Commercial Magazine

Develop a Magic Touch

Technology can help manage client relationships and create lasting connections

By Igor Zhizhin

Uttered nearly a century ago by Nobel Peace Prize winner Christian Lous Lange, the notion that “technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master” has become more accurate every day. In the fast-paced, high-stress world of commercial real estate finance, efficiency, speed and productivity are fundamental requirements for survival.

Unparalleled access to technology in every facet of communication is considered a universal solution for businesspeople to maintain a competitive edge. Market research, however, demonstrates that human interaction is still a key to establishing and maintaining a successful business. By effectively combining the benefits of traditional interpersonal relationships with the customizable capabilities of technology, commercial mortgage professionals can establish long-term loyalty among their clients.

The backbone of every successful mortgage company is a healthy pipeline of borrowers. As human beings, these borrowers want to feel appreciated, special and important.

Modern technology allows mortgage professionals to use minimal upfront effort and a simple commitment to consistent, personal interaction to maintain a virtually impenetrable relationship with existing clients. This frees up their time to pursue new prospects.

To achieve this, a proper understanding of customer relationship management (CRM) is required. The personalized market research and mass-broadcast messaging capabilities incorporated in CRM are mandatory tools for the effective mortgage professional.

Customized communication

In its “Customers 2020” report, consulting company Walker Information Inc. notes that the customer experience has become more impactful to a company’s strategy than its products or prices. Many mortgage professionals, however, simply ask for basic information related to a loan and overlook the human aspect of the borrower relationship.

Even worse, some mortgage lenders and brokers only ask questions at the start of the loan process and never update their CRM system with the client’s current information. A client’s hobbies, favorite sports teams or even their family members’ birthdays are examples of priceless data that can establish natural opportunities to reconnect with them on a human level.

The second aspect of data mining should be for a client’s specific areas of interest in commercial real estate — including asset classes, geographic locations and specific needs for experienced third-party vendors. This allows for additional interaction that is impactful but not overbearing. Although some borrowers may be wary of sharing this information due to privacy concerns or the possibility of being inundated by marketing materials, it is important to clarify upfront the reasoning for collecting this information.

Clients should be made aware, in writing, that their information will never be shared outside your organization and that all marketing materials have an easy opt-out process. Your goal should be to demonstrate appreciation, expertise and support — and at any point these interactions are viewed as something intrusive, your company should stop all communication.

Painless business development

By utilizing readily available mass-customization technology in conjunction with current, accurate client data, business development becomes utterly painless.

The first step is to input five to seven annual opportunities to directly interact with each client. This may include intermittent market intelligence or loan-specific dates, such as the expiration of a prepayment penalty or the final year before a loan matures. You also should include personal dates, such as the birthdays of the client and their family members, or life-cycle events such as weddings, births and retirements.

Examples of market-intelligence materials include current capitalization rates for asset classes in the borrower’s area of interest, highlighting a preferred property-management company, and economic and development factors that impact occupancy rates. Readily available data sources such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., CoStar and Reis Inc., for example, make it easy to customize this information. All of it can be organized and communicated via mass emails, ringless voicemails and text-message services. These programs do all the work and require no time commitments from mortgage professionals.

Technology should be used as a precursor to a quarterly phone call. Most clients are savvy consumers and can identify mass-customized tools. But, when someone speaks directly to them — even for 15 minutes — it creates a different level of appreciation and loyalty.

Committing to consistent phone calls with clients may be the most important factor in retaining them. Each week, a block of time should be set aside for these calls, which should each last between 10 and 20 minutes. They should initially focus on personal and family topics, followed by a quick discussion of the client’s previously closed loans and an overview of their future acquisition and financing goals.

Mortgage professionals should take meticulous notes to ensure accurate data is in their CRM system, given a client’s personal or business goals often change. It’s detrimental to send erroneous messages if a client got divorced or disposed of a property, for example. Confirm the next time you will be communicating directly and ask for referrals. By having consistent interaction, clients put so much time into their relationship with you that starting a new one with another broker or lender is generally not worth the effort.

 Personalized gifts

The ability to provide a unique and appropriate gift to business associates is one of the least-taught skills among mortgage professionals. Many commercial mortgage borrowers are high net worth individuals who, frankly, can buy most of the gifts they receive. They are overwhelmed with holiday thank-you cards, stale gift baskets and complimentary tickets to various events.

What really grabs their attention is an unexpected, personalized approach. The key is to do the upfront legwork with a creative mind and a generous heart. Use a gift bot — software that uses data points to quickly identify perfect gifts. Many items are extremely affordable and typically equate to a tiny fraction of a client’s fee.

Gifts should be engraved with the client’s name or a personalized message. Corporate branding should be avoided as the gift should be about the recipient and not about the giver. Holiday gifts should be sent during the last week of November, birthday gifts two weeks in advance, and loan-closing gifts a month after a successful transaction.

Spend your time on a personal and inspirational message, then let technology take care of the gift. This may spur an immediate phone call of gratitude, as well as an opportunity to discuss it for years to come. The key is to stay committed to the client even if further business isn’t conducted for several years. If the gifting is done right, these clients will be your greatest long-term advocates and the gift will be paid back many times over.

Sphere of influence

If the only value a commercial mortgage broker provides is sourcing a loan, that individual is destined to be replaced by a competitor. Today’s global economy has created the irreversible perception that every product and service is an expendable commodity. Loyalty is not only bestowed upon those who go above and beyond in meeting expectations, but those who can anticipate needs prior to them being requested.

Although this may seem like a daunting requirement, it is actually very manageable, thanks to modern technology. To gain that level of trust there must be a system in place to aggregate, evaluate and replace referral partners in real time. Most established CRM services have plug-ins, or you can integrate referral-partner management software to accomplish this task. By sourcing the readily available social-media reviews, direct-referral interactions and indirect-referral experiences of your colleagues, the expertise of each source and their overall performance should quickly become clear.

Mortgage professionals must have a 360-degree buy-in from all parties to make this work. Each referral partner must agree to be rated, and the rating should be the only factor — other than their availability — that dictates future opportunities. Clients benefiting from the referrals must agree to complete a short survey about the referral to receive future referrals. Sharing this data with referral sources is invaluable feedback and is appreciated among all types of professionals.

Because this is an easy system to replicate and scale, you should consider adding two or three new professional categories each quarter — such as wedding planners, mechanics or travel agents. Eventually, at the push of a button, CRM software will be able to identify the most highly skilled and least-risky referrals for any client’s needs, giving users a competitive advantage that would take years to replicate. With proven and cost-effective technology in place to accomplish these tasks, the mortgage professional becomes the sphere of influence that goes beyond any product or service they directly provide.

• • •

In a constantly evolving world, technology can easily become an asset or our downfall. The challenge for a commercial mortgage professional is not to mold their proven client-interaction strategies to accommodate technology, but to commit their staff to finding more efficient ways to scale these established methods.

Regularly evaluating how to streamline processes like sending reminders, buying gifts or providing referrals will create additional time for traditional interactions with clients, and for turning transactions into relationships. As competitors fight change, the shrewd mortgage professional embraces it within their areas of need. By committing to these key areas, technology can help make each of their clients feel unconditionally appreciated, special and important.


  • Igor Zhizhin

    Igor Zhizhin is president of American Street Capital LLC, a national mortgage-banking company with institutional correspondent relationships specializing in stabilized- and bridge-debt placement for multifamily, owner-occupied and investment properties. American Street Capital is nationally recognized for its industry-leading production volume and customer service for small-balance loan requests.

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