Chris Dalzell runs a very unique and different type of business. Chris is the founder and owner of Shoreline Construction, a construction company that custom home building and home remodeling. While this doesn’t sound so different, they take customer experience to a whole other level. Each house purchased and each client served is a celebration for Chris and his team as they guide their customers throughout the whole construction phase. Join your host Jesse Cole as he sits down with Chris Dalzell and talks about his fans first mentality and how it shaped his company.
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Chris Dalzell – Perfecting The Client Experience
Here in the show, we’re mixing it up. We’re going to meet with a business owner who’s doing things dramatically differently. We’re going to do a different format. We’re going to share the story of Chris Dalzell, the Owner of Shoreline Construction. When I first heard his story, I was fascinated by it. I’m excited to share it with the audience. Chris, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Jesse. Thank you for having me.
First, let’s explain your company. What do you guys do?
We build custom homes in the Bluffton area. We focus on high-end custom homes. It’s what we do.
How did the company start?
I graduated from Georgia Southern in 2004. I went to work for a national home builder. We started Shoreline Construction about three years into that, at the bottom of the economy, which was always fun. There were no homes to build, so we’re just remodeling. We’ve grown it into what it is now.
When you started the company, how many homes were you doing a year?
At that time, it’s zero. We were trying to scrap and scrape for every remodel we could get our hands on. We were fortunate enough to have some family members help us raise a little money to build a model home. We were able to show off our product and our process. I think it was me then. I was able to grow. One of the local neighborhoods gave me a shot at building a model home. I was able to partner with a future client at the time. I was building their house for nothing, in essence, no fee. They covered the cost of building the house just so I could show it and then let me use it for a year as a part of a model home program. We were able to get the momentum that way.
It jumped started the business. I heard about you dramatically changing your customer experience. The last few years, you’ve grown the business and we talked about the fan’s first mentality. Why did you decide to make a dramatic change?
That was a pretty easy one. We’ve always been in training. We have a business coach which has been a blessing to our business family. We were doing all this training and then we’d come home with 50 ideas. They’re all great practices, but we would never implement it. Scott Beebe, who’s been on this show, was like, “Implementation, implementation.” We would take these ideas and then we’d try to weed through them and nothing would happen, nothing would change. When I heard you speak, I had just gotten back from a huge conference with 3,000 or 4,000 people there.
You left there excited and motivated. I got home. I had meetings with the three key employees that went with me and just hit it out because we didn’t know which way to even start. We had so much good stuff. You started talking about focus and fans first, that’s what we are. It hit home with me that I need to pick one thing and that we’re going to focus on as a whole team. When you have a custom home-builder business, we have project management, field supervision, accounting, sales. We have interior design in our business, which makes us a little unique. It’s easy to go into each division and figure out, “In design, we could get better at X, Y or Z. In sales, we can get better at X, Y or Z.” I realized that we needed something to focus on as a team and that’s what we did.[bctt tweet=”Try to be cognizant of your customers. Try to find moments to celebrate with them to make sure they know that you do care about them.” via=”no”]
This was back in the summer of 2017 and how many people were on your team?
You had energy. It sounds like you want it to do things, but it was the implementation. We heard about the fans first. You had the business coach. You had the seminar. What did you do here?
I went back and thought and prayed about, “What do we need to focus on?” We had an issue internally where we felt like when the house closed, that was it. In essence, one of my employees pointed out during a brainstorming session that was their first day. We realized quickly that we don’t focus on the client. We thought we did. We always delivered on our word. It was never an issue, but we didn’t focus on the client. We didn’t focus on that client experience. I saw Jesse standing there in this yellow tux as unique as that is. I was like, “I don’t think we can parade around in yellow tuxedos. What can we do to make us different? There are a lot of good home-builders in the neighborhoods we build in. What’s going to make us different? It’s client experience.”
I remember you sharing briefly before that you took everyone out to dinner to have this first moment. Explain that because you took not just your employees, but you took their spouses, their significant others. Tell us about that dinner.
It was a fun night. We talk about it all the time. Once we had brainstormed and decided the client experience was going to be our laser focus for 2017 or the remainder of 2017, I came up with an idea that I wanted to have dinner. We were there to celebrate the second-quarter profit-sharing bonus that we do with our team. We also want to utilize that time. For me, I think a lot of men and women go home and they don’t talk about their work. I think that’s okay, but yet they don’t know what’s going on. I had this calling to say, “Let’s bring the husband and wives.” Because not only they don’t live it every day, they’ll get to see the excitement of what their spouse or significant other is doing. Yet they might have some positive input because they go in restaurants and experience things. Why wouldn’t I want them in there? That’s my thought.
