The government must not hinder efforts on customer satisfaction.
Kate Barker could not have put it more clearly. Recommendation 32 of her report into housing undersupply says: "The housebuilding industry must demonstrate increased levels of customer satisfaction."
The Home Builders Federation has the responsibility of developing an industry strategy to do this. Its approach has been to conduct a survey of the National House Building Council's customers. This was carried out over a six month period in 2005, and more than 15,000 buyers of new homes participated. In response to the two key questions on customer satisfaction, 76% of purchasers were satisfied with the overall quality of their home and 75% would recommend their builder to a friend.
The picture to emerge is certainly one of improving levels of customer satisfaction. But drilling down further we find areas that can be improved. Although 62% of buyers were satisfied with the service after moving in, a sobering one in four was not. And 39% of buyers reported more problems, such as a snags or defects, than they had expected to. Improving the handling of after-sales service and reducing post-occupation defects is vital.
I do believe, however, that these results illustrate the growing importance of customer satisfaction in the operating culture of home builders. We know that a wide range of programmes and initiatives is being undertaken. According to research we conducted a little over a year ago, 38 out of 42 home builders regularly survey their customers. We also know that many companies incorporate these results in their bonus schemes to encourage staff to improve customer satisfaction. The business rationale for having satisfied customers is certainly not in doubt in the boardrooms of home builders.
We intend to introduce a code of conduct and a customer charter with the NHBC
This survey, of course, cannot in itself drive up company performance. What it can do, though, is inform and encourage. The participating home builders are all measured against a clear performance scale. It is obvious which companies are leading the industry, and which have ground to make up. The federation plans to conduct the survey annually and the first set of results will provide a fixed benchmark against which future performance can be compared.
We also intend to introduce a code of conduct and a customer Charter in partnership with the NHBC, as well as guidance for home builders to ensure that their purchaser contracts comply with the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999).
One final point is worth making. We can only meet customer demand within the current regulatory framework. Policy guidance often prevents home builders from providing adequate car parking in new developments. We are also building to ever higher densities, currently averaging 40 dwellings per hectare, up from 25 in 1997. Both of these factors impinge on satisfaction levels. The industry wants to deliver on customer satisfaction. It would be ironic if one of the most vociferous proponents of action - the government - was itself impeding further progress.
Stewart Baseley is the executive chairman at the Home Builders Federation