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By: Jacob Petersen for Tomorrow's Mortgage Executive, talking on the importance of customer service in the mortgage industry.

How often does a piece of technology break only to realize you now have to make the dreaded phone call to the 1-800 support number on the back of the device? For most, this is met with a monotone voice reading an infuriating script. Do they think we didn’t try to restart the device? Of course we did. Yes, the router was unplugged and reset, too. In today’s world, consumers expect a higher level of customer service. Whether they need to set up a new account, need help understanding the paperwork in front of them, or need help troubleshooting an issue, support must be seen as a trusted advisor.

As organizations grow, the idea of a customer ecosystem is essential to ensure the longevity and scalability of the company. This customer ecosystem requires that the entire organization work closely to provide only the highest levels of support. What steps are you taking to ensure your customer-facing teams emerge on top of today’s demanding industry landscape?

By: Jake Petersen for Today's Lending Insights

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.

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.

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.

By: Sarah Volling for CBInsight

We’re already a quarter of the way through 2015. Spring is almost here, and the flowers are getting ready to bloom. Planting a garden offers great opportunity to reap reward. Annuals are nice; with proper nurturing, you see them grow from just a small seed to a bountiful harvest. Perennials are even better. With the same nurturing, you see them grow not once, but many times over many seasons, giving you a bounty each year.

The same can be said for borrowers. Annuals come in daily. They are first time homebuyers, millennials, empty nesters, and everything in between. Over the last few months we gave you the inside scoop on millennial homebuyers. With this generation being the largest since the baby boomers and reaching an age where buying a home is a possibility, the opportunity is real. However, there’s another market segment you don’t want to miss out on: investment borrowers. If you keep these perennial borrowers happy, they are more than likely to come back the next time they find their next investment property or home. As someone who has purchased multiple properties and is back looking for another, allow me to provide some insight on targeting this group.

Perhaps the most-bang-for-your-buck mortgage segment, investment borrowers seek to buy a new property every few years, often renting or flipping as they go. With homeownership rates still sitting at record lows and interest rates doing the same, investors are looking to capitalize on this rent-centric market. These investors face one problem: housing prices are rising. Many that could once use cash-on-hand to buy properties are now more likely to need a loan.

That’s where you come in. If you want to target these potential borrowers, there are a couple of things you must keep in mind.

First, investment borrowers know what they’re doing; little education is needed. Instead, their first priority is a smooth, trouble-free experience from application through closing. Often, investment borrowers are on the go. They want to apply online and see their loan status whenever convenient for them. Make sure you have an online portal in place to support this. The portal should also allow document upload to streamline the process. Unless these tools are in place, investment borrowers are likely to take their business elsewhere.

Communication is nearly as important as efficiency. As mentioned, this group is well aware of the process and will be sure to tell you so. However, rules change, and each loan is different. Educate the borrower upfront on recent changes (think: Know Before You Owe), and keep the lines of communication open so that there are no surprises. Perhaps more importantly: educate your loan officers. They are the lifeline to the borrower. Set your team up for success through proper training. This will allow the best customer service experience possible.

Finally, investment borrowers are number crunchers. They track to dates, totals, and cash flow. As a result, every deadline, amount they owe, and date you give them will be added to their spreadsheets. Set proper expectations. The mortgage process doesn’t always go according to plan. Dates get pushed out, and unforeseen issues arise. It’s important to let your investment borrower know as soon as possible if things change. In addition, having the proper origination technology in place ensures the right people are working on the loan at the right time. The efficiency gained from workflow automation, rules, and triggers can make the difference between closing on time and having to reset expectations.

As we all know, the origination process isn’t always easy. Each borrower is different, deadlines change, and regulations evolve. Just as in a garden, inclement weather can prove challenging. Fortunately, the basic tools needed to please investment or “perennial” borrowers are the same tools needed for most “annual” borrowers. Provide great customer service and the proper technology, and your mortgage garden will surely bloom.

That is why it is so important to educate your people on how to provide a superior level of customer service. Your loan officers should know how to provide transparency, set expectations, and give proper guidance. You also need to make sure you have the proper technology in place to streamline your processes while keeping up with the times. An easy-to-use borrower-facing web portal is no longer optional. Equally important are the back-end tools. Make sure you have an advanced system capable of streamlining the origination process and getting borrowers to the closing table on time. Begin nurturing your borrowers now, and pretty soon you will have a garden full of both annuals and perennials – the combination every lender needs to be successful.