. They don’t have anything tangible other than some plans, some paper and a lot of talks. To me, probably the easiest is, “I’ve signed up to do business with you,” and then we wow them with something totally unexpected.
I want to get into that and let me wrap my head around this because what you’re saying is there are natural places during the process where when they sign the agreement with you, they got skin in the game. They’re parting with their money. They’re signing the agreement, that could easily be a black and white, nasty paperwork, nonsense garbage. You all turned it into a celebration. Go into that. You were taking a moment that was already important and big. It’s low-hanging fruit and then you went 10X on it. Talk about that experience there that you created.
It’s easy to talk about it because when I think back, I used to handle every bit of this.Our customers are our number one marketers. Click To Tweet
I’m not saying you. I know your team is creating it.
It’s simple. I used to get a contract and I would email it to them. They would sign and email it back to me. I would sign it and execute it.
It’s probably how many pages?
Fifteen or twenty and it’s a PDF. I’d send it back to them and I’d say thank you.
A lot of people do it and that’s okay. That’s how business is done.
I think it’s okay. We decided that this is a big moment. Not only are they about to spend probably the most money they’ve ever spent in their life, but they also don’t live there most of the time. I don’t even have any face-to-face interaction at the contract. How can we show them how much we care? We put together this closing package, our contract package that we mail and it’s in a logoed box. It’s a Yeti cooler with Yeti tumblers all Shorelined out and an iPad that has etched with our company logo in it. It has a homepage on our website that comes up when you turn it on. It has a link to all the team members that they’ll be working with on that. We use a software program to manage our projects. It’s automatically already on there. We used to put the Sherwin-Williams color match app on it so they can play with that. It’s simple stuff. We mail that out to them with a nice copy of their contract and we tell them, “Get ready for the ride.”
That’s amazing because you’re taking something that’s already part of the process and saying, “We could get creative here and build something that you’re going to remember.” You’re chasing memories for the most part. The home is going to be a forever memory but hopefully, throughout the process, you’re creating memories that they can hopefully go out and say to whoever they interact within this town, “You wouldn’t believe what Chris and his team did for me.” How did that idea come to fruition? You mentioned your team. You guys have grown. You’ve got a big team now. How are you relying on the rest of your team to start coming up with these experienced moments? Maybe give an example of one that you weren’t a part of what you said, “We’ll work with the core values and this is the experience that we want to create,” but now the teams started coming up with some of those creative things.
They bought in from the start with the whole throw the sticky notes on the wall. A lot of these ideas were their ideas. I’ve got to lead my team in taking the time to sit back and reflect. I give them the safe room to speak up whether it’s a dumb idea or not. We did that and we weeded through a lot of ideas. What I gave them the freedom to do was to listen carefully and respond creatively, which I stole that. It’s real and I want them to listen to the customer and the interaction that they have. They then say, “I’m going to have an interaction with this customer. How can I respond to leave an impact?” That’s what we’re after. An easy story that I’ve told before is we had a couple that sent us an email and said, “We’re moving down there and it’s our wedding anniversary.” They don’t even live here full-time and we’re building their house for them. We had started. She said, “What should I get my husband? I want to get him something local from the area.” Some of my team came up with this idea to take that a step further.
The house was framed up. We called some of our vendors, the banker. He was all in and he sponsored the limousine. We picked them up from the hotel they were staying at with the limousine. We rode around with them. We had a cocktail and then we took them to their house. We had lights strung up in their house. It’s not finished. It’s just framed. We catered dinner for them. My team came up with the idea all on their own. There are a lot more details that went into that. They pitched it to me and I said, “You were listening carefully.” In my opinion, we delivered on our promise to deliver an exceptional client experience. How do I know that? Because of the letters that they wrote to us how much they appreciate us.
That’s what we’re hoping that businesses can start taking out of these conversations. This is an effort to stop marketing and advertising. Reinvest in the experience for your customers, so that you find out that they’re the ones doing the marketing for you. A story like that, I can’t imagine what the customer is saying to people. When did you build that house?
It’s been a few years.
Does that story still come up from time to time?
You better believe it. Even internally to our team, it gives them energy as well.
You can’t put any return on that. It’s your customers becoming fans and then fans becoming marketers. From time to time, you look like you have raving fans. Typically, if you think of raving fans, they come back often, but you’re dealing with one-time customers. How do you put much emphasis into this knowing that they’re a one-time customer? They’re never coming back. Why is it important to you to deliver that for a one-time customer?
