Posts

The Real Customer Experience

website-pdf-download

How can mortgage lenders be more successful? For years, the focus was on lowering costs and squeezing out as much efficiency from the staff as possible. While those are still key factors to a lender’s success, lenders are also recognizing the impact a strong customer experience has on the company’s success.

Featured Sponsors:

 

Customer service and the customer experience have always been important to lenders. But now, due to social media, customers’ opinions and experiences can have a much broader impact on the bottom line. Social media has given anyone a platform to spread one’s perspective, whether positive or negative, on a company. This has shown the importance of having open communication with borrowers and providing a superior customer experience.

Featured Sponsors:

The customer experience is not just a concern for lenders working with borrowers, though. Vendors who provide critical technology and services to lenders should also keep in mind that building a strong user experience for lenders is necessary for continued success.

Featured Sponsors:

What does a customer-centric vendor look like? Here are three characteristics shared by technology vendors dedicated to building long-term relationships with lenders.

Understand What Lenders Want

Often, the first thing that comes to mind when talking about customer or user experience is customer service. And yes, a culture of outstanding service is very important. However, providing a great experience is more than just providing outstanding service.

Having a wonderful product that meets a demand is one of the primary factors in defining a positive customer experience. To ensure lender satisfaction, the product must work as advertised, be easy to use, and be supported by a strong support and training team.

When evaluating technology providers, lenders are looking at a few key items.

First, does the product deliver all of the promised services? Nearly as important is usability. Are staff members able to improve productivity and efficiency by using the software?

Secondly, lenders want to be confident that the cost is transparent and fair. Most lenders are not shopping solely based on price. However, nothing ruins the vendor/partner relationship faster than surprises in the total cost of the service or product.

Finally, lenders want to know they have easy access to your staff when they need answers quickly. This is where a strong customer support infrastructure is vitally important.

Design Products Focused on the User Experience

To build a culture focused on lenders, mortgage technology providers should keep a few things in mind. The first is when it comes to designing updates and new services, put yourself in the users’ shoes.

Think through how the lender will interact with the software. What is the typical user experience when using the software? Are there key differences power users experience that are obstacles to getting the most out of the software?

Ultimately, a lender is going to stick with software for the long haul if it not only increases profit and efficiency, but also makes the lender’s job easier. Lenders are also making more efforts to build borrower-centric businesses, so mortgage technology that helps the lender deliver a better borrower experience is more valuable. Perfect examples of this type of service include online mortgage applications and servicing platforms that provide borrowers easy access to online account statements and payment services.

Making current and emerging technology work for lenders is the direction mortgage technology vendors should be moving in. For example, we at FICS created the Mortgage Servicer API to work with our main servicing solution. The API has enabled our servicing customers to execute their end-of-day process, monthly investor reporting, and generation of borrower statements without staff intervention, allowing the automated interaction of tasks between multiple systems, such as a servicer’s core system or other vital programs.

Listen to the Lender to Constantly Improve

The final step to building a customer-centric business is to remember that it requires constant improvement and analysis. In order to remain relevant, technology providers must listen to lender feedback to stay competitive.

There are several ways to gather this information. Formal and informal surveys are easy to set up, and they provide snapshots of how users feel about the product or service. Some technology providers even provide regular forums – both virtual and in-person – for lenders to share feedback, make suggestions for enhancements, and provide additional training. At FICS, we provide our users the opportunity to suggest software enhancements throughout the year and an enhancements survey that is discussed and voted on during our annual Users’ Conference.

Vendors can also look to unstructured data, such as evaluating service logs, to seek out common issues. Are there ways to change the product or the training to better address the most common issues?

Building a lender-focused business is the best way to build long-lasting partnerships and ensure that your technology services and products remain viable to lenders for many years. Making the customer or user experience a high priority at every level of the organization – from product design, to sales, to training and support – is the key to helping lenders best navigate the current lending environment.

About The Author

Here’s Why Modernization Is Important

Some times it’s important to take a page from other industries. For example, Syntel, Inc., a global provider of digital modernization, information technology and knowledge process services, finds that U.S. insurance companies are increasingly joining the digital revolution in response to a growing number of consumers who prefer to use mobile phones and other digital devices for their insurance needs.

Research from PwC has revealed that 71% of consumers have used some form of digital research before buying an insurance policy. The report also found that approximately 25% of consumers currently purchase their plans online. This number is expected to grow, particularly among the millennial generation.

While most insurance companies are focused on leveraging an eCommerce model to sell their traditional offline services in an online storefront, others are developing deeper, more personal and longer-lasting relationships by utilizing digital capabilities to improve their customers’ knowledge base.

