Modernizing the Design Selection Process for a Custom Home Builder
- Custom Home Design
- UX/UI Research & Design, Custom Software Architecture
- Custom Home Design Software
- 51-200 employees
- Birmingham, Alabama
Design of customer-facing platform enables seamless online experience
“They’ve blown us away with the design, and truly listened to what we and our customers said.”
– Carol Lange, Voice of Customer, Signature Homes
5/5 CLIENT REVIEW
A premier custom home builder serving over 10,000 homeowners in 100 communities across Alabama and Tennessee wanted to streamline the pre-build design decision-making process by providing their customers with a seamless online to in-person experience. They first needed to digitize their hardcover design catalog—customers used it to select everything from paint color to wall finishings, appliances, and hardware. Outdated almost as soon as it was delivered, the catalog was costing them $70K a year in printing costs and $150K+ a year in price adjustments, not to mention thousands of hours of lost productivity due to delays during the design process.
10 weeks Praxent was able to pair down the MVP to a 10-week development project
20 days for a customer to go from contract to design (down from 30-60 days)
$220K+ in cost savings from digitizing design selection process
“Other companies we work with are one size fits all. We’re not one size fits all. That’s what I really like about Praxent. They’ve been very specific on where we want to go and what we’ve done. As long as they keep doing what they’re doing, we could have a long-term partnership with them. That’s what we’re looking for in the next year or two or three, because there’s still a lot more we want to accomplish, and I think they can help us get there.”
Carol Lange – Chief Customer Officer, Signature Homes
Signature Homes wanted to get an MVP of an interactive home building product in front of customers as soon as possible so they could address a growing design backlog
Hoped to address several customer pain points around the design process
Wanted an MVP that appealed to Millennial home buyers
Needed to decrease the time between when customers sign a contract to when they finalize their design
Home designers were overwhelmed, most juggling multiple responsibilities for as many as 30 clients at once on top of facilitating the design process
How We Helped
User journey focused on the pre-build phase
Technical design review
User workflows and sitemap documentation
Validated UX/UI design direction based on key insights and feedback from interviewing just 5-7 current employees and homeowners
Designed an MVP as well as enabled an accelerated development time of just 10 weeks, which allowed the client to release their new product to their customers much quicker
Used clickable prototyping to establish a roadmap for development based on the results of usability testing and direct stakeholder feedback
Solution enables the client to store the data in their own system while still reading the data directly from their ERP
Product catalog can be updated in real time (thus preventing out-of-stock products from being displayed to the customer) and reducing the time designers spend with customers making selections
The client unanimously chose Praxent to provide UX research and custom software architecture services that would inform the design and development of their minimum viable product (MVP). Their challenge was to get the product in front of their customers as soon as possible so they could address a growing design backlog and decrease the time between when customers sign a contract to when they finalize their design decisions from 30–60 days down to 20.
Their home designers were overwhelmed, most juggling multiple responsibilities for as many as 30 clients at once on top of facilitating the design process. In addition, the client was hoping to address several customer pain points around the design process, including:
- Choice overload
- Permanence of decisions
- Inability to see items in person
- Inability to remember design choices
- Regret over design choices
Finally, the client was seeking to design an MVP that appealed to Millennial home buyers, which are increasingly entering the market.
The client considered an out-of-the box solution from another provider but decided to go the custom route because the aesthetic of the application was very important to them. They pride themselves on not being a “cookie-cutter,” one-size-fits-all builder and wanted a partner who understood this and could deliver a custom solution. Finally, they did not have an internal technical team and relied heavily on Praxent’s designers and engineers.
How we Helped
Praxent’s mission was to design and develop the MVP quickly while delivering an outstanding UX for customers and keeping it as lean as possible to ensure faster development. In addition, Praxent sought to:
1.) leverage existing data structures within the client’s enterprise resource planning system (ERP) to streamline development of the MVP
2.) ensure integration with the client’s ERP software to enable seamless data transfer between the ERP and the customer portal.