Few of many companies don’t involve the spouses or the significant other, it’s just about their job. They don’t get to know them. What we started doing here is we do questionnaires to get to know the spouse. Get to know a little bit of what they like, what they enjoy, and the same thing in the interview process. That was an important point. You went out to dinner and you started having conversations about where you’re going. Share a little bit of that journey, where that went and then maybe some of the ridiculous ideas that came up.
We set up a small restaurant, fifteen employees, there were 30 people there. We set up the process in advance to that, but what are we going to do with the execution of the contract? What are we going to do during construction? What are we going to do at the closing? What are we going to do post-closing? How do we handle our client experience from there after they move into their home? We gave Post-it notes to each table. We didn’t tell anybody where to sit. They just naturally sat where they were going to. We told everybody, “We want you to write down whatever comes to your mind. It can be the most ridiculous thing in the world of what we’re going to do at those four phases.” A lot of the stuff we’re implementing and a lot of our future clients will get to experience some of this awesome stuff. At the contract, we had stuff like have a mariachi band there.
When someone signs a contract?
At the execution of the contract, we were going to have music and fireworks, you name it. There were things on there that were quite ridiculous or taco trucks at closings, which may be not a bad idea. Some of the stuff was a red carpet from the street. I’m trying to think of some other ones, but it was interesting to see how people would come out with unique out-of-the-box ideas. The funny thing is a lot of them are going to do in different levels.
What I love is you’ve got everybody together. There’s probably energy that night that you probably haven’t seen because everyone is throwing out crazy ideas that they feel proud of doing with your company. You’ve got it together. Most companies don’t do this. I’ll be open here. We haven’t had many of these unbelievable, huge brainstorming sessions. You did it. You involved everyone and then you said, “We’re going to start implementing.” Tell us how you started implementing these unbelievable fans’ first experiences.
It was laser-focused and I got that from you. We knew that that was our weekly meeting time. We meet weekly as a company. We spent that time instead of going through the redundancy of what we were doing, we were like, “We’re going to laser focus on the customer experience.” We took the Post-it notes, all the ridiculousness of some of them. We put them up on a board each week until we felt satisfied that we had that process nailed down. We spent our weekly meeting time on it.
The first point you guys did when someone buys a house from you that you’re starting this progression. I remember singing a little bit. Tell me how this happened and the first time you did it, the first time when someone buys a house, the whole signing experience.
A lot of our clients, when you buy a home from us or you’re going to have us build you up a house, we spend a lot of time with the client upfront. We know them and they know us. They know we like to joke and we like to have a good time. We do, but we’re very serious about what we do. We created a video that is the most ridiculous video you’ve ever seen. You’ll never see it on social media or anything. If you saw it, you would think like, “How would I hire these guys to build my house?” I got one build job, but we took it way further. We got Shoreline Construction, Yeti coolers, Yeti tumblers, T-shirts, an iPad that’s etched with our company’s name. Now you’ve got a real quality gift at the start. The iPad is not just a gift. It has our software program on it. When you open that iPad up, this video plays. I’ve heard you talk about when someone buys a ticket, you guys are doing Gatorade showers around the field. We’re actually doing it in the video. I know you all do too in the video you’ve sent. It’s a champagne toast and it’s very unique.
How has the reaction been from those videos?
We’ve got a positive reaction, but to be quite honest, we’ve only tested it with all the people we knew who thought it was funny. We’re still testing the waters.
Is the gift for everybody? They get this gift. This is what I find fascinating many home builders, it’s the same process. There’s a video, gifts and then what happens? You thought about the whole journey of the customer from the beginning until the end. What’s the next step?
During construction is the longest phase. We started thinking about, “Will we send out client sheets? What is their kids’ birthdays, their anniversaries?” What we found is many opportunities to have, A) Touchpoints with our client, B) To make an impact and to show them that we do care. I was listening to one of your podcasts and you were talking about surveys, and you changed my whole heart on it the last time you were at our last business luncheon. During construction, we try to find moments to celebrate with our clients to make sure they know that we do care about them. There was a funeral of the father of one of our clients and there was a fund. We try to be cognizant of our clients, their relationships with us and acknowledge that. That’s one thing.[bctt tweet=”Attention beats marketing’ 1000% of the time.” via=”no”]
What did you do with the funeral?