Featured Sponsors:

 

According to Nitin Rakesh, CEO and President of Syntel, “It is very clear that, like other industries, insurance is subject to the need for digital modernization, brought on by the demands of digital native consumers. Digital natives expect an omni-channel experience with greater accessibility and anytime, anywhere services —something that may be difficult for traditional insurers to deliver.”

Rakesh also asserts that engaging customers through social media channels enables insurers to uncover business insights that help them understand consumer sentiment, preferences, and behavior,all of which are vital components to making good business decisions.

recent report from IDC highlights the impact of emerging technologies on the highest levels in senior management decision-making. The report said that two-thirds of CEOs will be focused on digital transformation strategies throughout 2016. In the past, transformation has more traditionally been the dominion of CIOs, which underscores the increasing importance and business critical nature of these decisions.

“In a competitive market environment, speed and agility are vital for insurance companies to survive and grow,” said Rakesh. “Because CEOs are now being measured on their ability to quickly adapt to the changing digital landscape, it is vital to seek out a trusted service provider with the necessary expertise.”

Mr. Rakesh’s company, global IT and business solutions provider Syntel, offers a suite of digital modernization solutions that reduce the run the business cost and provide the efficiency and agility to increase speed to market, andenable businesses to funnel the savingsinto new innovations.

Rakesh states that it is crucial to embrace automation as part of this process.

“With many insurers stuck with business-critical legacy systems, the biggest challenge is to keeppace with digital innovations while maintaining and automating business-critical legacy systems,” he said.“Automation allows for faster and more cost-efficient transformations to take place.”

According to a recent report by Vertafore, insurers that do not automate their services face a significant decrease in customer satisfaction when it comes to customer experience. The report also found that 67% of insurance consumers are open to the idea of bypassing traditional insurers to purchase plans, looking instead to digital leaders like Amazon and Google for services.

As more non-traditional players enter the marketplace, 66% of the insurers surveyed recognize the threat and attribute it to the proliferation of Big Data. Those companies adapting to the need to digitize are seeing positive results. Of those companies employing marketing automation as a strategy, 77% observed increased conversation rates, while 80% saw an increase in leads.

“Digital modernization is the final frontier for insurers,” added Rakesh. “Automating and modernizingoutdated systems frees up the resources required to forge ahead with new innovations andexciting products that meet the needs of the more demanding 21stcentury consumer.”

Sound familiar? It should.

About The Author

Here’s What Matters

Kevin Brungardt, Chairman and CEO of RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corporation (RoundPoint), one of the nation’s largest mortgage servicing companies, released a statement today related to a recent report by Inside the CFPB that consumer complaints lodged with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) fell during the fourth quarter, in some cases by double digits.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”2″]
“Obviously, this is good news, both for consumers and the industry, but it cannot be an excuse for lenders or servicers to lessen their efforts to provide an excellent customer experience,” Brungardt said. “We would like to believe that the drop in complaints is the result of an industry coming to grips with the new regulatory demands, but there are many other contributing factors that have almost certainly played a role.”
According to a story by Thomas Ressler of IMF Pubs, consumer complaints about the application or origination process fell by nearly 26%, with consumer disputes of a company’s response to a complaint dropping by more than 45%. Consumer problems with loan modifications fell by nearly 24% and servicing complaints fell by more than 23%.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”3″]

“Fewer consumer complaints is always good,” Brungardt said. “While this data is very interesting, American consumers are traditionally very distracted during the holidays and may find less time to complain about our industry online. In addition, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac typically have moratoriums on foreclosures during the holidays, which could serve to further reduce online complaints. The real test of consumer attitudes toward our industry will be evident in the trends we see over the remainder of the year.”

RoundPoint is a fully-licensed Agency and Non-Agency subservicer for commercial banks, credit unions, mortgage companies and hedge funds. RoundPoint currently services over $60 billion worth of mortgage assets, some of which it owns but the majority of which is subservices for loan originations nationwide. The firm provides a superior suite of end-to-end services, including loan boarding, escrow administration, cashiering, investor reporting, member services, and default management. Its leadership team works directly with investors to design a customized servicing approach that provides the best possible outcomes for borrowers.

