Three People Critical to an Extraordinary Design Center Experience

Sales associates, design center consultants, and walk-through representatives are pivotal to the homebuyers’ selection process

By Bob Mirman

A front-page news story recently trumpeted a growing trend in restaurants across the country: customized meals. According to the National Restaurant Association, over 78 percent of restaurant orders are now customized to meet the diner’s personalized requirements. Forget about Gen-X and Gen-Y’s, this is now the “Hold-the-mayo-substitute-the-avocado-drop-the-veggies” generation. That’s ‘Gen-HTMSTADTV’ for those of you in a hurry.

This ‘revelation’ comes as no great shock to me. My best bud’s wife hasn’t ordered an item straight off the menu since she ate in the school cafeteria in the second grade. She can take as long to order a piece of fish as it took to catch it. In fact, I make it a habit to never double date with my buddy when I’m really hungry…by the time his wife does her due diligence with the waiter and completes her order, I could be dead from starvation.

Starbucks offers over 19,000 permutations for ordering a cup of coffee (seriously!); Dryer’s sells 250 flavors of ice cream. These companies are clearly responding to consumers’ demand for choices, but they are also training us to expect more choices.

So, one of the primary reasons for choosing a new vs. resale home is the opportunity to customize the dream home. Our customers expect a good design selection experience. But let’s not settle for ‘good’. Why not make this design selection process extraordinary?

Eliant continuously surveys homebuyers across the country to determine their evaluation of the all-important ‘design selection’ experience. Literally based on the results from several hundred thousand homebuyer surveys from hundreds of builder clients—and an evaluation of the ‘Best Practices’ from our highest rated clients—here are some steps for creating an extraordinary design selection experience.

Creating an extraordinary design selection experience is a team event, not a solo flight. Three people have an impact on the buyer’s perception of the design selection experience: First, is the New Home Sales Associate. Sales people must establish the buyer’s positive—but realistic—expectations about the design selection process.

Sales and design associates should meet to agree on the general ‘script’ to be followed by sales people when explaining the selection process and value. When setting proper design expectations for customers, 25 percent of this info should be educational: timelines and process descriptions could take a bit longer than you expect; 75 percent of the sales person’s info should highlight the value of the design selection opportunity.

It should exist of a smooth handoff: Give the buyer a printed ‘bio’ of Diane the design consultant, with photo and brief resume. Offer a statement of personal confidence in the quality of the upcoming design experience (“You should see what Diane did with the Smith’s media room!”). This is a one-stop shop, no running to retail stores or internet sites—emphasize having a personal design consultant to offer advice on colors and brands. There should be a systematic timing of installation, a better warranty, and amortized costs. Note that the builder has vetted these manufacturers and installers, which can be used to better leverage for service issues.

Second is the Design Center Consultant. Pro-actively sell value: Do not wait for the buyer to bring up the cost differentials between your design center and outside retailers. Address this early and positively by pointing out the strong value of your design consultation service. Provide a printed list of your value proposition (as mentioned above) and spend time discussing this with every customer.

Stop selling products. Offer opportunities to meet or exceed their stated and un-stated needs. Help them create their dream home. Increase the frequency of follow-up communication by text, e-mail, phone. Unlike mushrooms, homebuyers will not thrive if kept in the dark.

Third, is the Walk-through/Orientation Representative. The builder’s walk-through rep should remind the customer of the value of his/her design selections: “Glad you chose this dishwasher. It’s the quietest I’ve seen!” The walk-through rep’s reinforcement of these selections will help to cement the value perception of the design selection process.

The bottom line: Homebuyers’ value perception of both the products and experience offered through the design center is a critical component in determining their willingness to recommend the builder to a friend.

bob-20mirman-2And now, you will have to excuse me…we’re going to dinner with my buddy and his wife in a few minutes, and I barely have enough time to grab a sandwich before we leave.

Bob Mirman
is Founder & CEO of Eliant, which offers customer experience management services for home builders, design centers, lenders and more. He may be reached at

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