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No Laughing Matter

MAY 22, 2013 3:46pm ET
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WE’RE HEARING…in the past two weeks I have written about how critical it is for mortgage companies to have an effective customer satisfaction measurement program. The columns had a few jokes, too, but measuring the consumer’s perception of the process is no laughing matter.

As I listed the litany of complaints an executive hears from employees (too much documentation, incomplete applications, bad technology, no calls back) I was definitely making some readers sick.

My first column made the point that listening to customers directly was far more effective than only listening to what employees said regarding what customers want. My second column drove that point home even more by pointing out that the feedback from various parties in the process is often conflicting.

Well, this week is the beginning of “make them well,” as I give you some specific steps on how to build a culture that embraces customer satisfaction and drives your organization for better results.

At Stratmor, we recently launched MortgageSAT, which is a way to measure customer satisfaction, benchmark your results against peers, and take action to drive better results. I learned a lot about the process of measuring satisfaction and have worked with some leading lenders in creating this program. Here are some key items that ensure successful Mortgage Satisfaction program outcomes:

1. Embrace feedback, even when it indicates you are less than perfect. You can only improve your process by knowing what needs improvement. Excellent companies are always striving to get better, and putting the consumer at the central part of that improvement process can serve as an effective driver.

2. Survey every borrower about their experience. Don’t just ask them about their likely behavior (“would you recommend” or “would you use us again”) but ask them questions about their experience. We talk to too many companies who provide a very basic survey that asks “would you use us again” and calculates a score reflecting the percent of positive answers. That is a “feel good” survey, as the results make you feel good, but is not in depth enough to actually know why. So, you need to consider a broader survey that will uncover not just whether they would use you again, but what elements of the process they liked and what parts they did not.

3. Be careful how you ask questions—there is a science to it—for example, avoid questions with and/or since you are not sure how to process the answer. And ask questions about the process even if you think you can’t fix the issue. Remember, the consumer’s perception of the process drives their behavior more than your perception of the process. For example, you may not be able to change the underwriting guidelines but perhaps you could better train the underwriters, or, more importantly, shape the customer’s expectations of the process.

4. Be analytical in your approach. If you measure the elements of the loan process from the customer’s perspective and also analyze the customer’s behavior, you will gain insights that you never expected. For example, analytical tools such as regression analysis (ooh, math) may show you how individual underwriters impact the overall level of satisfaction, or may show that satisfaction is lower on government loans than on conventional loans. It may show that turn time is the most critical item, but perhaps that, at some level, investing in faster turn time is not worth it from a customer’s perspective. And the use of such analytics really lets you figure out what drives the customers to take the action that lenders want. For example, how do you get the consumer to recommend you more, to give you a review on social media, to be sure to use you the next time?

5. Take action. Here is where it all comes together. When we built MortgageSAT, we spent a lot of time building a process that allows you to measure the results, but it’s up to each lender to have a culture to do something about it. For example, we created an alert process so that surveys with negative feedback are forwarded immediately to lenders’ personnel to review. We built a portal that allows you to slice the data by each lender’s hierarchy, or by the transaction elements of the loan. If you see that certain staff are adversely impacting customer satisfaction, then give them the training, support or tools needed to improve. Or even take the ultimate action and remove them from being able to impact the consumer in the future. In fact, most who go through reviews by the regulators such as CFPB find that “action plans” are a key part of the message you want to provide to the regulators, and having one for how you are going to improve satisfaction is a great message to send.

I understand how hearing about our industry’s shortcomings, when many excellent firms are doing all they can to provide an excellent service, can give us abdominal cramps. It’s been fun reading your comments, but we’ll all feel better if we make sure that our companies are paying attention to what really matters. In today’s lending environment, that’s the voice of the consumer.

Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group, and has over 25 years of mortgage experience, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, including management of two of the most successful mortgage e-commerce platforms. He was formerly with Chase Manhattan Mortgage and ABN Amro, where he was a senior executive during the sale of its mortgage group to Citigroup.

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