About The Author

[author_bio]

Don’t Take Your Eye Off The Consumer

Kevin Brungardt, Chairman and CEO of RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corporation (RoundPoint), one of the nation’s largest mortgage servicing companies, released a statement today related to a recent report by Inside the CFPB that consumer complaints lodged with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) fell during the fourth quarter, in some cases by double digits.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”2″]
“Obviously, this is good news, both for consumers and the industry, but it cannot be an excuse for lenders or servicers to lessen their efforts to provide an excellent customer experience,” Brungardt said. “We would like to believe that the drop in complaints is the result of an industry coming to grips with the new regulatory demands, but there are many other contributing factors that have almost certainly played a role.”
According to a story by Thomas Ressler of IMF Pubs, consumer complaints about the application or origination process fell by nearly 26%, with consumer disputes of a company’s response to a complaint dropping by more than 45%. Consumer problems with loan modifications fell by nearly 24% and servicing complaints fell by more than 23%.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”3″]

“Fewer consumer complaints is always good,” Brungardt said. “While this data is very interesting, American consumers are traditionally very distracted during the holidays and may find less time to complain about our industry online. In addition, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac typically have moratoriums on foreclosures during the holidays, which could serve to further reduce online complaints. The real test of consumer attitudes toward our industry will be evident in the trends we see over the remainder of the year.”

RoundPoint is a fully-licensed Agency and Non-Agency subservicer for commercial banks, credit unions, mortgage companies and hedge funds. RoundPoint currently services over $60 billion worth of mortgage assets, some of which it owns but the majority of which is subservices for loan originations nationwide. The firm provides a superior suite of end-to-end services, including loan boarding, escrow administration, cashiering, investor reporting, member services, and default management. Its leadership team works directly with investors to design a customized servicing approach that provides the best possible outcomes for borrowers.

About The Author

[author_bio]

Why Do We Fear Consumers?

Recently Mortgage TrueView introduced a website for consumers that allows them to identify a listing of lenders in their area. No big deal you say. But it seems, at least according to lenders we have talked to, it is a very big deal. You see, this rating is based on the HMDA data. Lenders it appears, are very concerned that this data is biased against them and will give consumers and others focused on Fair Lending some yet to be determined means to point a finger at a lender for not being “Fair”. Yet how is publically available data that any consumer can see, a risk to a lender? In fact the data in the database actually identifies many smaller lenders whose ability to process and make a decision on loan applications are equal to or better than the larger lenders. This program is really a valuable marketing tool. Yet lenders seem to be afraid.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”2″]

At the recent Risk Management and Quality Assurance Conference there was a lot of talk about the new “Manufacturing Quality” requirements of the agencies. These entities were eager to announce how much better the loan quality is now and how pleased they, as investors & insurers, are with the product. However manufacturing quality concepts state that an effective business ensures that products and/or services provided by a business does in fact meet the expectations of all customers. When I asked what we have done to ensure that the product/services we provide meet the consumers expectations, all I got back was a blank stare. Others of course told me quite bluntly that quality is not a consumer issue and that their expectations are not important to us.

Apparently, as an industry, we see consumers as a necessary evil, one to be kept quiet and fed disclosures so that they cannot give feedback that we perceive as negative. In fact I have had attorneys tell me that they advise their lender clients to never tell the consumer anything.  Looking at the attitude presented in these comments, it would appear that this industry is afraid of consumers and as a result we give them only the necessary information that is required of us by the CFPB. And yet we wonder why the CFPB keeps adding more and more to our regulatory burden.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”3″]

I wonder what would happen if we turned this attitude around and made the consumer the focus of our attention. If fully explained, would consumers still be confused and nervous about the origination process? Would they be as likely to file a complaint if they knew exactly what the note and mortgage required of them? Would they be more likely to tell us if they run into financial difficulty and take advantage of the modifications and forbearance we have always offered? What if the CFPB had nothing to do about mortgages and focused instead on payday lenders or student loans? Take about regulatory relief!

Right now this idea is but a dream, a future that may never be. But what if?

About The Author

[author_bio]

Transforming Customer Service Into An Agent Of Change

Every organization strives to serve its customers at a world-class level; however, taking customer service past the concept of a “help desk” is often an afterthought. Most companies view support as something similar to the 1990s Maytag commercials, where the lonely repairman is waiting for someone to call so he can spring to action. As a result, support is often seen as a cost — a necessary but basic function that does no more than resolve individual customer issues using entry-level employees.

I believe that this line of thinking is flawed. In my view, customer service can provide valuable insight into the organization and should be seen as an opportunity to collect data that will help drive improvements in lenders’ people, processes, and technology.

By the time an issue makes its way to the customer service team, it has typically affected the customer and has potentially damaged the brand. Many believe a fast response time and a satisfactory resolution can actually increase brand value. While this may be true in some cases, most complaints tarnish the brand and drive costs up. Also, because customers and staff were affected, it is likely that management and/or executive involvement is required to remedy the issue at hand. At Accenture Mortgage Cadence, we refer to this as the “cost snowball effect.” If issues are identified and addressed before they move to the next step, the cost is limited. If an issue is not identified and addressed, the cost to correct it snowballs as the number of individuals and teams involved increases. Taking steps to ensure customer service teams are properly versed in how to handle issues can help keep such issues from snowballing.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”2″]

As lead of the Accenture Mortgage Cadence service team, I have spent the last two years refining our support process. We have found that the customer-facing support group should not simply be a “help desk.” In today’s complex business environment, these teams cannot simply follow a series of scripted questions and responses and expect to resolve customer issues. Most issues require a highly capable individual with the authority and skills to resolve specific issues and refer others to the appropriate subject matter experts.

