SunTrust Ranks Highest in Customer Satisfaction

SunTrust Mortgage tops the industry in a recent survey rating customer satisfaction with mortgage servicing companies, according to J.D. Power and Associates here.

SunTrust was followed in the rankings by World Savings Bank, Bank of America and Countrywide.

The consulting company's inaugural loan servicing study measured customer satisfaction with the nation's largest mortgage servicers. The survey asked consumers about four primary issues: billing, payment, annual account review/administration and customer-initiated interaction.

SunTrust performed particularly well in billing, payment and account review/administration, J.D. Power said.

Of the 33 brands publicly rated in the J.D. Power survey, the lowest customer satisfaction ratings went mostly to servicers of subprime credit quality loans, including GreenTree, Ocwen Financial, HomeEq Servicing, Household Finance and CitiFinancial.

Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the finance and insurance practice at J.D. Power, said that with interest rates starting to climb, customer recommendations have become vital to mortgage lending companies. Customers who are satisfied with their lender are more likely to refer that company to friends, co-workers and relatives, he said.

The billing and payment factors are the two most important areas and the highest-rated aspects of the customer experience generally, according to the survey.

In these areas, customers place the strongest importance in the accuracy of posting payments as well as the variety of payment options.

The study found that while only 20% of customers pay their mortgage online, those that do pay online or through automatic deductions give significantly higher ratings to their mortgage servicer than customers paying by mail or phone.

Customers who receive online bill notification are among the most satisfied overall, though only 6% of customers take advantage of this option.

But Mr. Bowler told MSN that his company's surveys indicate many more customers would like to engage in online bill presentment and payment than actually do today. He said that increasing customer awareness about electronic payment options is one way mortgage servicers can distinguish their brand in the marketplace.

"I suspect there is a greater appetite for electronic bill payment and bill notification than is actually being met today," he said.

Mr. Bowler added that the question of why online bill payers rate their loan servicer more highly has been "a subject for quite a bit of debate."

One hypothesis is that they are more content just because they don't have to actually sit down with the checkbook and look at the size of their monthly mortgage payment, often their largest bill.

But convenience may be a big motivator among electronic payment enthusiasts, who indicate on surveys that they love the convenience of being able to make payments anytime of the day or night, any day of the year.

But the survey also revealed some weak spots for the industry to consider.

For the industry as a whole, more than one borrower out of 10 who called their lender indicated that the service representative they spoke with did not speak clearly. Mr. Bowler said "poor articulation of words" was by far the most common complaint, and customers who had trouble understanding the customer service representative's words rated their experience much lower than others.

SNAPSHOT: J.D. Power Survey's Top 5 Brands in Mortgage Servicing

1. SunTrust Mortgage 792

2. World Savings 786

3. Bank of America 779

4. Countrywide Home Loans 777

5. First Horizon 758

Source: J.D. Power and Associates. Scores based on a 1,000-point scale. Of the 33 brands rated, ranged from 591 to 792.

(c) 2005 Mortgage Servicing News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.mortgageservicingnews.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

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