Whether it involves answering questions, providing guidance or helping to resolve a dispute, customer service is part of everything we do and is key to how we measure our performance. With customer satisfaction as our goal, we are continually seeking new ways to make staff and services more accessible. We are also working hard to make our processes and information easier to navigate and understand.
When a homeowner has a problem with their home, or a builder needs help with the registration process, they are both looking for a timely and helpful response. Tarion’s Customer Service team is often the first point of contact for these inquiries and hundreds of others that come in on a daily basis. In 2018, the team responded to more than 158,338 telephone calls and more than 43,210 emails, not just from homeowners, but also new home buyers, builders, lawyers, realtors and others who are involved in the new home buying or home-building industry in Ontario.
But in today’s world, information needs to be accessible 24/7. When a homeowner has a warranty question at midnight, they don’t necessarily want to wait until the next business day to get an answer. Thanks to the use of artificial intelligence, Tarion is expanding our accessibility and making it possible for us to respond to inquiries around the clock. In 2018, we introduced a ChatBot software that allows visitors to have their questions answered when staff may be unavailable to respond live. This technology is enabling Tarion to respond to a greater number of inquiries, and results show that 80 per cent of the 4,940 users who accessed the ChatBot received the answers they needed without having to send an email or make a call.
To further increase productivity and improve response times, we also implemented FRONT – a desktop management tool that allows our Customer Service team to capture, store, distribute and connect messages coming in via all our communication channels. This new tool enables more effective tracking and follow-up to ensure every inquiry receives an appropriate and timely response.
Making Warranty Claims Processes Easier to Understand
The warranty claims process begins when a homeowner submits a statutory warranty form. Between this initial form submission and the eventual resolution of a claim, there are multiple steps with deadlines to meet and responsibilities for both homeowners and builders.
To ensure all parties understand not only how to navigate the process but also at what points Tarion gets involved, we introduced new resources to serve as guides throughout the journey of a claim from identification to resolution.
Our Warranty Process Manual, launched in September, maps out both a builder’s and Tarion’s responsibilities in investigative inspections, conciliations, emergencies and other warranty-related processes. The manual helps builders better understand when each process kicks in and the expectations and necessary actions at each step along the way.
For homeowners, 7 Steps to Resolve Your Warranty Claim is a concise visual guide for the warranty claim process that includes the associated timelines and tips for each step. As a conciliation can often be a critical part of resolving disputed claims, Tarion also produced a video – 10 Things You Need to Know about Your Conciliation – to help homeowners understand what to expect and be able to prepare accordingly. In 2019, we will be adding a complementary resource to the Warranty Process Manual for homeowners – a user-friendly guide that will provide step-by-step information for our warranty processes to assist them in understanding not only the claims process but also Tarion’s dispute resolution avenues.
Sharing Data to Improve Builder Customer Service
Each year, Tarion receives an average of 62,500 warranty forms from new home owners who are at various points in the lifecycles of their warranties. In 2018, using new technology, Tarion was able to analyze the text written by homeowners on their warranty forms and categorize their concerns. This data offers invaluable insights into the most commonly reported issues and how they were resolved.
Using this raw data, we created a provincial report template that allows builders to see trends in customer service issues throughout the province over the past five years. For example, the report identified door issues as the number one reported issue on 30-day forms while interior walls and ceiling issues were the most common issues reported on year-end forms. After piloting these reports with a test group, they were shared with all registered builders in Ontario.
In 2019, Tarion is adding a customized report for individual builders, which will give them a more holistic view of how their customer service compares to industry trends. By sharing these analytics, our goal is to assist builders in identifying potential areas of concern during the construction and after-sales processes that can be addressed before they become warranty issues.
Providing a Visual Guide to Construction Standards
Tarion’s Construction Performance Guidelines (CPG) serve as a practical reference for the most commonly encountered kinds of defects in new home construction as well as a guide to how Tarion will decide disputes on these issues when they arise.
In 2018, Tarion developed an illustrated version – Home Explorer – which allows homeowners and builders alike to find a potential defect within a simulated home or condominium unit and learn about whether it is or isn’t covered under the warranty. Since its launch in May, the tool has continued to evolve based on user feedback, including the addition of improved graphics and prompts.
As a guide to warranty standards, the CPG is intended to reduce uncertainty around warranty decisions for both homeowners and builders. Home Explorer makes the CPG more accessible as well as easier to navigate and understand. To date, the new tool has been accessed 6,943 times and has received positive feedback from users.
Tracking Our Daily Performance
Every time Tarion staff respond to inquiries, conduct inspections or help resolve disputes, it’s an opportunity to exceed the expectations of our stakeholders. In 2018, we introduced interaction surveys to gauge satisfaction levels with our daily customer service, specifically contact centre calls and conciliation inspections. Over the course of the year, 4,809 homeowners and 132 builders completed surveys following interactions with our Customer Service staff. Survey responses rated staff’s ability to answer questions, the timeliness of their response and their follow-through. The ratings were then calculated into an overall satisfaction score. Homeowners rated their satisfaction as 82 per cent while builders’ overall rating was 79 per cent. Another 265 homeowners rated their conciliation experience as 81 per cent satisfactory while the 281 builders that completed post-conciliation surveys rated their experience at 91 per cent satisfactory.
With this real-time data, we are able to identify key areas for improvement and make adjustments throughout the year to staff training and procedures. For example, one of the top suggestions for improvement from homeowners was shorter hold times on the phone. Consequently, our Customer Service team is working with our Information Services department to review new call management systems with enhanced callback capabilities. This would allow callers to request a callback after a short wait time so they still have the opportunity to speak to someone live.
In addition to our annual homeowner and builder surveys, the new interaction surveys will be tracked as part of Tarion’s key performance indicators. Although survey participation is a continuing challenge, the overall results showed a general upward trend throughout the year, demonstrating that our continuous improvement efforts are making an impact on our stakeholders.