It’s a hard pill to swallow. We’re not in a business that we get residual from our customers. We have that customers build twice, but not many. Our customers are our number one marketers. You will find in my business where you meet someone, “I’m so and so, who built your house?” That’s the question they ask. “Where are you from? You live here. Who built your house?” Their next question might be, “What did you think about them?” What we’re trying to do is create stories to tell. If they’ve got a story to tell, then we’ve got a leg up on our competition rather than we just built a good house.
Most people reading this, they are competing on the product or the price and what we tried to explain to people is you can’t do a little bit cheaper product or a little bit better product or a little bit cheaper price. You can’t keep doing that or you would work yourself out of business. Someone will come up with the next better product or the next cheapest price or deliver it faster or deliver it one step better. You all have said, “We’re going to get rid of that and we’re going to win on experience.” When was a time that you thought you were all-in on experience and it didn’t go as well as you planned? You were like, “Is this going to continue to work? This is much harder than we thought it was going to be.”
There are a lot of instances in these day-one celebrations or these things that we have to where they didn’t go the way we maybe envisioned them. Being a process-driven company, what we do is we always drop back and punt. The culture that we’ve created at Shoreline Construction allows for someone to call each other out in essence. You don’t take it personally. It’s more of, “This didn’t go well and here’s what I see.” We say that all the time. You then give them an opportunity to respond. I found that we’re a high-performing team. We have high-performing team members and they usually see it. They don’t take it personally. They take it with words of wisdom and then they change it.
I’ll give you a real example. We make a champagne toast in our day-one celebration and the champagne was hot. I’m popping the bottle of champagne and there was some miscommunication. Are we doing mimosas, which there was some orange juice or are we making a champagne toast? We had to drop back. This is early in our process. We had to label it out, “We’re going to do a champagne toast. We’re not doing the mimosas. If we’re going to do mimosas, we’re going to discuss that in advance. Either way, the champagne’s going to be cold.” I know that’s silly but it can ruin that touchpoint. I’ve got it explained why we have hot champagne. I know that sounds silly, but it takes away from the experience that we’re trying to deliver.
Did you try a bunch of ideas at once or were you like, “We’re going to try a couple now to start this thing off and see the response?” Did you go all-in on this thing or were you like, “We’re going to map this out for a few times and then this next home that we’re finishing up or building, we’re going to start trying some things there?” How did all of that work, if you remember?
Some of it I do remember. Some of this has stayed the same. We did not go all-in. We’ve evolved. Some of it is the same. The contract package is generally the same. We’ve changed how we deliver it. Now, certain gifts come from certain people because we thought that made more sense. We’ve been able to modify and evolve. In any process, you’ve got to be open to that. There’s no rigidity in our customer client experience. We start off small because we didn’t know the territory we were getting into. We had to trust something. We knew that it wasn’t going to be perfect, but we knew that it was more than anybody else was doing. We said, “Let’s go this route,” and we ran with it. Over the last couple of years, it has evolved into what it is now. I anticipate if you asked me a few months from now, it would be completely different.
It’s still that same mindset of we’re trying to deliver an exceptional client experience. I love that you said it’s evolving over time. The mission is still the same, but how you deliver it is changing over time because you realize that maybe we’ve got to get different people involved here. I want to touch on that a little bit. There are only a few forward-facing people in your business and you were mentioning some of the not customer-facing people were starting to get involved in the customer experience. That’s powerful for most companies because sometimes it’s always the owner. That’s the face and they’re the ones always talking to the customer or the salesperson or here’s the person who’s always customer-facing. You have started getting everyone involved in customer experience. You said everyone’s job is customer experience. Talk a little bit about that and how even the accountants and the people who weren’t supposed to be customer-facing have turned into a team role of customer experience.
It’s always important for our customers to know that it’s not just me. As much as sometimes in my business they want to hire the owner because they think he’s going to go and hammer the nails. You wouldn’t want me to do that. I’ve got a guy that’s better. Why do I need to do it? A lot of times they think that’s a selling point. I would rather sell the team approach. With that is there’s a team of people that are going to be involved in your project from project management to superintendent, to interior design, to operations management, to finance. We have a VP of finance, a controller and a general accountant. I thought it was important for them to buy in, so they were a part of creating it. If they’re going to be a part of creating it, they need to be able to enjoy it and get some of that time in front of the customer.
