The conversation went something like this:

Airbnb representative:  “Hello Mr. Marshall, we are calling about your reservation for the Christmas Holiday.” 

Me:  “Yes, my family is excited to ski that week.  There weren’t many rentals left, so I am glad we booked early.”

Airbnb: “Yes, it is always good to book early around the holidays.  The unit you booked is being totally renovated and we have run into some challenges with the City and getting all of our inspections and permits.  We just wanted to let you know that we can’t guarantee the work will be completed and the unit will be available for your trip.  Are you comfortable with that or would you prefer to cancel?”

Me: “So, you’re asking me if it’s okay that I might not have a place to stay when we arrive?”

Airbnb: “That’s right.  We are hoping that the remodeling will be done, but at this time we can’t be sure.  We are calling to see if this is okay or if you want to make a change.  We wanted to give you as much notice as possible in the event that you want to try to find another place to rent.”

Me: “Wow! I did not see this coming and don’t feel like I have a lot of great options at this point. Seems like the proverbial rock and a hard place situation.”

 

The words “this is not good,” kept swirling in my head as the reservation I had booked months earlier was clearly in jeopardy.  I could tell that the property manager was actually pretty proud about his decision to reach out to make me aware of the situation so I would have time to adjust.

My trip was still two months away, but holidays in a ski town book up way in advance.  Airbnb offered to assist and were very helpful, but we really had to scramble to find another place.  Since all the airline and lift tickets were purchased, and our family plans were made– it was more than a little stressful.

It was less than one week later that I got another call.  This was from one of our homebuyers who received a text message stating that her closing date had changed.  We gave this family five weeks notice to: find a place to live, reschedule movers, manage the mortgage process, change rate locks, adjust their kids’ schools, and basically put their life on hold for a month.  Needless to say, she was extremely angry–and likely a little scared–about the situation.  Further, she commented that Pulte was doing little to help.

I thought about my level of frustration with Airbnb from the prior week, and that was just for a silly ski vacation.  Moving a closing date obviously has much bigger implications and is way more serious.  I have spent enough years dealing with municipalities, trades, and weather to know that delays happen despite our best efforts.  How we manage the situation, however, can make a difference.

You can follow up with a text or email to have a written record, but we need to talk with our customers.  It will be an uncomfortable call and you can guarantee that there will be frustration, but we are disrupting the timing of their life and they deserve to hear that from us.  As the CEO of PulteGroup and a father of teenage boys, I know texting is a great way to communicate, but I strongly believe it should not be used to inform someone that their closing date has changed, just like it shouldn’t be used to breakup with your girlfriend.  Using a text message to shield yourself from the blowback is sort of lame.

Yes, the possibility of a schedule change is clearly written into our contract, but that doesn’t make it any easier for our homebuyer; we need to show some compassion and empathy.  Remember, they are our customers, not builders, and they are trusting us to build a great quality home and deliver it on the schedule that we promised.  They don’t understand construction challenges, and in truth, they don’t care.  They just know that their plans have been knocked off course.

And finally, let’s be helpful when things go off track.  Often, there is little to be done beyond being sympathetic, but listen carefully to hear if there is any opportunity to do something to show that we understand this isn’t ideal, but we do care about our customers.

For those who have dealt with this issue, I would love to hear what you have learned and consider to be a best practice. Please share in the comments below.