Most loan originators will insist that they provide extra special service, which enhances their customer retention and referral rates.
Of course, some of the customer service actions are more basic than others, and could be considered standard “requirements.” However, there are many originators who offer exceptional service.
Whatever your approach to customer service, it is wise to do a periodic review and see if your overall approach could be improved. It may involve a minor adjustment or could be a more significant addition.
At the very basic level, customer service involves listening carefully to customers and prospects. “Delivering world-class service is about first understanding my client’s goal and priorities in detail before beginning an application or processing a transaction,” said John Weller, Megastar Financial, Denver, Colo. “I ask a lot of personal financial questions and try to uncover their core values and goals. I see my role as a financial consultant to families, helping them use mortgage loans not to just finance their house, but to enhance their overall personal finances and well-being.”
Educating clients regarding the often challenging loan process has become even more critical during the last few years. “This is more important than ever,” said Aaron Jernigan, Oak Star Bank, Springfield, Mo. “I try to educate customers up-front, letting them know how the industry has changed and the documentation they’ll need. I think that many originators don’t adequately prepare their customers, who later get frustrated when it seems there are repeated requests for documentation. The transaction is much easier when you spend enough time up-front. “
“The lending industry has obviously undergone substantial changes that have impacted all of us,” said Chris Hutchens, Alpha Mortgage, Wilmington, N.C., “One of the most critical responsibilities has been to help customers adapt to the new marketplace. All originators are spending more time educating customers. You need to advise clients of the potential problems and the change in qualification criteria. We advise consumers that the market isn’t like it was in the past. Some can get frustrated but I tell them that the world has changed.”
Keeping in contact with customers and sharing updates is essential. Jernigan has established a formal process for ongoing customer communications. “My assistant contacts all current customers every Friday, even if there is nothing major happening,” he explained. “It lets them know we’re interested.”
Hutchens stressed that prompt reporting procedures has enhanced his rapport with clients. “One of the best ways I market myself and my team is to be proactive with my communication through a purchase transaction,” he said. “Instead of waiting for the agent to call me and ask if the client has applied, if we have set up the file, if the appraisal has come in, and other details, we have a series of e-mails we send throughout the process. They begin with letting the buyer and listing agent know the loan documents have come back from the client and then follow-up to let agents know the client did a good job bringing things in that were requested or an e-mail that says ‘we have work to do.’ This generally gives them an idea of what they are faced with, without providing a lot of personal information that we shouldn’t disclose.” During the next few weeks, they continue with notices that detail the documents arriving, the appraisal completed, the file going to underwriting, the title and insurance being finalized, and eventually the approval and loan package being finalized. Hutchens noted that agents are especially impressed. “I have picked up a ton of referrals from listing agents (who I often don’t know) because other lenders aren’t communicating like this. They frequently say ‘I don’t hear from my lender at all during the process.’”
Amanda Sessa’s customer care program begins with the “Touch Campaign,” which involves a series of contacts throughout the loan transaction, including e-mails to welcome customers, when the initial loan package is returned, at the completion of appraisal and approval, and when figures are submitted and HUD approval is received. “Our goal is to do such a good job of communicating that they won’t have to follow up with us,” said Sessa, SCBW Mortgage, Boulder, Colo. “It removes the stress from them and their agent. We have had agents say that this is a key reason they use us.”
Customers also appreciate being able to connect with their loan originator during the loan transaction. Accessibility is one of the primary features that Jernigan emphasizes. “I make myself available to meet or talk with my customers,” he said. “I’m also proactive in providing information throughout the loan.”
“I always work ‘24/7’ and all of my clients are given my cell phone number so they can contact me with any questions at any time,” said Mike Meena, Augusta Financial, Newhall, Calif.
While attending closings isn’t an absolute requirement, it certainly enhances the customer service level. Sessa strives to attend all loan closings, typically bringing a book or other gift to customers. “Attending closings shows the customer we’re committed throughout the entire process,” she noted. “It is a real opportunity to solidify relationships and make new connections.”
“I have always been a proponent of closing gifts,” said Bill Haines, Jr., Guild Mortgage, Bellevue, Wash. “It makes you stand out because usually the real estate agent does not give the buyer anything. I have a series of gifts depending on how many loans I have done for the client. The first transaction is always an expensive Howard Miller clock. It is a gift that people are happy to receive and display in their home. I still go to people’s homes years after I have done their first loan to have them point out the prominent place where my clock resides. They never forget who sent them the clock.”
The Trusted Advisor Role
S. John Murray is focusing on an additional opportunity to assist customers—as a trusted advisor. “One of the ways I do this is making certain they have the right support for their trusts, wills, legal and other services,” said Murray, Mortgage Financial, Tewksbury, Mass.
Murray explained that he will be more proactive in guiding customers, asking if they need assistance and then suggesting specific resources. “I’ll be referring them to my own wealth management team of experts.”
A Few More Ideas
Other originators have gone “above and beyond” to make the loan transaction a memorable experience. For example, this includes:
*Developing a comprehensive home services resource directory that includes painters, plumbers, movers and other services that homeowners frequently need.
*Helping to paint the porch and mow the lawn at a client’s house so that it would be presentable for an appraiser’s inspection.
*Driving to a meet a customer who was stranded with a flat tire on her way to the closing. The originator later returned to help change the tire.
*Providing a children’s activity space in the office’s reception area. The kids can color, play games and read while the parents are completing their loan application.
*Developing a special “life planning” profile as part of the originator’s customer contact program. It involves outlining the customer’s current homeownership/other status, their three- to five-year goals, the necessary ‘homework’ to reach their goals and the additional strategies the originator suggests.
*Hosting a “Welcome to Our New Home” reception for purchase customers.
Most people prefer to obtain their loan with the lowest possible interest rates and fees. However, having an attentive, service-minded loan originator is usually as (if not more) important to them. It doesn’t really take that much effort to make a customer feel like you care.
David Robinson is Associate Editor of Broker Banker.