A simple one is when we tear the trees down, which a lot of guys do this, we video it. Most of the time if they’re in town, we’ll do a champagne toast or some celebratory groundbreaking. I invite the accountant to that. I think it’s different, but I want them to meet the entire team. I want them to know that there’s a team of people here to support them, which they should be encouraged by. They have large investment and there are a lot of people here to help through the process. Simple stuff like that. The day-one celebration where the customer’s moving in, we have people there that maybe have never met the customer. We think that’s important to know. We also send Thank You notes every week. Some of our customers might have part of the client experience. They might receive a Thank You note from someone they haven’t met. That person still wants to show gratitude for the business because it does affect them.
That’s good because I can picture someone saying, “I’m on my desk. I am on my computer. I don’t deal with the customer.” You have everyone buying-in because it affects every single person’s job here. Why wouldn’t they want to be directly involved in the client experience? Was there any negative feedback you got from the team in the beginning? Did they say, “We’re already busy. We’re already doing our job well. This is another thing added onto our plate.” If you got that at all, how did you get past that? How did you get through that? How would you tell someone who’s running a business right now? When someone says, “This is too much for us. You’re piling too much on our plate.” How do teams get through that because the client experience is important?
It is important. It is your identity personally. Without the customers, you don’t have a business. We’re all in the customer business no matter what you do. I didn’t get pushback from my team. They were all-in and in some cases, more than me. I’m an idea guy. I’m not an implementer. I needed people around me to help take some of my wild ideas and bring them to reality. I wouldn’t say that my team did but I could definitely see that in businesses. It’s probably businesses that are stagnant. There’s the old adage that if you’re not growing, you’re dying, that’s true. Think about it. If you’re not improving, if you’re not trying to get better, if you don’t have this mentality to improve, then you’re probably dying. Whether that means physically or mentally or your business, you’re headed in the wrong direction. I don’t say to get rid of people, that’s not what I meant. You’ve got to get your team on board. If it’s presented right, I couldn’t imagine how someone on a team wouldn’t want to deliver an exceptional client experience. It’s going to get more business.
It sounds like you’ve made it personal to them. You say, “This isn’t for Chris to look better in the community. This is for our team to feel like we’re going to touch more people, impact more lives, serve more people, build better houses and build better experiences. To get people bought into that is more than we’re doing this for the next book. This is for the longevity of this company. For us to survive here, we’ve got to start winning on the experience.” Where are you at now? This was a few years ago, but where are you at now with the customer experience or the client experience? Where can someone aspirationally get to in the next few years? If they have that first step to say, “Put the sticky notes up on the board, get the people together, here’s where we’re going,” where can they get to? Where are you at?
We spent months using our weekly company meeting time retooling the entire process. We started from top to bottom. We’re calling it 2.0 but after talking with you and thinking through it, it’s probably more like 4.0. Maybe 5.0 because we have modified from the original. You have to have this sense of constant improvement and being able to look in what we call mirror moments. You look in the mirror and say, “That sucked. That didn’t go the way we thought it was going to go. What are we going to do to change that?”
It goes back to that growth mindset. I talk about it all the time. It’s getting one-click better every day. That’s the mindset that I’m preaching with my team. Where we are now is where we think we’re in the best position, but we also know that it’s going to get better. As long as I know that, then I’m comfortable with where I am. If I was talking to someone and say, “Where could you be in 2 or 3 years?” If you made the client experience a priority, which if you want to be in business long-term you should, I think in six months with the right planning and you have to punt on some things, you could roll out some client experience that’s going to be tenfold of what your competition is doing.Without the customers, you don't have a business. Click To Tweet
You did it in about twelve weeks. You spent about one solid quarter, Monday morning meetings, staff chats, going through those four phases. Is that when you rolled out the first thing?
Yes. We took our sticky note that I was talking about. We posted that in our office and then every week we said, “We’re going to start it before contract and until we were done with that, we felt good about that like, ‘We got something,’ we didn’t move on to the next phase.” We only spent an hour on it a week.
Don’t get handicapped by planning.
You’ll get burned out with it. We found that we’re good for about an hour as a team collectively. It took about twelve weeks and we rolled it out. It was something I told you that I hear all the time. It’s not going to be perfect when you roll it out, but do it. That’s Art Williams’ podcast. He says, “Just do it.” He says it a lot and I don’t want to be that, but it doesn’t matter if it’s perfect or if you think it’s perfect or anybody else does. If it’s above what your competition is doing, roll it out.
You took twelve weeks diving in, one hour at a time, module by module, and then you roll this thing out. What was the response if you can remember from some of those customers as they started going through? Probably some of them have experienced custom home building in the past. What were some of the responses that you started getting? We can’t technically see it pay off in dollars, but we both believe that it pays off in the customers talking about what the experience was like. What were some of those quick wins that you were saying, “We did this,” and people started talking about it?
