By Eric Wilson
As an executive that has been both on the lender/servicer and the vendor side of the table during the course of my career, I’m amazed at how often the concept of customer service comes up during the sales process. Among the benefits that we always see returned on our RFP’s is some form of “outstanding customer service.” But what does that really mean in our business?
I work for a company that offers excellent customer service. If you’ve been in your position for any length of time, it probably means that your company has achieved a certain level of success and that your management also understands the importance of good customer service. Unfortunately, in the current scenario, clients expect much more than just business understanding. The expectation associated with customer service has evolved over time.
Narrowing down to the complex industry of mortgage servicing, especially on the commercial side, it’s not enough to have a cheerful person answering the phones if they can’t solve the problem that prompted your customer to call. Customer service is meaningless if the service isn’t customized from the start. Let me explain what I mean.
Viewing customer service as an expense
Every salesperson believes that their company offers great customer service. When they make a request on behalf of a customer or prospect, things happen. Because the salesperson is intimately aware of the needs of the customer. But what happens when that salesperson moves on to the next deal.
We see this in every industry, the further you move up the organizational chart and away from the customer, the more customer service begins to look like an expense and efforts begin to reduce, to keep cost down. While the B2C market, for e.g., Amazon or Best Buy have found a way to reduce the cost of servicing a customer through customer self-serve using technology, it doesn’t work at all in the B2B world. When a company sells good and services to another company, it comes with the implicit promise to provide whatever services are necessary to ensure that the deliverables meet the client’s actual needs. Not every company excels at this. However there are those that build customer service into their offerings because they know that if the purchase doesn’t meet the needs of the customer, there won’t be another purchase.
To reduce the high cost of excellent customer service, many larger firms, even in our own industry, make every effort to treat all customers similarly. This creates internal efficiencies that can save the company time and money, but at the cost of ensuring that the majority of the servicers you work with will be unhappy.
We have found that customer service is actually a unique deliverable for each customer we serve. Especially when it comes to commercial mortgage servicers. Vendor partners must be able to work with their clients to understand their requirement to the granular level and then customize as per business needs.
Customer service equals customized service
If you ask any executive what good customer service means to them, they will tell you it means having someone from the vendor company solving their problem to their satisfaction within a certain pre-set time period. Just like the old saying goes, “we want what we want when we want it.” How hard can that be to deliver?
In truth, it’s not. As long as the vendor determines in advance exactly how the customer expects problems to be solved and what their timelines are. In fact, when the customer expectation is set up correctly from the start, it need not be prohibitively expensive for the vendor to deliver it. The trick is in segmenting your customer base and giving each type of customer what they need.
The experience I want to share with you comes from a specific part of the commercial mortgage servicing business, but it applies to any offering delivered to a servicer. Actually, these guidelines can be applied to any B2B transaction as well.
Our specific area of expertise, at least for this discussion, is property tax tracking and management for commercial servicers. One might think that this sounds like a standardized service pretty much the same for all commercial servicers. That would be incorrect. In our business we find that knowing three key factors allows us to customize our customer service to the complete satisfaction of our customers.
Factor 1: The size of the commercial mortgage servicer
In our experience, there is a world of difference between the needs of a servicer that services commercial mortgages with an average balance of $1 million and those that services $100 million properties.
The larger the firm, the more complex their current processes. Also, one cannot forget about the large portfolios with multiple parcels in each. Vendor partners must be able to tailor their service/platform to seamlessly integrate with client’s processes, timelines, existing reporting styles, etc. Moreover, large portfolios bring large risk exposures. Extensive industry expertise is required to bring in best practices, regularized triggers/tracking and upfront visibility of portfolio status or probable delinquencies.
Just as larger firms require customized service to ensure satisfaction, smaller firms also benefit when customer service is customized to their needs. While they may have fewer levels of management to deal with, they have other needs that set them apart from their larger competitors, such as the need for insight on particular details for tax collections in certain areas or regions. One of the biggest problems these companies face is that they may find it difficult to get excellent customer service from some vendors who spend all of their time on larger accounts.
Factor 2: The complexity of the loans it services
Now, we’re talking about tax services for commercial mortgage servicers.
As you would expect, the more complex the loan, the more customer service may be required to satisfy the client. A high value commercial property may be made up of a number of unique parcels, for tax purposes, and may even fall across a number of taxing jurisdictions. In some cases, loans are written and then collateralized by a number of properties, which may be in different states.
Just dropping the servicer a note once a year to let them know which parcels are late on their tax payments is not going to provide the level of customer service these customers demand. In our case, we employ technology that allows us to see a list of all properties that were last reported as delinquent, we then provide delinquency information after every payment installment and not just annually. Additionally, we provide follow up reporting on previously reported delinquencies at the time we report the current delinquent status. Just one example of how complexity must be a factor in how you deliver customer service.
Factor 3: The specific needs of the company’s executives
Some very large vendors seem to believe that their brand is all they need to attract business. They seem to be forgetting that people do business with people, not brands or mascots or marketing missions. In our business, like every business, it comes down to people.
We pay very close attention to the executive that we report to within our client company. This internal champion is usually an experience commercial mortgage servicing executive that operates according to a well-developed process that has taken years to perfect. This is the kind of person that doesn’t appreciate a vendor telling them how the will service them. They want to define what customer service means and they expect to get it. And they should.
Generally, the biggest difference we see between the executives we serve in our various customers’ shops has to do with reporting. They all have preferred reports and delivery timelines. We set all of that up in advance and then customer service is customized, easy to deliver and not prohibitively expensive.
The old meaning of customer service is no longer a viable standard for any company that hopes to win and hold business in the B2B sector. All customer service must be customized to the specific needs of the customer or its not really customer service at all. Knowing this and acting upon it from the very beginning of a new engagement will give real meaning to the vendor’s customer service efforts.
RETS is a Real Estate Tax Servicing Platform that is thoughtfully configured with advanced features to mitigate vital tax servicing challenges faced by companies, including commercial mortgage servicers. Our tradition for excellent customer service is based on 100+ years of tax servicing experience distributed across a team of servicing experts that customize RETS to each client’s specific needs. RETS delivered assured cost savings and reduced risk through a flexible fee structure based on loan type and upfront visibility of delinquent exposure.
About the author:
Eric Wilson, a mortgage industry veteran with over 20 years of experience, serves as Senior Vice President Business Leader - Mortgage for SLK Global. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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