It is essential that housebuilders know how to handle a crisis.
Managing risk is at the heart of the development industry – it cuts through everything from land acquisition through to construction, sales and marketing. Risk and reward are the industry’s bread and butter and so is reputation management.
For years the main reputational risks were relentless consumer and media criticisms, as concerns over snagging and build quality issues were compounded by not always sparkling customer service. But recently the industry has made huge strides in this area.
The growing significance of the environment debate offers both reputational challenges and opportunities.
As councils rush to declare “climate emergencies” or respond to pressures such as flood management, there are clearly growing planning risks ahead. In contrast, the emphasis on sustainability, energy efficiency, embracing MMC and design innovations and how we futureproof our homes for the environmental challenges ahead, all give the new homes industry a natural advantage over the second hand market.
Events of the past few months have, however, reminded us of one of the most fundamental risks inherent in creating a product that people live in for years after the developer or contractor has departed – health and safety.
The spate of recent residential fires has focused national attention on Building Regulations, the construction procurement process, product specification and fire safety management. Both residents and prospective buyers, prompted by their mortgage providers and insurers, are demanding clarity on cladding systems and materials used, as well as further details on building and construction types.
Developers must understand the commercial risks here. It is clear that if the public perception persists that unsafe materials and inadequate quality are commonplace in the sector, then sales will suffer.
Today, it is not enough simply to build good homes, meet the required standards and provide strong customer service. The focus on fire safety means that housebuilders need to understand that their reputations may be on the line years after they have left a site.
It is also about perceptions of how the sector responds to crises when they occur. “Being seen to respond” – providing visibility to the work that they are doing to ensure customer safety and protecting homes, not just today or tomorrow, but long after the first owners have moved on and moved out.
This challenge is fundamentally about managing risk and reputation. So, preparing your crisis management response plans, embedding excellent communications channels, thinking through how you would tackle the “unthinkable” if and when it happens – these are all important investments in preparing to manage your brand and reputation.
This article first appeared in Housebuilder Magazine’s December edition. You can view it here.