It was probably those instances of, “Listen carefully and respond creatively,” where we had an opportunity to make an impact on the client at that moment. Our goal is for our customers to be at the pool and hopefully, we’re in a Shoreline hatter or carrying the Yeti cooler and somebody asked them who we are. They’re able to tell their perspective on a story, whether it’s a drone video or a time-lapse video or whatever we did that stood out. Whether we remembered their anniversary or their birthday or we do some wild stuff. Whether we know where they’re staying or having dinner that night and we call the restaurant and pay for something for them out of the blue. We do that even if they’re not our customer, believe it or not.
You get emails and Thank You notes. Is that how you started seeing this payoff?
We started hearing from the customer directly.
That’s what I was getting at because you said you were doing surveys. You’re trying to get feedback and hoping they say something nice, but you were getting unsolicited feedback as this person sent you a Thank You. You’re getting thanked for Thank You notes and you started getting that unsolicited feedback. It’s what sounded like you were talking about.
We’re seeing that even more now with even our trade partners because we’re adding them into our customer experience. What I found that was interesting is that our customers, we used to send out surveys at the end of the project. It’s however they felt that day is what we find in our business. We spent 8, 12, 18 months. I know we did some good things and I know we did some bad things. I’m sure we underwhelmed them at moments and I’m sure we overwhelmed them at moments with delivering. We’ve found that was hard. We knew where we made mistakes and we always make them right. What we did is we let time play out and it happened quickly to were when they received the gift, we were getting a handwritten note in the mail, “Thank you so much. I’m blown away that you did this.” We saw that very quickly. All of a sudden, our survey was unsolicited and we were getting feedback from our customers.
You then as the leader and your leaders were starting to recognize and say, “Team, these are the things that our customers are appreciating and thanking us for and talking about. Let’s start doubling down and tripling down. We’ve got to make sure we’re honing in on these things.” That recognition culture potentially is what continues to inspire the rest of the team to continue on this experience. I imagine, if you do all these things and nobody says anything and you can’t celebrate the wins, you’re starting to miss the mark. The customer experience is like, “What are those customers talking about?” When you did something and then this customer responded and then you get to celebrate that as a team, I would imagine that inspires the rest of the team to say, “We’re moving this thing forward. We have something here.” Did it become inspiring like that when you started getting all this feedback from people?
What it did is it created a closer bond between us personally with our customers. If there was a problem or an issue or an opportunity to discuss, there was a different relationship there. There was a different bond that was created. We talked about debits and credits in relationships. If you made enough deposits with someone, you could make a withdrawal. We found that they had enough deposits with us and we had enough with them and that withdrawal was handled differently. What does that do? It boosts morale because they’re not dealing with someone angry. Even if they were disappointed in something, which we don’t find often but it happens. The way they responded and the way we handled that change, it changed the whole dynamic of how we were dealing with our customers. We found that our customers were interested more in about who we are and what we are and being able to spend time because a lot of our client experiences is more time with them. They want to know who you are and what you’re all about. I know that people would say, “It’s easy. We’ve got 25 customers.” You scale it down. You can easily scale this down.Listen carefully and respond creatively. Click To Tweet
Where are you going? What’s next for Shoreline Construction in this client experience phase? What’s 3.0 or 11.0 or wherever you’re at? Where is that? What do you see the next few months as you continue to go one tick better and to tweak this thing forward on the client experience? Where do you see it going?
We already know we have work to do in certain areas. In the short-term, we’ve got some work to do in our post-day-one celebration, which we’ve already filled a position.
Talk about that a little bit. You are investing in someone who is all the way after the entire process.
A lot of my competitors have a punch guy who rides around in the truck. They’ll have a guy that goes around and does pink touch-ups. That seems great, but I don’t know if that makes someone feel like, “You care about me.” What we did is we took that a step further. I’ve got a professional that we hired that was already within the company. We didn’t hire him. We created the role because he has unbelievable people skills. He knows how to treat the customer and how to handle situations. We created this post-closing client experience manager. His role is to stay in touch with our customers forever. If they need anything, call us. We want to be that go-to for them. It’s because the warranty’s up or whatever that means, it doesn’t mean they’re not our customer and we’re not going to take care of them. Where are we headed? We’re headed down modifying that post-closing celebration. Quite frankly, I see us evolving each step of the way and figuring out what’s working, what’s not and be open to change.
