WE’RE HEARING online lenders’ reputations grow publicly with every failure, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw.
That’s because borrowers in the Digital Soapbox Era can go online to vent about lenders, for all to read. It’s an era comprised of megaphone sites like Yelp Inc., Review Centre and Glassdoor Inc. that permit borrowers to write, and to post scorching messages about lenders and disseminate them at Internet speed.
There is no regulator that scrutinizes these posts, much less that works to rein in inaccurate, unverifiable, or unfair comments.
As if that was not bad enough, in cyberspace, these posts are like subway car graffiti that cannot be removed or painted over. Once they are written, they can always be found and read. On the Web, borrowers may not always be right—but they will always be loud, they will always be heard.
Here are some sample posts that came up during research for this column. (Lender names were removed.):
- “Four months later and all we want to do is buy a house. … It's still a nightmare. Extra fees, costing far more than (the lender) told us…They tell so many lies on the phone that it’s not even worth talking to them.”
- “There were repeated requests for duplicate bank statements, tax returns, income verifications, pay stubs, more pay stubs, and yes, more pay stubs and statements.”
- “(The lender’s) ‘customer service’ is horrible. Its business practices are deceptive…Do business with another bank. I intend to report (the lender) to the Better Business Bureau.”
- “(The lender) overpaid my taxes. They paid my home insurance to the wrong company and then asked for more money. They mailed me a check for the overpayment made out to them. It was the worst and craziest experience I ever had.”
- “(The servicer) is horrible, do whatever you can to avoid them.”
The motivation behind these posts is a mystery: A prospective client that reads them has no way to know if the complaints are legitimate or if they are written by fictitious borrowers with the intention to undermine a competitor.
Before the soapbox era, when a bank failed to deliver the service level expected, on the schedule promised, angry borrowers took their business to another lender.
Lenders’ reputations grew with every failure—but in a contained, almost manageable way. Over time, negative experiences were forgotten—as families began to enjoy their new homes.
In the Digital Soap Box Era, bad experiences linger, and never recede from memory, but strategies exist to counter unfair, bitter posts:
- Lenders can encourage borrowers that had good experiences during the lending process to write about them on the megaphone sites. That helps balance criticisms with positive posts—and pushes negative comments further down the computer screen—but does not remove them.
- Senior executives can choose to consider negative comments—even scathing ones—as an opportunity to identify aspects of the business they can improve. They could review the posts for trends, analyze their processes, and determine if enhancements would improve the borrower’s experience.
- A commitment to maintain, develop, or license technology that improves processes, will make buying a mortgage easier, faster, and less expensive for borrowers. That leaves less for borrowers to complain about online.
The business of building a reputation—and preserving it—has always been difficult and will become more difficult—that’s the tough-love lesson of the Digital Soapbox Era.
Matt Strickberger is the managing partner of OnPoint PR and Consulting LLC, a public relations firm that represents lenders, servicers, technology companies and others. He was editor of Mortgage Technology magazine from 1997-2000. If you have comments or suggestions for future columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.