Preparing for Good Customer Experience in Demanding Times

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These are interesting times for the mortgage industry. Unprecedented revenue gains from wind-aided refinances have been a boon to the bottom lines of many companies. The increase in origination volume, however, is starting to cause fractures in the customer experience down-stream as pressure grows on operations to cope with ever-growing pipelines. On the servicing side, the industry is serving homeowners adversely affected by the global pandemic. This strain has manifested in forbearance requests. 

A customer experience (CX) storm is brewing on the horizon. When the CARES Act forbearance period ends next spring, borrowers will need modifications, and some proportion will end up in foreclosure. Assisting those borrowers, coupled with the start of the spring housing market and perhaps continued low interest rates, will lead to a cross-channel wave of customer service contacts. 

The question is, will organizations be able to ride this wave as a rising tide, or will they allow it to crest into a tsunami? How organizations plan for and handle these CXs can have lasting consequences for the organization’s brand. 

B. Joseph Pine, II, experience expert and author of The Experience Economy, suggests consumers expect much more than just simple service. They expect to be delighted. 

Additionally, I suggest that as customers, we are all part of  “pseudo-tribes,” where we share information (our sentiment) on our experiences with different products and services. 

Google has made it easier than ever for individuals to retrieve and to contribute to this collective sentiment regarding their mortgage experience. The ubiquity of Google and those easy-to-interpret, five-star ratings provide instant access to information that does far more than directly affect potential customers’ inclination to engage with a company. Customer sentiment has become a proxy for your brand. 

A 2018 study by BrightLocal found that 91% of people between ages 18 and 34 are “big believers” in online reviews. Further still, 39% of people in this age group said they always trust online reviews and 20% of people 35 to 54 feel the same way. Think about that for a second. 

The last time you engaged in a high-cadence, low-value transaction, such as going to a new restaurant, did you check the online reviews? The last time you performed a high-value, low cadence transaction, such as buying a car, or even getting a mortgage, did you check the reviews? 

The study punctuates the importance of this customer behavior by noting that, of those who check online reviews and ratings, 90% trust the online reviews and ratings just as much as they do a referral from a friend or family member. In other words, they value the collective experience of strangers over the anecdotal experiences of people they know.

The point is, there is nowhere to hide anymore. Everyone knows about the experiences people have with your company. Upset customers leaving their collective negative remarks on review sites that remain evergreen for future potential customers to see can have a lasting negative influence on an organization’s originations. 

So, how do we properly navigate a course for calmer waters and sunny CXs? What follows are three tactics that every service organization should excel at:

1) Over communicate. This sounds easier said than done. Servicing organizations are already inundated with contacts in these dynamic times. 

Many moons ago, I attended a recruiting event at a large credit card issuer who also was a large auto loan originator. The head of the division shared an interesting anecdote. He said they took an almost militant approach toward cadence and frequency of communications with their past due customers. 

Because they communicated so frequently with late-paying customers – informing customers of different options available to them and truly working with them to keep their car  – consumers who eventually lost their cars to repossession still gave the organization an 87% satisfaction rating. This underscores how important it is to over-communicate with customers to set their expectations.

How can we be even higher-touch when we are already stretched thin? Technology can help. 

First, implement chat on your website. The vast majority of servicing questions are soft-ball queries a chatbot can answer with backup from a human customer service agent addressing multiple text requests at one time. 

Second, implement a marketing automation plan to schedule milestone-related emails to your customers, informing them what to expect and when to expect it. This is an easy way to push your message to your audience. Continually remind them of important considerations and set expectations about their loan, upcoming decisions they’ll have to make and actions they can take. 

2) Measure your customer sentiment. This emphasizes the importance of knowing where you are to know where you are going. Although there are dozens of customer satisfaction metrics, there are three key measures critical to improving customer experience. 

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS measures the propensity of your customers to refer your service to others. When trended, it is a great way to gauge, at the 10,000-foot level, how good your experience is over time. 
  • Customer Effort Score (CES). As the name implies, this measures how hard it was for a customer to obtain the solution they sought. It would not be a stretch to imagine how a wave of customer service inquiries could make it more difficult for customers to get answers given already taxed customer service resources. Not surprisingly, there’s a direct correlation with this level of difficulty and your CES. 
  • Employee surveys. This is often overlooked and does not directly measure customer sentiment, but it influences the service an organization delivers. When customer service volumes increase, employees are often asked to work more. They can easily be overworked leading to poorer performance. Employee satisfaction surveys ensure your most valuable assets are in a good, safe harbor.

3) Finally, recognize that, no matter how hard an organization tries, upset customers will leak through. It’s important to have an Online Reputation Management (ORM) regiment in place to manage them. ORM is the practice of maximizing the appearance of a good collective experience. There are two primary ways to do this. 

The first step is to triage the negative sentiment as it occurs. Properly respond to as many individuals in a sincere fashion to let them know that their experience truly matters to the organization. Oftentimes, this shows others the organization cares about providing good customer service. In some instances, this action can also start a dialogue with the disenfranchised customer that can turn their sentiment from negative to positive. 

The second step is to simply get as many happy customers to post their sentiment as possible. It is not hard to understand that, if you give $250,000 to someone, often to build memories in the place they call home, they are grateful. It’s not terribly difficult to have many of these customers leave positive reviews. The abundance of positive reviews often drowns out the negative ones. 

We all can see the storm forming on the horizon of our industry. How organizations shore up their processes, people and technology to prepare now can protect the brand by delivering the best possible customer experience.

Jim McDonald is chief marketing officer for Planet Home Lending.

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