Conducting user research through interviews of just 5–7 employees and customers and delivering a report of key insights
Creating a user journey focused on the pre-build phase
Conducting a technical design review
Developing user workflows and sitemap documentation of how users will complete design selections
Producing detailed wireframes of the design selection workflow
Conducting usability testing of wireframes with customers
Developing a clickable prototype of key screens
Creating a style guide for development including user interface components and usage of fonts, colors, and graphics
Weekly status reporting of budget, scope, and timeline
Iterating on wireframes based on customer feedback
Designing user interface of key screens to establish visual style based on brand guidelines
Analyzing and documenting for integration with client ERP, hosting, architecture, and authentication
Refining development estimate and timeline plan: Defining first-release epics and key user stories to drive engineering estimates, capture solution requirements, and prepare for development
What We Delivered
Praxent was able to validate the UX/UI design direction based on key insights and feedback from interviewing just 5-7 current employees and homeowners.
Design of MVP
The Praxent team designed the client’s MVP as well as enabled an accelerated development time of just 10 weeks, which allowed the client to release their new product to their customers much quicker.
Clickable prototypes of key screens
Using ClickModel, Praxent created a clickable prototype of the platform’s key screens, incorporating the UI and UX design and establishing a roadmap for development based on the results of usability testing and direct stakeholder feedback.
Integrated with clients existing ERP, enabling real-time updates of platform
Praxent created a solution that enables the client to store the data in their own system while still reading the data directly from their ERP. The product catalog can be updated in real time (thus preventing out-of-stock products from being displayed to the customer) and reducing the time designers spend with customers making selections.
Praxent will continue to partner with Signature Homes to help them provide a streamlined online customer experience for their customers so they can reach a larger target audience of prospective home buyers and confidently compete with more modern real estate providers.
“Previously, our customers made design and product selections from a catalogue book we produced that was outdated as soon as we printed it. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a lot of discontinued items, like hardwood flooring, random cabinets, which required us to have to do change orders. Also, if the price of something goes up after the book is printed, we lose money. We’re losing about $150K a year honoring old pricing from old books, so taking our catalog online with this new platform will save us $150K right off the bat plus time plus the $70K we spend on printing the actual books themselves. When you start to add all this up, what we spent with Praxent will pay for itself by this time next year and will continue to pay for itself.
“There are several reasons why this is going to be better for us. Internally, it’s more efficient. For our customer to be able to make selections online, the ROI is huge on several different levels. One of the biggest ones, for example, is the design appointment. If a customer comes in, and they can’t finalize the same day, we’ll lose a week. We have a humongous backlog right now. This online tool is going to help as far as scheduling appointments the same day, which is huge. It saves us a week. We build about 600 homes a year. So it adds up.
“Our design team, our product development team, everybody is in full agreement that when this happens, this is going to be humongous for us. It’s been a huge missing piece for us.
Roadmap, Other Challenges + Opportunities
“What we see is a long road here, a lot of improvements that we need, starting with our web page. We envision getting to the point where a customer can literally build their home online: put their home on their lot, know that’s going to fit, know what their exterior color selections are going to look like, and that they’re not the same color as the house next door. We’re not cookie-cutter at all. It’s a complicated process, but if a customer can have all that decided before they come to their agent, it’d be huge.
“We’re also looking to develop an online portal, basically where there’s communication between our customer and us throughout the entire build. Building a house is different than buying an existing one. It’s very emotional. It’s very fun. But if you get somebody that’s very uptight, it can be stressful. When you’re building, subcontractors are going to paint the bedroom the wrong color. They’re going to break a window. And obviously, we’re going to fix that before you close, but you know for some people it can be stressful.
“We’re very customer driven. The national average of referrals for a builder is about 7 percent. We’re north of 50 to 60%. We have a good foundation; people know about us. They know about our name. We always do the right thing. We take care of them after warranty.
“We’ve rebuilt our website a few times. We’ve got some 3D stuff, and we’ve got some cool things that we’ve developed, but I have to dig through the website to find them. And I work for this company. That’s where we see a lot of challenges, and then obviously you know if we could start there and then come to the design book app where they make other selections and go throughout.
“It’s like do we want to start there or do we want to take a right turn and go more toward the customer platform? From a contract standpoint, from a paperwork standpoint, from a contact standpoint, this is about a six-month relationship we have with each of our customers. So, do we want to go the communication route? Because right now it’s emails, texts, phone calls. I could go on forever, but just a 30,000-foot view, that would be huge for us as well. Personally, I want to start with the marketing, you know, with the website, but there are some political things with the company that I’ve gotta work through to be able to get there. Tyler and I know the vision, and this could be a huge game changer for us as a company.
