Stanley Middleman of Freedom Mortgage: Creating Customers for Life is Not That Hard
Stanley C. Middleman is president and CEO of Freedom Mortgage Corp., Boca Raton, Fla., one of the largest and fastest-growing full-service independent mortgage companies in the U.S. He is a nationally recognized business strategist, real estate investor and philanthropist, with more than 30 years of experience in the mortgage banking industry. He is an active member of the Mortgage Bankers Association, a current member of the Housing Policy Executive Council and serves on the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) Corporate Board of Governors.
When you achieve great success as a lender, everyone wants to know your secret—but there really isn’t one. There are many ways to run an enterprise, but at the end of the day, every business must be about the customer.
Everything a lender does must be fundamentally tied to the customer’s needs, whether it’s about making the loan process more efficient and convenient or providing innovative loan products with unique terms or underwriting requirements. Mortgage lenders must consistently deliver value to their customers to stay competitive or else they risk losing market share.
The ultimate goal, however, is building customers for life. That’s not so easy, especially when most people may only finance a home once or twice in a lifetime. But by following a few very basic principles, any lender can earn a customer’s lifelong business.
Be there for your customers
Traditionally, brand loyalty used to mean something in the business world. But as our economy has become more global and digital, consumers are now keenly aware of their options.
Mortgage lending is no different. In fact, according to Black Knight’s January 2021 Mortgage Monitor, the industry-wide retention rate for mortgage refinances had fallen to 18%, down from nearly 50% in 2011. Retention rates seem to drop over time as well, from 24% in the first two years to 15% after five years. I’m proud to share our customer retention rate at Freedom Mortgage is far greater than the industry average—because our customers know they can count on us.
Since any mortgage lender can launch an ad campaign or generate buzz on social media, borrowers today know that there are plenty of alternatives when it comes to home financing. One of the best ways to differentiate yourself and gain repeat business is to build trust by being there for your customers when they need you most, and then doing what you say you’re going to do.
For example, buyers who have very little or no down payment will always remember the lender that helped them into their first-time home with a down payment assistance program. And when interest rates drop, you should be letting your customers know they can refinance to pay off debt or simply lower their payment. When it comes to building long-lasting relationships, being there is half the battle.
Serve your other customers, too
Of course, borrowers aren’t a lender’s only customer. The most effective lenders are those that provide great service to their other customers—real estate agents, title companies, insurance carriers, and investors. How well lenders support their partners and nurture their businesses in tandem will be reflected in their ability to grow these relationships and gain referrals.
Obviously, the best way to incentivize your partners to give you referrals is providing great service and delivering a seamless home purchase experience to the borrower. When you perform well for your business partners, they are more likely to refer you to co-workers, friends, or family. Even in our modern digital world, word of mouth can be a powerful ally, because the message is coming from a trusted source, your partner, and usually has emotion built into it (a positive experience valuable enough to share).
Most importantly, you need to serve your own team, because without them you will not be able to service your customers. Make sure your team has the right tools to help them work efficiently and the proper training to effectively support each and every customer to their satisfaction. It takes everyone in an organization working together to achieve the desired outcome.
Invest in the relationship
It shouldn’t be so, but most mortgage lenders have been so busy over the past couple of years that customer satisfaction became sort of an afterthought. Times have clearly changed, however, and in today’s business world, the customer experience is everything. Remember, borrowers have plenty of choices when it comes to home financing. To stay competitive and give borrowers a reason to stay with you for their future financial needs, we as lenders need to go above and beyond.
Early on in my career, I decided that my customers were far more important to me than simply getting transactions done, so I shifted my entire focus and placed more energy into meeting their current and future needs. This was a complete 180 from managing the transaction to managing the relationship.
To me, managing the relationship meant doing a better job at handling payments and escrow accounts and being more mindful about what my customers wanted to achieve. Every time interest rates change, for instance, you need to be thinking about what this might mean to your customers. There is no better strategy to improve recurring revenues and scale your business than putting yourself in your customer’s shoes at all times.
At the end of the day, creating customers for life really isn’t that hard, but you do need to consistently work at it. Just understand that generating repeat business boils down to being able to provide each customer the best product and service that helps them fulfill their goals. Then simply nurture the relationship and build your business around that customer. They will remember that you were always there for them—so much so, that they’ll be happy to tell everyone they know.
By meeting or exceeding expectations in every deal, you can create a customer for life. Yes, our business is transactional, but these transactions are a means to helping your customer achieve their goals—whatever they may be. Put your customers first, and your business is bound to flourish.
(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at email@example.com; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)