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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   October 2013

Don’t Let Tech Take Away the Human Touch

Streamline your business with the latest tools, but keep your connection to clients

The advent of Internet-based technology has altered the mortgage business in a multitude of ways. On a micro level, these new technologies have allowed mortgage companies to align their businesses with tools such as software as a service (SaaS), customer relationship management (CRM) and point of sale (POS) programs, as well as customized loan-origination systems (LOS).

But more simply, on the macro level, these tools have provided newfound convenience to borrowers, improved the efficiency and turnaround of loans, and have kept mortgage companies current and competitive in the marketplace.

It sounds like a win-win, right? Not necessarily. Despite the rise in Saas, CRM, POS and LOS programs — and the help that they can provide companies — mortgage brokers and originators must remember one thing: Customers are still human.

What clients want

There is a reason why people often press “0” as soon as they encounter an automated voice system. Although these systems have improved by introducing more options, it remains a frustrating few minutes for many people until a connection can be made to a human customer-service representative. Technology isn’t always flexible. Having a person to help when things go awry can convert a prospective customer and provide a boost to your business.  As much as technology has taken over the world, it may seem oxymoronic that people still crave the “human touch,” but it’s true. Study after study reveals that at the end of the day, online consumers want to have the option to speak to, or otherwise communicate with, another human being at some part in their transaction. In 2009, BizReport, a digital trade publication for the e-commerce industry, reported that 52 percent of online buyers made the decision not to purchase a product “at least sometimes” because of the inability to get help “from another human being.”

This sentiment also is reflected in the mortgage industry. In 2010, a study — conducted by the Lieberman Research Group and sponsored by Mortgagebot LLC — found that mortgage-lending institutions that utilized “channel integration” — a combination of online applications and other Web-based loan-processing tools with phone calls or in-person visits — experienced an increase in loan volume and customer loyalty.

It is this last part — customer loyalty — that mortgage professionals should care about the most. Loyalty equals trust, and trust is the backbone of any successful business.

Online mortgage shopping

When someone was ready to purchase a home in the past, they often would set up an appointment with their lending institution to meet with a loan officer. Once a loan was set in motion, a buyer typically came in for a few more visits. Today, however, technology has transplanted that relationship to the online arena.

Online mortgage-lending professionals face two different groups of borrowers:

  1. Older generations, who still by and large prefer to meet with a loan officer in person; and
  2. Millennial homebuyers, who are more accustomed to making purchases — large and small — online.

The good news for mortgage professionals who use online tools is that more than 51 percent of U.S. adults are now banking online, according to this past August’s Pew Research Center study, and that trend has already trickled down into the mortgage industry. According to the Lieberman study, overall online mortgage loan volume was expected to grow 157 percent from 2010 to 2013. And nearly 70 percent of consumers — yes, 70 percent — shop for mortgage loans on the Internet, according to a study from Deloitte Development LLC.

Integrating a human touch

As this segment of homebuyers becomes more prevalent, it becomes even more critical that online mortgage professionals learn to cultivate an “online human touch.” Companies should implement channel integration and look for other parts of the loan process where a human element could be provided.

Here are a few tips to help integrate the personal with the technological:

  • Make a phone call, just to “check in.”
  • Set up a time to talk over the Web — via Skype, chat, etc. —to address any questions.
  • Be friendly when interacting with customers in person or onthe Internet.
  • Remember not to treat your customer like a number.
  • Send a thank-you card when the loan is complete.

When you can’t meet in person, turn to other avenues. There’s a lot of information about content-marketing strategies, but that information doesn’t really focus on the customer-service aspects of these channels. It all boils down to connecting with customers and providing them with clear, helpful information. Social media, testimonials, online seminars and blogs can help you connect with your customers in between in-person visits and phone calls, and thorough product descriptions, glossaries and other online tools can provide them with accurate information.

Despite the increase in “online trust,” consumers expressed frustration when companies failed to provide simple things like pages with FAQs (frequently asked questions), contact information and online chat tools. Make sure that these things are in place for your company, and return to these sections for updates and reevaluations as needed.

Above all, however, don’t get lost in the alphabet soup of today’s technology. Invest in yourself and your employees. As mortgage professionals, knowing how to be personable with customers over the telephone and face to face ultimately is more important than investing in the latest POS system.


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