“We joke, but it’s like I’ve got at least a meeting or two a day with Praxent, but it’s good and bringing everybody together. They’ve done a fantastic job of really driving this. They heard what we wanted, and we’re on track to roll this out October 13. They’ve been on time, they’ve actually been a little under budget, and anytime I email any of them, it’s within 15 or 20 minutes we’ll get a response. So it’s been fantastic.
“Other companies we work with are one size fits all. We’re not one size fits all. That’s what I really like about Praxent. They’ve been very specific on where we want to go and what we’ve done.
“As long as they keep doing what they’re doing, we could have a long-term partnership with them. That’s what we’re looking for in the next year or two or three, because there’s still a lot more we want to accomplish, and I think they can help us get there.
Praxent vs. Off the Shelf, Internal
“We’ve looked at other platforms out there. NewStar (ERP) does all of our scheduling, our selections, everything. It’s a one size fits all. It was engineer built, it looks horrible, it isn’t user friendly, it isn’t customer friendly. Other platforms exist, but we want one that’s a specific fit for us, nothing off the shelf. Again, I go back to Praxent and how they explained that off the shelf doesn’t work. And they gave specific numbers. Then we asked them, What’s your failure rate? I think they said 5 or 10%, which sold us too.
“We tried the off-the-shelf stuff. We tried to build our own stuff. And we saw all the money we lost because it didn’t work in the end.”
“We’re seeing [the ‘Cone of Uncertainty’] at work now. We’re getting closer and closer to the end, and all the stuff we thought wouldn’t work we figured out how to work.
“It’s a humongous investment on our part, so we definitely want to make sure it’s the right company. It was a unanimous decision that Praxent was the one, and we feel very confident. They haven’t proven this wrong yet.”
While the development is ongoing, the work thus far has exceeded the expectations of the internal team. Praxent communicates effectively with the client to ensure a successful and collaborative partnership. The team goes above and beyond to deliver quality products that meet the client’s needs.
Introduce your business and what you do there.
We’re a home building company that’s been in business for 20 years. We do 500–600 homes a year, in Birmingham and Nashville, Alabama. I’m in charge of customer experience, including warranties and anything else that has to do with touching the customer.
Opportunity / Challenge
What challenge were you trying to address with Praxent?
We have a design process by which customers come in to make all their selections. As you can imagine, it can be pretty overwhelming to build a house and select everything from flooring to paint and light fixtures. We currently have a book, and it’s a good-looking book, but some customers will still forget what they selected, and it’s hard to make decisions.
We wanted to create a program that allowed them to go online, make their selections at home, and play around with it more, so they could be more confident with their budgets and selections by the time they met with our designer.
What was the scope of their involvement?
Praxent is developing a program that’s kind of a mix between Amazon and Pinterest. We’re in the final wireframing phase now. They’re only handling the design at the moment.
We have another system called Constellation, that’s entangled in all our business. Praxent is setting it up to talk to Constellation, so that all our selections are always up to date, with community-specific pricing and so on.
What is the team composition?
My main point of contact is Kelly (Client Partner, Praxent).
How did you come to work with Praxent?
Our IT person threw out three names, including Praxent. We went through a month of interviewing all of them, and Praxent was the one we unanimously decided to go with.
How much have you invested with them?
The full project will cost about $500,000.
What is the status of this engagement?
Our ongoing engagement with Praxent began in November 2019.
Results & Feedback
What evidence can you share that demonstrates the impact of the engagement?
Praxent gives us weekly updates, so we always know where we are. They’ve always hit their dates and goals. They’re fantastic. Kelly and her team are great.
How did Praxent perform from a project management standpoint?
I couldn’t have asked for better communication, and the project is exactly what we were expecting it to be. They’ve blown us away with the design, and truly listened to what we and our customers said. It’s a great product that they’re rolling out. It’s going to be a huge game-changer for our company.
Are there any areas they could improve?
No. I’m beyond pleased.
Do you have any advice for potential customers?
I’d recommend Praxent to anyone.
On Time / Deadlines
Service & Deliverables
Value / Within estimates
Willing to Refer
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