Survey Customers at the Right Time—For Them

JUL 31, 2014 6:52pm ET

So, I promised to introduce yet another family member into my column this week. Your breathless waiting is at an end. Meet Charlie, the family dog. Charlie also suffered through a stomach issue a few weeks ago that necessitated an emergency trip to the vet. You've read about my daughterís removed wisdom teeth, my wifeís trip to the hospital and now allow me to tell you the story of this manís best friend, and what it taught me about the mortgage business.

I realize that some of you may be thinking I live in a MASH unit since the only person here who has not been sick recently is me. I guess itís just all the good living and weight control, that and the fact that I am such a large, strong and fit example of manhood. (No chuckling. Some folks haven't met me in person yet.)

Before I share the details of Charlie's medical experience, letís revisit a few of the observations garnered from the service provided to my wife during her recent hospital visit.

As I pointed out last week, poor management of existing resources will not serve as an excuse for poor customer service. Cross-training makes it possible for the best companies to ensure that they always have the resources required to meet customer expectations. Secondly, follow-up at the right time goes a long way to change the customerís perception of an event. Chances are, if the hospital had called to check on my wife after she was released, I might have told a much different story last week.

The week before, we talked about how just about everything is an emergency to the mortgage loan borrower. They are alone in a vast unknown with nothing but their ultimate goal of financing to guide them. Well...that and a good loan officer. Too often, our borrowers are not getting the guidance they need. We leave them sitting there, without any informational updates, and then wonder why they emerge from the process dissatisfied. It's also important to remember that while we approach our business logically, itís all about emotion for our borrowers. Everything we do to help manage those emotions goes directly to our bottom lines in terms of increased customer satisfaction, higher repeat business and more referrals.

By now, you must be ready to hear the story of Charlie. I certainly hope the ASPCA doesnít come down on me too hard for using the little Shih-Tzu as inspiration for a mortgage metaphor. I'm sure it's not an approved use of a family pet. My wife did not mind (that much) being the inspiration for the last two columns, so I feel that Charlie deserves the same treatment. So, let me now compare the service we received from the vet to that my wife received from the hospital.

Three days after my wife came home, my best little friend had a problem in his belly. Specifically, he squealed when going to the bathroom. (Is that too much detail?) We called the vet, and they told me to bring him right in. Guess what? They immediately put us in a room and started to attend to him. It took about 20 minutes for the vet to show up, but during that time a technician weighed him, completed his chart, took a blood test, and updated my contact information and email address. I realized it wasn't the company's most valuable resource attending to us, but it really didnít matter. We were being served.

When the doctor did arrive, he did a good job with Charlie, despite the fact that my little friend couldnít articulate his distress or describe his pain. He could only sit there and whine. Maybe my wife should have taken the same approach. We might have done better at the hospital.

In any case, we returned with a tentative diagnosis and a promise that the vet clinic would let us know when the blood test results were returned. Well, that very afternoon they called with the results. All was well. Later that night, the vet called himself and asked how Charlie was doing. The next day, the clinic sent me a survey by email, asking for even more feedbackóand for a referral. Guess whatóI am a satisfied customer and am happy to share that experience with others.

Now, the final insult to our experience with the human hospital. A friend of mine read my recent articles about this and contacted me about the experience. It turns out this friend actually works for the hospital and recognized immediately some of the trends I was pointing out.

According to my inside contact, this hospital apparently surveys customers and posts the results. In fact, they recently sent a company wide email out about how they had a nearly "perfect" rating for the emergency room visits in the previous month. Well, they sure as heck did not survey me.

Maybe hidden in all my hospital paperwork there was a form that let me complain about the service. Perhaps my failure to find and fill out that form means I was satisfied. This is similar to mortgage companies providing a written survey at the closing table and asking borrowers to check the boxes based on their satisfaction.

Perhaps, the best time to survey someone is not in the middle of a process, when they are distracted with paperwork (and everything else), and just want to be done. Perhaps, it's better to contact the customer the next day, or next week, and ask them then to provide a serious and informed view of the service provided. This is exactly what we have found at Stratmor, where we help lenders do this. We have found that customers will provide very candid feedback if they are asked after closing.

In fact, in our work, we've found that lenders who survey customers at the right time will see a significantly higher information return, which can then inform positive changes in the mortgage operation. These changes have already resulted in higher levels of customer satisfaction, repeat business and referrals, but there is an even more important benefit to this feedback loop. It is possible to change the customerís entire perception of the lending process if customer satisfaction problems are identified and dealt with immediately. We can change history, if we try.

Actually, that's just what the hospital did for us when they cut us out of their statistical analysis and told the world they were great when we knew differently. I thought I couldnít feel worse about the experience, but I was wrong. Letís not do that to our customers by assuming that the game is over when the loan closes.

So, this entire hospital experience really can be summed up in one theme. The hospital failed to create a process where the needs of the customer were central to the mission. At each step of the process, they chose to create a process to make things easier for them, not to make it better for us. That is surely not a prescription for repeat business, and that is a mistake that mortgage lenders need to avoid. The only other option is to prescribe narcotics early in the mortgage process and hope the customer is dulled to the pain of the process. But I am fairly sure the CFPB would have something to say about that.

Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group, and has over 25 years of mortgage experience.

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