New homebuyers describe customer service at Hayden Homes as "awesome."

Perhaps this impression is born of necessity...the sheer complexity of creating a custom home for the 21st century homebuyer.

Or, maybe it's because President Dennis Hayden has devoted 32 years to the art and science of studying the wants-and-likes patterns of past, present and future customers.

Hours spent with him and members of his dedicated organization lead to the conviction that quality service is the result of both.

In the 27 years since its inception, Hayden has created a staggering 3,500 award-winning custom homes in 50 new-home communities.

"Custom" is emphasized because each dwelling is a showcase of non-standard elements and customer quirks. The options available create a mind-boggling mix of literally thousands of possible combinations.

St. Louisans will recognize some of Hayden Homes' award-winning creations. Ballantrae at Lake Saint Louis, The Woodlands at Key Harbour, Hawk Ridge on the Green and August Hill are a few of the established communities in this four county area.

They represent condos, custom and pre-designed homes, but Hayden will also create a $1.5 million estate on a "tear-down" site in an established, close-in neighborhood.

Regardless of the type of home, the Hayden experience is inflexible, and at the same time, constantly changing. This is not a contradiction.

Each client goes through the same "awesome" process regardless of the size or cost of their new home.

Yet, under the administrative oversight of co-owner and Executive Vice President John O'Connell, the process is under constant review. It is subject to update as new designs are developed, as customer wants and likes change, or as local requirements vary.

The experience begins at the "Let's Get Started" meeting with the colorful "Sales to Start" process, a detailed timetable of actions required by the buyer and by Hayden leading up to the all-important "dig date."

Then begins a carefully developed series of meetings designed (a) to prevent errors and surprises; and (b) to reinforce the buyer's sound judgement in choosing Hayden.

The Pre-Construction Meeting establishes the site plan, home plan, customer's options and color selections. It's followed by the Pre-Drywall Meeting, when the inside of the home is demonstrated.

Two weeks before closing, it's the Pre-Closing Meeting, at which the buyer is introduced to the warranties, the rigid standards demanded on the subcontractors and the customer service program.

The buyer leaves this meeting with a 3-ring binder enclosing 114 pages of such details.

A week later, at the New Home Orientation, the project manager shares a detailed checklist with the buyer and together they walk through the operating details of the home; appliances, electrical outlets, valves, meters, faucets, circuit breakers, etc.

At the closing, the new homeowners meeting Customer Service Manager Nancy Metzger, who will figuratively hover over them for the next year.

Her #2, Jim Munro, will conduct another walk-through in 45 days, but Metzger is available for consultation on any problems during the new home's "curing" process.

Meantime, an independent survey firm sends an extensive questionnaire to the homeowners. It's a tribute to Hayden Homes that a remarkable 88% are completed and returned.

And, it's astounding that in the last quarter, the willing-to-recommend score, an industry standard, reached 100%.

Internal customers are equally important to Dennis Hayden and John O'Connell.

At the company meeting in April, everyone celebrates the results of the surveys as reinforcement of the customer service commitment. And, in the Fall, a festive gathering hears presentations from the employees about their jobs.

The partners regard their many sub-contractors and suppliers as internal customers as well.

Each year, they invite 250 people who actually work on their job sites for an awards breakfast.

Dennis Hayden reviews the rigorous standards these people must meet to remain partners, then awards attractive plaques to individuals and companies that meet them.

According to the participants, the gift certificates that accompany the awards are insignificant compared with the recognition afforded by the breakfast.

From external to internal customer, Hayden Homes closes the customer service circle.

By Phil Moses
Consumer Connections Director
Better Business Bureau of Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois
Original article was first published in the Better Business Bureau Buyer's Update Newsletter in August 2003

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