We didn’t send a $30 flower arrangement. I never met the man. He was 94 years old, lived a great life, but we sent some money in his honor and into the fund that he asked. I know that’s not a big deal, I get that. The fact that my team is acknowledging that I didn’t have anything to do with that, that’s the biggest thing.
It is a big deal because very few home builders would think about contributing to someone’s funeral. The reality is your team is now thinking it because they have this whole lens now of getting to know the people and caring about them.
We want to know your favorite candy bar and everything about you that we can get. They’re blown away while we’re asking. When we see you on site, if I know you love Snickers, I might have a Snickers with me. We want to create that client experience. We do a lot of drone footage. It’s something that I’ve learned that I have a lot of mentors that are teaching and showing me the way. Videos are huge, but it doesn’t have to be a production. It can be simple. One of my employees loves drones. Again, I empowered him. He took it upon himself. I did sponsor the drone. He does a video when they were pouring their foundation. We were talking about surveys. I don’t have to send a survey because I’m getting the feedback naturally. If you’re getting it from all of them, then obviously they’re satisfied with their experience.
It’s different. They’re going through this journey. They’re getting the gift, a video, then drone footage. You’re finding out the things they like and now the story you’ve shared offline was the anniversary story. That one blew me away. Was that the whole team coming up with this? Dive into it.
This is easy to talk about. All my boys are still in my conference room during construction to celebrate anything we could with the client. Our client sent us an email and said, “It’s my anniversary. I’m going to be down,” because most of our clients are here. How do you interact with a client that’s not present? She said, “We’re going to be coming down for our anniversary. I’d like to surprise my husband with something.” She wrote us a very nice letter. She wasn’t expecting much of anything from us but to just help her come up with something. We took that step further. Their house was just framed up. We had the windows in it. I don’t even think the doors were in. We went and strung up lights. I did not come up with this. They came up with it. I approved it and I was involved. That’s what I’m most proud of.
We strung lights. My superintendent operations manager dressed up in tuxedo t-shirts or they were going to, but I think that we were going to. We were dressed up. One of our trade partners, which is a bank that we send loans to, had done business with this client, a limousine picked us up. At first, he picked us up, then went and picked them up from the hotel where they were staying, took them back to their home. We had a candlelight dinner there with them. They didn’t want us to stay. We had a spread of food set up. They were able to celebrate their anniversary in their new home. We keep our job sites clean. It’s something we pride ourselves in. It was clean and neat. It was impactful enough that they cried. It was amazing.
That’s a story that I’m sure it’s shared with your whole staff regularly when you try to think about experiences.
One of the biggest things we hear all the time was to publish these positive experiences. We made a photo of it with the email and the comments. It’s on our wall in our office so we can remember the good times.
You look at companies like Nordstrom. You’ll remember the story about the guy who returned tires because it was an old Nordstrom that used to be a tire station. They took the tires in and they gave him a return. People tell that story for years. It’s these stories that people remember. As a company, what stories can you tell over and over again? How can you create new ones? I’ve shared that story all over. We’re going through this journey, anniversary and then the final part. It’s not just the closing of the house, but you keep the relationship going. Tell first about the progression of the house that’s ready to go, what happens?
We’ve been through what we’ve already talked about. We’re trying to do the best we can with it. Your client who is not here in front of you, it’s tough. I don’t have that many clients. In my business, it’s not hard to try to make an impact. At the closing, we came up with this closing celebration. It sounds easy but we try to take it to the next level. We put together a huge package of things that if you’ve ever moved, when you get to the new house, you might not have toilet paper or dishwashing detergent, sponges or whatever, you name it, we put together this care package. We got them a nice gift that’s local to Bluffton, where we live. We invite some of our subcontractors to come that have been an integral part of their home and celebrate with us. We start with a cold champagne toast. In our first one, there was a little miscommunication within the company who was getting the champagne. One said it was from a moses and one said it was for a toast, I can’t remember. I thought it was toast and I just came in and I was like, “This is hot.” We just had a very small toast. We lived and we learned and that won’t happen again. We have a meal with them. We break bread.