You as a business owner have financially invested in these things. It sounds like it’s wildly important to you. Hiring or creating a position that is post-closing, that’s 3.0, 5.0 wherever you’re at, you always say you can shoot bullet holes through people saying that this isn’t worth the investment. Clearly, you believe it is worth the investment as a business owner. Why is it worth hiring someone, taking something out of a profit share and saying, “We believe this so much. We’re going to create a position that stays with our customer for life.” As a business owner, why are you willing to make that financial investment?
There’s enough data out there to justify that the referral base from your current customers is important. We found ourselves to be dependent upon different people’s moods that day, whether it was an architect or a relationship that we had. We wanted to be a little more independent of how we got our leads. We’ve built 150 raving fans that are going around town telling everybody about our client experience. It’s easy to build a great house. There are plenty of people that build a great house, but what happens a year after that? What happens in six months? What happens in fourteen months? Can you imagine if you had that opportunity where you say, “I’ll call James?”
It’s amazing to know you went from sticky notes at a restaurant to twelve weeks later, launching this process, to hot champagne, to Yeti coolers, to now you’re 3.0, 5.0, 10.0. We’re talking about people six months, twelve months after they close. You all have started asking, “What’s next?” It’s hopefully inspiring for people to know they can go from sticky notes on a wall to creating a remarkable experience. I know it took only a few years, but it’s a long game. It’s not a short-term success. You’re not going to get immediate ROI on this thing. Long-term, I’d have to imagine for you it feels like this experience continues to evolve and will continue to bring us more and more customers. They become raving fans and they’re the ones doing the marketing for us.
We pray that this changes the way we do business and that’s what it’s done. It has changed the way we do business. It has changed the way we view our customers. There is no end to it and there is no end to the relationship with the customer. It has changed the entire dynamic in the way we see our customers.
Thanks for hanging out with me. Thanks for being a part of it. I’ll talk to you soon.
I hope you realize that if a custom home builder construction company can do these things, anybody can do it. Any business in any industry can win in these things. I wish you could see the level of detail that they now put into the customer experience. In our conversation with Chris, I know a lot of business owners and a lot of leaders can feel this way, when they were first starting, it was a shoot from the hip. Everything was in my mind, “I know how to do this. I can do this.” They shot from the hip. Now, his team is so dialed in on the customer experience and the map and the journey that their customers go through.
Every single employee knows their role in the customer experience. Even the finance officer and the VP of finance know their role in the customer experience. I love how they broke it up into four phases of their business. I wonder if you’re a business owner, can you break up your 4 phases or 5 phases or 3 phases? Hopefully, it’s no more than 4 or 5 because that can get cumbersome. You can break up your journey into some of those phases and realize pre, post, during and whatever else it might be. The one thing that I hope people take away is the big delivery moment that Chris and the home building team have. It’s when they are getting to that point of traditionally called closing day and they call it day-one.
Everything is working towards that moment. They had that big party and that big reception with the champagne, the lights and the food. The whole team comes together and they finally delivered that new home to that client that has been waiting 6 or 8 months or a year even to get that home. What’s the big delivery moment in your business? What’s that moment that you’re working up towards that you can say, “Now’s the time that I’m delivering this to my customer.” If you’re a restaurant, it’s the moment you deliver food to that customer. If you’re a gym, it’s the moment that you welcome a new member. If you’re a graphic designer, it’s the moment that you deliver all the things that you’ve been working on for that client.
What’s that big delivery moment that you have? How do you start piling experiences on top of that? It goes from an ordinary moment in the journey where they were looking forward to something to something totally remarkable. They would go home and say, “You wouldn’t believe what these people did for me. You wouldn’t believe what this person did for me. You wouldn’t believe what this business did for me.” What’s that big delivery moment? Think about that in your customer journey and think, “How can we plus this? How can we 2-plus, 5-plus, 10-plus this? How can we make this moment above and beyond that it’s memorable for the rest of this person’s life?
Thank you so much for joining me in this conversation. I love having Chris on. There are more things that you can find out about them on their social media. Follow them along in what they’re doing. Remember that any business can do this. Any business can win experience. If you want more information on Fans First Entertainment, go to FansFirstU.com. Follow us on Instagram. Check us out on LinkedIn with the Savannah Bananas. We will talk to you soon.
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About Chris Dalzell
Chris Dalzell is the Owner of Shoreline Construction, a custom homebuilder out of Bluffton, SC. Chris has been in the construction industry for years, but the Shoreline team has been relentlessly focusing on the phases of their client experience over the past 3 years. Shoreline Construction has been featured in major publications such as Southern Living and most recently built the 2020 HGTV Dream Home. While they certainly offer a wonderfully high quality product, it’s their level of experience for the client that sets them a part from their competition.