To resolve an issue in a timely and complete fashion, the support team also needs direct access to the organization’s subject matter experts. Customer service should be responsible for driving continuous improvement across the organization. They do this by seeking root cause, determining what needs to be fixed, and identifying what actions need to occur to prevent that specific issue from appearing again.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”3″]

In most organizations, support uses a ticketing system that includes varying amounts of data about the specific support incident. Typically there is a description of the incident, the potential resolution, and a field that classifies the type of incident that occurred. This data should be used in conjunction with feedback from support subject matter experts, looking at aggregated data to drive continuous improvement within specific individuals, teams, processes, applications and infrastructure.

Support within any organization should be viewed as much more than a cost factory. Instead, it should be viewed as a feedback mechanism that can drive continuous improvement throughout the organization. Properly structured, customer support should be an agent of change for people, processes, and technology.

About The Author

[author_bio]

The Profitability Crisis

website-pdf-download

Brian-GreenbergThere’s been much researched and reported about why businesses don’t turn a profit—some chronically operating “in the red” month after month until failure finally ensues. In fact, reports reveal that a staggering 50% of new small businesses fail in the first year, alone, and only one-third survive 10 years or more. While the litany of business failure postmortems for small businesses and large conglomerates, alike, have asserted viable collective reasoning for said profitability pitfalls and outright failures, including money mismanagement, operational inefficiencies, poor needs analysis and price planning and being out-competed among them, not enough have focused on the all-mighty consumer credibility and trust factor when analyzing a business boon or bust.

And, no industry is more vulnerable to flailing credibility and trust among consumers than retailer. For its part, the retail trade crisis has also been well-established, particularly with respect to dwindling foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores. Even online, it’s shocking to learn that fully 97% of visitors to eCommerce and other sales-minded sites bail out without purchasing on their first visit. Clearly there’s a severe disconnect between vendors and the marketplaces they hope to serve—a situation resulting in some serious economic opportunity loss. These disparities are also among the biggest misperceptions that both online and offline marketers hold.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”2″]

Far too many companies are churning out traditional sales lingo laced with fluff and vague, or entirely overinflated, claims, spending paltry little time and energy establishing credibility with prospective customers. And, the mission critical nature of credibility cannot be overstated, as it establishes a company or brand’s integrity, reliability, validity, soundness and a host of other image-including indicators of an entity’s moral and ethical code, and the standards by which it operates. At the most fundamental level, credibility translates into trust, and trust translates into sales.

Today’s consumer is quite savvy, but are often overloaded, over-committed, overdue for a vacation and, thus, easily annoyed. From telemarketer calls coming in at dinnertime or, worse, before the alarm sounds in the morning; an endless stream of SPAM e-mails jamming inboxes; and mailboxes overflowing with white mail that proceeds directly to the recycle trash bin, statistics show that consumers can be bombarded with more than 300,000 messages every day. This overwhelming demand for consumer attention and dollars has created a market filled with cynics, whose defenses are on full alert.

This heightened emotional state is working against commonplace sales tactics that are hyper-focused on getting to the close, rather than getting to know the consumer—and vice versa. Often, brand marketers fail to realize the sale begins and ends with authentic connection on both sides.
Consumers need an advocate. Amid all of the marketplace ‘noise,’ there is an incredibly opportunity right now for customer-centric brands to cut through the clutter. One way to do this is by establishing credibility with consumers. Companies that do this effectively will most certainly amass market share.
What I’ve learned over the years is that shoppers go through different phases, such as interest, awareness and action, before transitioning to the “buying’ stage.” However, the successful marketer offers multiple ways to prove the company and/or the product’s credibility through meaningful and relevant engagements that will carry a consumer through the emotional continuum of interest to final sale…and referrals and recommendations to others beyond.

Below are four proven tactics I’ve learned on the sales and marketing front line, which are critical to building a loyal client base and ultimately boosting revenue in kind:

1. Righteous Reviews

Studies show that, in general, people like to do what others are doing, especially in situations where they feel insecure. That fact can be emphasized by another fairly understandable statistic: Customers are more likely to make a purchase from an entity that can produce favorable reviews about their product, service or company. In fact, according to a newsurveyconducted by Dimensional Research, an overwhelming 90 percent of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews.