The coolest thing is being in the business for several years, a lot of times guys get done, and this doesn’t have to be just construction. A lot of times when somebody’s showing you the product whether you’re buying a car, they want to walk around and see what’s wrong. It’s a home. You can find something wrong. We don’t want you to do that. We want you to walk in and celebrate the process and celebrate the journey we’ve been on sometimes 12, 14, 16 months. We don’t even walk around. We do a champagne toast, welcome everybody in, and then we casually go around the house and look at the features. We’ll buckle back down.
In the ribbon cutting, we brought Shoreline Construction scissors that are etched. They’re big giant scissors. Another one that’s funny, sometimes when you order off the internet, you don’t know the scale. We ordered a red carpet that we thought was going to make an impact. It was the size of a doormat. A lot of the stuff we try to post on social media too. I got some of this from Erin Walker. The reason I’m telling this story, I’m sure everybody can copy it, but they probably won’t execute. That’s what makes me proud about my team more than anything.
You continue the aftereffect a little bit. You said most times before, most home builders are done right after they finished the house. What are some of the things you do afterward?
We always backed up the warranty claims that was never an issue, but how did we do it? Did we do it with a smile? We tried. It was called a closing and we’re trying not to call it a closing. It’s just the next step. Post-closing, we have some impact points, touchpoints when the client’s already pre-set up to where we’re showing up with a gift. It’s small. We’ve got some coffee. You can get any local grinder to make you some coffee. We have some coffee we show up with, a favorite bottle of wine and these touch-points might cost a little money, but we think it’s worth the investment. This is unique to my business, but instead of waiting for them to call us to tell us, “Maybe X, Y or Z needs adjustment,” we show up, “What can we help you with?” It’s changed everything.
You guys have mapped the whole journey. What I keep hearing, Chris is unbelievable. I think you may have said the word celebrate 36 times during this. Does that just become a word that you constantly talk about in your business?
It has to be that this is the biggest purchase most of my clients make in their entire life. They’ve saved and worked. This is normally their retirement home. Some fortunate 2nd, 3rd or 4th home, but it’s normally their retirement home. They’re taking everything they’ve got to put in it. Why are we not celebrating it?
It’s brilliant to think about a home, but you should be celebrating things whatever business you’re in. It’s not done on how you celebrate. What I want to talk about too briefly here, you said you were able to get all these things. It sounds like a big expense. There are a lot of all these gifts and all these other things with limos, but it sounds like you make some partnerships to make this happen.
I don’t want to sound like everything is the best, but other than my employees buying in and being a part of the process. The empowerment piece of that, my trade partners, we had lunch, which we do that often. We’ll invite all the trades, give them update on model homes, give them update on sales, get them excited about what’s to come, and usually we want something. We buy them lunch and then what I did was explain this whole process. I didn’t go into as much detail as I’m going with you right now, Jesse. I went into detail about, “We’re changing the way we see our business. We want you to be along for the journey.” It’s those meals and those touchpoints.
One of the things during construction that we do is the electrical walks is always a big deal. We walk through and we looked at the plumbing valve placement. We look at every single outlet and switch, “Where is it going?” We used to just do that and leave. Now, we invite some trade partners that are going to be doing business with through us or either they already have met, maybe a cabinet installer or something like that, and we bought a nice teak table. Again, we celebrate with a meal. The kicker is our trade partners a lot of times sponsor that. We are still spending a lot of money that we’re budgeting as a part of marketing. It’s all it is. It’s marketing. I’d rather do this. No offense to the pay-per-click type stuff on the internet, but I see real impact with this. I’m investing back into my client.
You’ve been doing these whole new experiences now for how many months?[bctt tweet=”In a sea of sameness these days, you have to be different from the competition.” via=”no”]
We haven’t gone all the way through one from start to finish with a house, but we implemented it. It’s been a few months.
What are you going to do differently as you move forward? How are you going to take it to even more the next level?
I have to tell you that being the chief training officer, it’s what my business coach calls me. I have to continue to keep tweaking what we’re doing but not be stagnant with it. We don’t have anything on the horizon. We’ve moved to a different laser focus for the first quarter. I found that if you’re not continuing that practice with your team, you can find these great ideas lose their luster. What I found myself doing is trying to keep everybody excited about it. It’s working.
Do you see any more things like these worked better than others or we’re going to continue to do this? I’m very intrigued because it sounds like it’s a great model to do with everyone. Are there things that you’re going to take back?
We’re changing every day. We found the dinner thing with the lights is a huge deal. When a client comes to town, even it’s not something to celebrate, why not try to figure out a way to do that?
