5 Steps for Properly Setting Buyers’ Expectations

by Bob Mirman

In 1963, Harvard social psychologist Stanley Milgram asked naïve subjects to participate in a test to see if people could learn more efficiently when punished for their ‘errors.’ After being assigned the role of a teacher, the subject was required to teach word associations to the ‘learner’ in the adjoining room (who in reality was a collaborator of the experimenter). The teaching method, however, was unconventional: the subject-teacher was directed to administer increasingly higher electric shocks to the learner after each error.

Of course, the electric shocks were a fiction—a figment of the expectations set by the experimenter and by the screams coming from the ‘shocked’ collaborator who was visible through a window between rooms.

65 percent of the subjects continued increasing the shocks up to the highest level. Amazing.

Although obedience to authority was the primary focus of this experiment, the behavior of these subjects was also being impacted by the expectations set by the experimenter. Following the script, they instructed the subjects that “This is for the good of science,” or “The shocks aren’t really that painful.”

Now let’s consider the multiple authority figures presented to our homebuyers during the home purchase, particularly for naïve first time buyers. In fact, the purchase experience has changed so much in the past few years that even move-up buyers are looking for, and are anxious to receive, guidance and direction.

Consequently, the influence exerted by sales associates, design consultants, superintendents, service managers, and loan officers on buyers’ perceptions is constantly growing, in spite of increased information available to the buyer on the internet. The manner in which we set proper expectations for our home buyers is absolutely crucial, especially when coming from the builder’s customer-facing managers who are absolutely perceived as authority figures by home buyers.

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