Featured Sponsors:

[huge_it_gallery id=”3″]

This can best be accomplished by deciphering what stage of the buying cycle the visitor is in, and then publishing or offering real and applicable reviews and testimonials allowing potential buyers to align themselves with others who have made purchase decisions. And, given the different stages of the buying process, it’s essential to showcase reviews and testimonials that touch on more than one aspect of a previous buyer’s experience. Prospects want to know that the person who wrote the review really exists so be sure to list real names (with permission of course). And, if you sell to other businesses, also list job titles and the companies they represent. It’s also advisable for marketers and business owners to take proactive steps to encourage buyers to provide written reviews, whether through a dedicated web page, a follow-up email or phone call, or a reminder next time they stop by to shop with you.

2. The Science of Social Proof

Simply put, social proof is influence created when one discovers that others are doing something. While reviews and testimonials are two of the most persuasive forms of social proof as detailed above, there are other important considerations. We now know that—with the rise of Internet sales and social media—potential buyers can amass a great deal of information even before visiting a store or certainly making a purchase. Endorsements from organizations or celebrities with a positive public image and “wisdom of the crowds,” can definitely provide the emotional risk relief needed to close a sale.
Social media also presents tremendous image opportunity. For example, Facebook is considered the “most effective” of the social media sites. “Likes” on Facebook are positive reviews about your products or services and ultimately show potential users that your brand can be trusted. Another highly effective brand-builder is publicity! Being mentioned in the media is extraordinarily effective as having your brand or company featured, or offering expert source “thought leader” commentary, is essentially an implied endorsement from the media outlet in which it runs. Of course, it’s imperative to leverage these public relations “wins” in your sales, marketing and business development efforts.

3. Transparency Translates

The word “sales” has become synonymous with “hype.” Modern consumerism is now based on transparency. This asks that we operate with openness, clear communication and accountability. A marketer that truly cares about the prospect’s perceptions and experience will have nothing to hide. Ensure marketing speak has no hidden agendas or false promises, and that all who come in contact with your business –gain a sense of—or have unencumbered access to—the company’s mission, vision, philosophies, environment, culture and core.

Potential customers consistently rank customer service as the number one factor impacting vendor trust. And, understanding that things sometimes go awry in business, I’ve found that people admire companies more when they readily admit to a mistake and address the issue directly. For me personally, the best way to adhere to full and complete transparency in business is to be mindful that businesses have a responsibility: one that fosters clear, open and meaningful exchanges with both prospects and established customers on any subject they want to explore. It’s definitely a winning path to a lucrative end, but transparency has to also be an “end” in and of itself.

4. Take Direction from your Customers

No matter what business you’re in, your most precious asset is your existing customer base. Why not intensely focus on their behavior and commentary (whether solicited or not), as you do business with them? Ask them for honest feedback. Motivate and compel them to provide it. It’s the only way to gain a deeper insight into their thinking, how they feel about your business, product or approach, and what you can do to make their experience better. This can be informal discussions or “interviews,” or anonymous surveys and polls that provide anonymity and can make subjects more comfortable to express their real thoughts and feelings.

What does your expressed desire to listen to your customers say about a company or brand? It tells them that it cares; that it’s serious about satisfying them; that it wants to succeed; and, most importantly, that you’re open to change. In this same vein, listening to employees can provide great value as well. They are on the front line after all. Ask them what they are hearing, what they feel is going well, and what is not working at all.

Being a credibility-conscious sales operation does not take a large budget. It largely involves not telling people what they want but rather listening to, and otherwise availing, what they need. If you provide valuable information—and uncontested access to it; offer a product or service whereby the care and quality is evident; rally existing customers, partners and other constituents to get on your bandwagon through testimonials, social media and the like; and consistently demonstrate top-notch service over a sustained period of time, your reputation alone may be enough to spur that coveted sales growth.

About The Author

[author_bio]

Think About It This Way

website-pdf-download

TME-MHammondThis month I want to challenge you to think differently about customer service. In an article that I read recently called “A Guide To Mastering The Customer Brand Experience” by Mark Di Somma, the author advises that we shouldn’t even think of the term “customer service” as being about something that is valuable to customers. In fact, customer service is worth next to nothing, according to the article. The reasons are simple. We live in a service-focused age, and the people who buy from you know they’re customers. So the term “customer service” does not describe anything customers don’t expect and it certainly doesn’t envelope anything of particular value to them.

Secondly, and more importantly, customer service is actually the means to the real goal: sustained and profitable customer relationships. Please note that distinction. Customer service is how brands deliver customer experiences. It is the process and the framework whereby a brand looks to engage with prospects and buyers. It’s how a proudly distinctive and likeable brand forges relationships with customers through actions that mirror its core values and set it apart from its competitors. And it’s those experiences that count. Not the process itself.

