Is your mortgage industry brand at risk of failure?

Just this weekend I was reviewing several brands in the mortgage industry and what was being communicated about them in various social media channels. I was specifically looking at those that had more of a lackluster presence because they are usually the ones less aware of what’s being said about them, due to a lower level of involvement in this arena.

Looking specifically for evidence of brand failures, the complaints included the following items:

  • not getting return calls from a loan officer
  • can’t get a loan status
  • customer portal online never works
  • no place to sit in the lobby
  • being treated like a number
  • arrogant manager
  • voicemails never get returned
  • being lied to about a loan status
  • rate never locked in
  • kept on hold for 20 minutes
  • impossible to get anybody on the phone
  • rude receptionist

Many of these were for the same company and some even sparked ongoing conversation. One person even took it upon himself to develop a derogatory Facebook page to further publicize the failures of a particular brand!

Back in March 2012, Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, Dean of The University of Kansas School of Business, spoke about her work on customer brand expectations during “Moments of Truth: From Service Failure to Recovery” at the university’s Professional Edge speaker series.

Dr. Bendapudi offered 7 steps to service recovery and fixing relationships with customers during the seminar.

1)    Look at what you provide through the lens of the customer. Understand what the customer is buying when he or she “buys” you. Get everyone in your company to think about how their actions affect the customer. Think about the benefits of your brand, not the features. For example, a real estate agent is “buying” reliability, knowledge, timeliness, your “bedside manner,” and the ability to get to closing on time, just to name a few. He or she is not going to you simply because you have the right program for the buyer, and it’s certainly deeper than the rate you offer.

2)    Clarify your customer’s expectations from several angles. By asking the right questions from different angles, you can discover expectations you may not have considered and uncover opportunities for your brand.

For example, one of the mortgage companies I interviewed for an article last year in Mortgage Banking called “Moving Beyond Brand X” does a great job of thinking about the customer beyond the transaction. It has people assigned to call those who’ve recently closed on their mortgages to simply ask how everything went and if they enjoy their new home.

A customer, if asked about expectations, would never think to tell you he or she would like that phone call. Rather, the company, through creativity, asking the right questions and putting itself in the shoes of the consumer came up with this idea and viewed it as an opportunity to start post-transaction dialogue so the brand could live on in consumers’ minds.

3)    Translate expectations of your clientele into your brand. Consider all of the expectations your clientele have of your brand and make sure they are woven throughout all customer touch points within your company. Understand that all primary touch points, e.g., receptionist, loan officers/sales people, website, etc., have people and technology behind them, called secondary touch points, that enable your front-line touch points to perform according to the expectations of your brand, so be sure all work in concert to achieve the end result.

For example, remember the brand failure I pointed to earlier in which a customer was apparently lied to about his loan status? Here’s a question for you: Did the problem originate in underwriting? Or was there a technology issue behind it? Or does the LO simply lack integrity?

4)    Make sure your people are really living your brand. Dr. Bendapudi stated that companies need to ARM themselves for success as their people bring the brand to life on a daily basis. Your people must have ability, role clarity and motivation at every point at which they are delivering that brand promise. Dr. Bendapudi identified that “role clarity” is typically the culprit when brands don’t deliver on their promises.

5)    Know when you have failed to deliver on your brand promise. According to Dr. Bendapudi, only 3–4% of customers in the U.S. complain when they see a service failure. I personally think this number is quite low for the mortgage industry. When service failures occur here, the ramifications can be quite far reaching and upset many. The point is to make it easy for consumers to highlight service issues at the point of service. If you don’t, they may take it to other channels and make the situation more public than it ever needed to be.

If you’re a retail lender, this immediacy is especially important because the competition is so fierce that you simply can’t afford to let your brand get away from you. So make it exceptionally convenient for people to share service issues. Here’s a great example: British Airways at one time installed video booths by the baggage claim so that passengers could share any issues they had prior to leaving the airport. Now that’s convenience!

6)    Be aggressively responsive when you hear of complaints. Unfortunately, this is not as obvious as one might think. I’ve had companies tell me they hoped an issue would just disappear if they left it alone, or deleted it from a social media site. When customers complain, they aren’t necessarily ready to break ties with your brand…yet. How you respond and the speed at which you respond are critical. In many cases, however, recognize that a complaint could very well be just the tip of the iceberg.

As I discovered during my brief research in social venues, the complaints can accumulate, and before you know it, the complaint has grown some legs as others jump into the conversation sharing similar experiences. The sad part is, they never needed to become public if they were only uncovered sooner. Depending on the frequency, you may consider conducting a research study to learn how deep the problem is…but then be prepared to act on the results in quick fashion.

7)    Create brand ambassadors. If you are serious about heading off problems that could become future brand disasters, then work towards developing a following of people who are more than happy to tell others why they should be working with your brand. This can be done both on and off line through event coordination, Facebook, video/written testimonials and much more.

Picking your brand up by the bootstraps can be a complex process, so I hope these steps give some clarity to what needs to be done.
I hope this helps Let me know your thoughts!