The first time in their framed-up home?
They were already spending a lot of time with them there. Obviously, the touchpoints that we’re trying to increase those, we’re trying to shoot more video and make it a part of that client experience. We talked about video, but trying to shoot more video of, “Your cabinet got installed.” We spent so much time designing it.
What would you tell someone if someone’s like, “We can’t put the time and the energy into this?” What would you say is something that you’ve gone through this?
Back to what I was talking about with our trade partners is I have seen them approach me after they heard me talk about it. Most all of them said, “I love what you’re doing. We want to do the same thing.” All we do is benefit from that. I’ve got trade partners that are coming to me and saying, “Chris, we want you to help us with our client experience.” I’m their client. It has been a movement amongst our group and now everyone is trying to emulate how they can map the journey. What can they do for their client experience? How many times have we heard that we’re all in the customer business so without customers, we don’t build houses? We always knew that and we always had good customer service. That was never the problem. We want to take them to the next level.
A lot of people talk about how the things they want to do. You guys did it. You implemented and now everyone’s talking about it. I always say attention beats marketing 1,000% of the time. You’ve created attention for your brand by doing things this crazy right way. I know mariachi bands and no fireworks, but maybe one day there’ll be a firework on a $10 million home. You never know, there could be some fireworks.
I’m excited to share what you shared because I think it’s something that most people look at us as a baseball team and say, “It’s very easy to do entertainment.” What you’re doing is it’s not just customers saying, “You’re entertaining.” You’re entertaining every step of the way. If you’re not doing it with your business, you’re in trouble. I’m fascinated to see where you go, Chris. It’s going to keep taking it to the next level. It’s such power. I’m going to finish with a final four like I finished all my shows. I’m going to challenge you here, Chris. What is one thing you’ve done in your life to stand up?
I’m trying to figure out how to raise three daughters. I live with a house of girls that makes me stand out. I want to create a unique business. I want to be different.
What advice would you give a business owner or someone to stand out and be successful by being different? What would be your advice to them?
You have to be different than the competition because in a sea of sameness these days is what we talk about with social media. Anybody can post and get advertising these days. What’s going to make you different? For me, sit down with your team and have them be a part of it. If you come in and say, “This is what we’re doing,” you will not get the buy-in or the implementation. Empowerment is everything.
When you told me you took everyone out to dinner, it sounds like it’s such an obvious thing, but you get them involved in the ideas. It’s not your people’s spouses. I think that was brilliant. As soon as they come up with it, I love it.
I didn’t set strict budgets to it. That’s one more I would add. I didn’t set a strict budget to it and say, “X amount or bust.” There are certain things they come to me and say, “Chris, this might cost a little more. What do you think?” I’m like, “Let’s do it.” You go back to them, “What do you think? Do you think it’s worth it? Let’s do it. What would you do?”
Final two, what’s the best advice you’ve received?
It’s probably to create vision. We talked about that all the time. My business coach quotes it all the time. Creating a vision for my company and my team, and to sit down and understand what our core values are. I know we hear that stuff all the time. It’s cliché at this point. It’s constant core value. You can see them, but how do you live those? Do you use those core values and that vision to filter through the decisions you make in life?
Final question to the final four, how do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a great friend, husband, father, Christian and man. I don’t want to be remembered as a great home builder. We want to be a great home builder.
Chris has an unbelievable humility, but what they’re doing is something special. People are talking about it. Chris, I love what you’re doing. You gave a lot of amazing advice, things we can talk about here, and you mentioned coaching over and over again. Everyone needs a coach, some advice, suggestions, and now you’re putting it into play and doing amazing things. Check out Shoreline Construction. If you want a home built, you’re going to get a great experience with Chris and his team. Chris, thanks for being on the show. Look him up. I appreciate you being on the show.
Thank you. I appreciate it, Jesse.
About Chris Dalzell
Chris entered the home building industry over 10 years ago working for a national home builder before starting Shoreline Construction in the winter of 2006. Chris prides himself with a full understanding of excellence in both construction and customer service. He guarantees that home owners will receive the highest quality craftsmanship and genuine personal attention throughout the life of their project. He also enjoys researching and implementing the latest trends in materials and construction and strives to push his staff to go the extra mile to keep the clients happy and informed. He and his wife, Katie, live in Bluffton along with their three daughters, Emma Kate, Campbell and Anna Price.