You’d think we’d all agree on that. You’d think everyone could see that experiences are everything these days given how similar products are, and that developing and delivering unique experiences is the logical basis for preference. Yet so often, too often, distinctiveness and experiences are the last things that customers get. And I suspect that’s because, for many brands, what customers do get continues to be organized as a numbers game internally, oriented around technical and operational capability.

There’s nothing wrong with numbers of course. They make the process efficient. They allow things to be measured. But while customer relationships based on best practice metrics might be technically correct, they’re often devoid of personality. And because everybody’s serving by the book rather than from the heart, what customers are really getting is efficient variations on the same tedium. That doesn’t make for a likeable or memorable brand. In fact, cut out the brand name, and they could be dealing with anybody. Sound familiar? Too often technology vendors tout features or functions instead of their brand.

This is why that matters. Products for the most part come with a money-back guarantee. People don’t. If a product is wrong, it can usually go back. But if you get it wrong with customers, or not even very right, chances are they won’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean that customers have received bad service. It simply means that the encounter was not enough to distinguish the experience from others, to excite them and therefore to secure their continued loyalty. The process can be right technically. It can tick all the boxes in terms of what had to happen. It can achieve all the digits. And yet it won’t necessarily lead to the vital and elusive outcome.

Enduring relationships with a brand pivot these days on customer encounters that really do need to be experienced to be believed. They are astonishing – at a human level, not a metrics level. Forming and sustaining relationships with people is not about world-class customer service or carrier-level or benchmarks or any of the other abstract qualities that are freely bandied about. Because, when you think about it, customers do not go around congratulating themselves on having received a best-practice anything. That’s an internal measure. And it’s not about percentages of good either for the same reason. Again, people don’t make buying decisions based on 85% satisfaction, or any other number, which is another internal metric. They are loyal to a brand because they really liked what happened. Loyalty is not a percentage decision, it’s a personal decision made by each customer one action at a time.

When their expectations are exceeded, they respond enthusiastically and in marked contrast to how they greet generic customer service: the prevalent, boring and forgettable catch-all that too many brands expect their customers to settle for.

If any of this sounds like a beat-up on process and the operations teams, it’s not. Processes and systems provide order and structure – and both consistency and the ability to deliver what you undertook to deliver are mandatory for brands in every sector today. Without the right customer processes, there would be chaos. Without the left-brained attention to detail that logistics, supply chain, ops and frontline people deliver, there would be no brand because there would be nothing for customers to depend on. Without someone paying attention to legal obligations, the court system would be clogged with commercial litigation.

But, at the same time, you can’t allow the tail to wag the dog. In the traditional marketing environment, brands allowed process and promise to develop separately. Today your marketing plan and your operational plan must be much more closely aligned because your target audience see themselves as having relationships with who they think you are, not how you choose to see and organize yourselves.

Here’s what I mean: If customers are going to form strong, habit-forming relationships with you, what you say, what you offer and what you do needs to align. If your brand and your processes are not on the same page, chances are you are foreshortening your customer experience. And ironically, that will probably kill the very relationship operational people are tasked with servicing. That may make you more efficient – but there’s a good chance it will in time shutter your brand. Your customers should not report to your processes, because your processes are not their business. They’re part of your business. Here are 7 ways I suggest to look to fix that.

Ask:

  1. What did you say as a brand that you would do? Are you as good as your word?
  2. What can you afford to deliver and what can you afford not to deliver? In other words, are you cultivating relationships with your customers that are financially viable? If you can’t afford your cost per serve, change your model and reshape the promise. There’s no point in efficiently losing money or inefficiently losing customers!
  3. Does everyone in your organization know who your most valuable customers are, and what they expect to receive? How loyal are your people to the people who are loyal to you? Are customer’s people or a funding source?
  4. Does the service you offer your customers make sense emotionally to them as well as logistically? Is it in keeping with their understanding of your core values?
  5. How do you know you’re doing right by your customers – what have you been asking them? Not about whether they’re “satisfied” but whether they actually “like” what they receive.
  6. Who manages the overall development of relationships (in other words how you expect your brand to interact and engage with customers into the future) on an ongoing basis? Anyone?
  7. When was the last time you updated your infrastructure to make the relationship better for your customers as opposed to just making it more efficient for you? Did your update result in a tangible experience upgrade as well as cost savings? – Because that’s the Holy Grail.

We can all learn a thing or two by asking these questions and applying the answers to our business. A business is actually a living thing that needs to be nurtured to grow. While things in the mortgage industry may be challenging, a good brand can equal a growing, profitable company.

