Jim McDonald: Lenders Must Focus on the Customer Experience

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PERSON OF THE WEEK: With purchase volume expected to increase in the second half, mortgage lenders must stay focused on improving the customer experience, building great marketing teams and boosting brand awareness.

In a recent interview with MortgageOrb, Jim McDonald, chief marketing officer for Planet Home Lending, discusses why the online customer experience is so important, what it takes to build a well-rounded marketing team, and why online reputation management is integral to today’s modern brands.

Q: You say your mantra is ‘Marketing and product are different ends of the same spectrum; the customer experience is the glue that holds them together.’ What do you mean by ‘customer experience?’

McDonald: The customer experience is comprised of all the touchpoints your customer has in their engagement with your brand.

Consumers can form impressions about a company’s brand from a customer’s reference, an online search, the site experience and the application process. The interaction with the loan originator, processor, closing agent, appraisal agent, and the subsequent follow-up and post-close communications can also help form an overall impression of a lender’s product or service. All these touchpoints make up the customer experience.

Q: Why is focusing on the customer experience so important for the mortgage industry?

McDonald: I believe we are in an experience economy. Technology – Google specifically – has has made it possible for a prospective borrower to know what a lender’s customer experience is like before engaging with that lender. This is because the collective experiences of others who have engaged with that lender have been archived in the form of reviews and/or ratings.

This is important to the mortgage industry because 90% of people use online reviews and ratings as a starting point to engage with a brand; and nine of 10 of those people trust the collective sentiment of others online more than they do a friend or a family member.

There’s simply nowhere to hide anymore if someone had a bad customer experience with your brand. Prospective customers now use that information as a proxy for your brand and as a factor in whether or not they will engage with your brand.

Q: How does a mortgage lender build a great marketing team?

McDonald: I could talk for hours about specific roles, responsibilities, skillsets, etc. that are needed for a well-rounded, modern marketing team.

In broad strokes, a lender needs to be committed to building and marketing the best customer experience possible. Then, it must simply hire smart creative peoples who are intrinsically motivated to share the same passion.

It must then focus on becoming the best facilitator possible. Additionally, as a good manager, a lender needs to mentor and position its team members for the next step in their careers. 

Bottom line, a great marketing team will buy collectively into the company’s message and mission.

Q: What is online reputation management and why is it integral to today’s modern brands?

McDonald: Online reputation management (ORM) is the practice of maximizing the positive (online) sentiment of your constituents (internal and external) and minimizing the negative sentiment.

This sentiment often manifests itself in the form of online reviews and ratings on numerous sites when someone searches for a particular company name.

The process often starts simply by asking happy customers to leave a positive review online and can be streamlined through marketing automation. By asking customers how they would rate their experience beforehand, a lender can often remedy a negative experience before that customer leaves a bad mark in the ether.

The collective sentiment online, as noted earlier, often becomes a proxy for a lender’s brand, and can correlate to whether a prospective customer, employee or partner decides to engage with the company.

Q: You previously worked as senior online marketing manager for match.com. How would you compare your experience in the dating world to the mortgage experience?

McDonald: I tell people I failed in the dating world, so I focused on my career instead.

In reality, working in digital marketing at one of the largest consumer SaaS subscription services in the world (Match.com) forced me to hone my skills quickly. Although there are numerous differences between the dating industry and the mortgage industry, there is one similarity that binds the two – they are both commodity services.

Whether dealing with tens of millions of daily emails and website sessions or just thousands, if you are selling a commoditized service, you must differentiate yourself with outstanding customer experience.

Creating an elegant experience that makes it incredibly easy for customers to transact and attain the value they seek will allow your business to build advocates. Those advocates will tell others – often through reviews and ratings – and you have the start of a great brand.

The long and short of it is, focus on great customer experience and everything else will fall in place.

[The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policy, or position of Planet Home Lending, LLC.]

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