About The Author

[author_bio]

LOS And CRM Integrate

CRMnow, an enterprise CRM provider for lenders has completed a new integration between Mortgage iQ CRM and Lending QB LOS. The combined technologies represent a significant time savings and data integrity benefit for mortgage brokers and bankers.

According to Chris King, CEO of CRMnow, “Mortgage companies must operate more seamlessly in today’s environment in order to achieve profitability and growth.  We help them leverage our foundational CRM technology and marry that with Lending QB for a complete end–to-end experience. We integrate with the companies that our customers want and we see Lending QB achieving a lot of momentum in the mortgage technology space.”

Mortgage iQ is built specifically for the mortgage industry. Mortgage iQ streamlines lead management, provides strong sales force and marketing automation including lead tracking/qualification, credit analysis, loan scenarios plus personalized websites with an integrated Loan Application and Tracking Portal for Borrowers AND Real Estate Partners. It then completes the workflow with loan pipeline tracking, automated marketing tracks as well as integration with backend lending systems such as Lending QB alleviating redundant data entry.

“I am excited to announce the integration of CRMnow and LendingQB. With the bi-directional integration, our customers will experience a true seamless CRM/LOS solution,” said Binh Dang, LendingQB president.

About The Author

[author_bio]

Borrowers And The CFPB Requirements

Download This Article As A PDF HERE

Photography by: ©Michael B. LloydTME-Barbara-PerinoThe Consumer Federal Protection Agency has as its primary purpose protecting the consumer from high risk and unfair practices in consumer lending. In other words they are issuing rules and regulations to lenders that protect the consumer from economic loss or other injury as a result of a violation of Federal consumer financial law. As a result mortgage lenders have been inundated with new consumer disclosures, requirements and calculations. As of January 10th, lenders and all related entities involved in the loan origination process must meet certain parameters in order to ensure that the loan underwriting and fees meet the CFPB requirements. While the concern in protecting the consumers is an admirable one, there is no one that was in the business from the late 1990s to 2008 who does not understand that the consumers were also part of the problem. So if lenders and related entities are dealing with the ramifications, isn’t it fair that we ask what is being addressed with the consumers?

In looking back there were three major problems that were the primary consumer involvement issues. The first of these was the general run-up in housing prices. Consumers were frenzied at this time with the opportunities associated with selling their properties. Since home values had escalated so much homeowners saw this as time to sell and then use the proceeds to buy the next, bigger and better house. Most never worried about paying the mortgage since with housing prices rising so fast, they could always refinance or sell. Many consumers also became enamored of the idea of becoming a rich real estate investor and were seeking out properties which they could buy, fix-up or not, wait 6 months and sell for a nice profit.

Then there were those consumers who just didn’t really understand the process and didn’t take the time to read the documents or ask questions. These individuals, whether it their first foray into the world of mortgages or their tenth, just wanted to get a house where the mortgage payments were affordable. They really didn’t understand negative amortization or other financial language, nor did they read any of the disclosures that were provided over and over to them. All they wanted was to get into the homeownership arena. The rest would work itself out.

Finally, there were those consumers who took advantage of the products that were being offered and basically used the stated income application process to secure loans on false information. While there is controversy over who all was involved in the deception, there is no doubt that many of these borrowers were aware of and had agreed to submit the false information.

Addressing these issues is not necessarily the role or the responsibility of the CFPB, but they have included in the new regulations requirements that address the need for borrower awareness and education. The new requirements are primarily for first time homebuyers who are using high cost financing to obtain a mortgage. For these loans a High Cost Mortgage Certification of Homeownership counseling is required. The counseling cannot begin until after the applicants have received their RESPA disclosures and the counseling cannot be performed by an affiliate of the creditor.

If the loan is subject to RESPA then the lender must supply a list of homeownership counseling organizations to the borrower within three days of application. In other words, this new document must be considered one of the initial disclosures provided at time of application.

Other than these requirements, the consumer issues are left to loan originators to handle. In order to gather information on how to make sure the consumer understands the loan program they are entering into as well as ensuring the consequences of supplying fraudulent information, we asked several loan officers to give us some of the tips and techniques they use in their day to day meetings with potential borrowers.

Bob Clinton, a Senior Mortgage Banker at Group One Mortgage in South Florida willingly shared how he builds trusting, strong relationships with his borrowers. “It’s all about transparency and open, clear communication”, he offered. He also advised that the loan officer should “ask questions, questions and more questions.” Bob believes that the relationship between the borrower and the lender should be one of trust, building a strong relationship, being honest and clear on communication. He sees the role as an advisor/guide to the borrower. “It’s the responsibility of the loan officer to compile a list of questions to ask of the borrower as the loan process moves along. The expectations of the borrower and the expectations of the loan officer need to match.  People want to be informed and like to do business with people they like and they trust. The best customers are referrals who are expecting the same level of professionalism and trust they have with who referred them,” summarizes his overall thoughts on the subject.

Other loan officers shared that making the consumer aware that complete information for the pre-approval process has to be provided by the borrower and is best done as soon as possible. Knowing that they will need to provide complete tax documents and/or income documents for all their employment precludes surprises later on in the process.  Stressing the importance of providing accurate and complete information when discussing this with applicants was reiterated by several loan officers we talked to.   If a borrower is self-employed they need to explain exactly what it is that their company does; in other words what are their products and services. They have to disclose any side businesses they are involved in as well, even if it is not their primary business.  Letting self-employed borrowers know how they are evaluated and how their income will be calculated will go a long way in helping them understand why so much information is needed.

Borrowers also need to understand what they are obligating themselves to by thoroughly reviewing the loan documents. It is especially important that they read the initial disclosures including the revised TIL/GFE document. They should make notes of items they do not understand or language they are not familiar with and either get the loan officer to explain it or hire an attorney familiar with mortgage lending.

Realtors have a responsibility in the transaction as well. They must focus on giving the borrower feedback on their qualifications and helping them with a plan that can get them approved for a loan. Steering buyers to homes in which they are not qualified just for a bigger commission is not appropriate or helpful to the borrower or lender. The Realtor can’t just be a listing agent or buyer’s representative. They too have responsibility in helping the borrower get into the residence they want and can afford to buy seeing themselves as a partner with the mortgage company and ensuring the borrower is educated and aware of the obligation they are undertaking.

The loan officers we talked to strongly emphasized that surprises later on in the loan process have to be avoided. Loan files having to be re-submitted, delays in the closing process, lost deposits and additional scrutiny on the loan file are consequences of not doing the job right in the first place. The homebuyer needs to understand their contract. To understand the contract, they need to read it through thoroughly and hire a quality, trusted attorney who will represent them. Signing the documents before hiring an attorney is too late. They need to have a relationship with an attorney to get good advice before the closing.

Loan officer Bob Clinton also shared that loan officers need to probe the borrower with questions and help them through the process by consulting and educating them. “It is critical that the loan officer sees him or herself as an advisor and not just someone selling them a loan,” he offered.

One of the more recent issues faced by many loan officers is dealing with buyers who are part of the millennial generation. These Gen Y borrowers tend to rely on communication through text messaging which can also be a problem if the loan officer isn’t use to texting. To address this Bob asks his borrowers what method of communication they prefer. This way he knows upfront how best to reach out to them. One issue that may make the communication and education process more complex is that the millennial generation are very confident buyers, very busy in their day-to-day lives and want the information sent the fastest method possible. In response they want to provide information as quickly as possible even if it isn’t what was needed. A good example is bank statements. When asked for these, they typically send bank transaction pages. It is only after the requirement and need for full bank statements is explained to them that they finally send the statements.

The loan officers we talked to also go beyond just the specifics of the loan application. Most of the time they explain other aspects of the process as well. For example, they may explain the need for a loan preapproval and how it impacts the buyers’ ability to get the home they want. Another area that has always been left out of these conversations is the reason behind title work and how it can protect them as well as the lender if they choose. Understanding how  and why the survey is done, the need for homeowners insurance and the impact of escrows on their overall payment is important information, especially for first time borrowers. Good loan officers also go over the appraisal report answering questions and helping the borrowers understand what that number really means. Of course, the need for explaining what cash is needed for the closing and the fees charged is of vital importance and can be wrapped into the explanation of the TILA/GFE disclosure. Helping applicants understand the responsibilities of the lender and the realtor and what part each plays in the process is often confusing and a good loan officer fills in that information as well.

Overall, the loan officer provides a tremendous amount of information and is the applicants’ best source of knowledge for the borrowers. To sum it up, Bob stated, “if borrowers want a happy experience, they need to find a loan officer who is going to build a long-term relationship and offer them good advice.”

At the end of the day, being the lender means that we have voluntarily taken on the responsibility of ensuring that our customers, the consumers understand their loans and their responsibilities as well as monitoring their information to ensure its accuracy. While some may see this as a burden, there is a huge opportunity for the lenders. They can become partners with borrowers and realtors while educating them on all aspects of good quality lending practices as well as ensure that the regulation requirements take hold in all facets of the industry. There are huge business opportunities for the lending community to be involved in the education process for the borrowers and realtors; a value-added service that will increase business and relationships for the lenders who embrace this opportunity.

About The Author

[author_bio]