Toby Wells of Cornerstone Servicing on Customer Retention and Technology

Toby Wells has more than 25 years of experience in servicing, originations, capital markets and asset management. He currently serves as president of Cornerstone Servicing, Englewood, Colo., a division of Cornerstone Capital Bank SSB, Houston, a provider of mortgage servicing platforms designed to empower healthy, sustainable homeownership. He can be reached at

Toby Wells

“Customer retention is the goal of every servicer, but retaining customers requires eliminating common pain points homeowners have while focusing on innovative ways to keep their attention. In order to accomplish this, servicers need to be committed to providing a great customer experience and have the appropriate end-to-end servicing technology to engage with their clients.” –Toby Wells.

MBA NEWSLINK: Why do so many servicers miss the mark when it comes to retaining borrowers?

TOBY WELLS, CORNERSTONE SERVICING: There can be several reasons, but it’s important to understand retention is a reflection of a servicer’s overall customer experience and operational performance. Retention rates reveal whether customers are happy with the quality of service they receive throughout the life of their loan.

First, a servicer can have the best technologies and resources that are available, but retention always comes back to people and culture. This is where many servicers miss the mark. Fostering a culture of service and excellence separates a servicer from the pack. This takes consistent and ongoing engagement around shared values and goals that drive the ideal customer experience. It’s also important to champion and invest in team members who exemplify the organization’s culture.

Second, servicers need to get the basics right. This means ensuring payments are processed accurately and on time, customer service representatives are available, knowledgeable, and efficient, and customers have quick access to the resources and support they need. It sounds simple, but this is an area where many servicers tend to fall short of customers’ needs and expectations.

Finally, it’s about listening and learning from customer interactions with a goal to continuously improve. Borrowers are a valuable source of feedback. By dedicating time to understand their needs and preferences, servicers can identify opportunities to improvement and make enhancements to elevate their customer experience. This goes a long way in earning customers’ trust and loyalty.

NEWSLINK: What new technologies can help improve customer retention?

WELLS: Our industry is becoming more sophisticated in deploying AI-driven technologies for proactive recapture campaigns. For example, we are developing ways to detect when customers are thinking about buying a new home or refinancing, then present them with information and resources that will help them explore options. This is one way we can better personalize a homeowner’s experience based on their needs and interests, while fueling our subservicing clients’ retention programs.

Across our operations, we are leveraging AI to improve and streamline customer engagement while reducing servicing costs. For example, our convenient, 24/7 self-service options are being driven by conversational IVR and chatbot technologies, which are programmed to answer common questions on demand. They can also guide homeowners through routine processes like making or scheduling payments, setting up autopay, and updating their communication preferences. When a caller prefers to speak with us, our IVR quickly routes them to a customer care team member who has the skills and experience needed to efficiently help with their specific inquiry.

AI is also helping us analyze customer sentiment and track trends in our customer experience so we can constantly improve and exceed expectations. For example, we often use these insights to identify opportunities to clarify our communications, develop new educational resources like FAQs, add or adjust content in our customer portal, and improve team member training around a specific topic.

NEWSLINK: When it comes to customer experience, what separates great servicers from the rest of the pack?

WELLS: First, you need a team of great people. You can train just about anyone to follow processes and procedures, but you cannot train people to genuinely care. Recruiting team members who believe in our mission and project our service-driven culture is fundamental to the experience we create for homeowners and our subservicing clients.

Technology can make or break a customer’s experience. Last year, we seized the opportunity to build an integrated servicing platform with the latest and greatest technologies in a scalable way. Not having to work with legacy systems allowed us to thoughtfully curate and tailor our platform in unique ways to help simplify homeownership, streamline our operations, and deliver actionable insights and reporting to our clients for intelligent portfolio management and oversight.

Third, operational processes can often work against efforts to provide a great customer experience. Traditionally, areas like compliance or efficiencies tend to be the focal point, but customer experience really needs to be a key driver. We make a point to design processes and procedures that actually help create the positive homeownership experience we envision for customers.

Last but not least, communicating purposefully and thoughtfully is essential. Choosing a variety of channels to reach every customer is imperative. Crafting letters and helpful resources that are easy to read, digest and act upon is even more critical. Effective communication helps minimize delinquency rates, call volumes, complaints and vulnerabilities, while boosting customer satisfaction and trust, servicing portfolio health, retention, and profitability.

NEWSLINK: What are some current pain points homeowners face, and how can servicers better address them?

WELLS: On the customer service front, the most common pain points are long hold times, inefficient and incomplete service, and lack of follow-up on open requests. Having a modern, integrated servicing technology platform can help servicers minimize these types of issues with features like skill-based routing to quickly connect a caller to the customer service agent best equipped to help with their specific inquiry. Then, giving the agent a complete 360-degree view of the loan in real time—all in one place—enables them to resolve the inquiry on the spot. In addition, having an appropriate level of transparency around policies and procedures helps customers understand what to expect and minimizes confusion and unwanted surprises. Keeping homeowners informed of the status of more involved requests and following through with a resolution efficiently will yield customer satisfaction, trust, and loyalty.

Several pain points trace back to ineffective communications. We try to be very thoughtful about the communication channels we choose, timing, word choice, and creating a clear call to action. We also dedicate time and brainpower to create supporting educational resources for those who want to learn more on their own time. We do our best to communicate purposefully up front and provide intuitive online service options so customers do not have to spend time and energy calling us if they prefer not to.

NEWSLINK: In what ways can technology empower homeowners to become smarter homeowners?

WELLS: Technology has revolutionized the way homeowners manage their mortgages, making it easier than ever to stay on top of payments and get the most out of their investment. For example, our intuitive online portal gives homeowners 24/7 access to all the information they need. They can check their balance, view their payment history, and explore different payment options, all from the comfort of their own home.

Providing a wealth of educational resources and helpful tools online is another key to helping homeowners manage their mortgages in smart ways. Customers can leverage FAQs, step-by-step guides, and videos to better grasp complex topics like mortgage insurance and escrow shortages. It’s like having a mortgage expert within reach around the clock, wherever you are.

Content and notifications within the portal can also be personalized for individual homeowners so they can get the information they need in a timely manner through their chosen channels. Virtual assistants can also help homeowners navigate and utilize the portal anytime, day or night.

NEWSLINK: What are the biggest challenges facing servicers over the next year?

WELLS: Staying ahead of the curve with technology will continue to be a challenge. Investing in scalable and agile technologies will enable servicers to quickly adapt to changing needs, priorities, and regulatory guidelines. Servicers with robust systems and processes in place to effectively manage defaults, for example, will be better positioned if delinquency rates spike in the coming year. Servicers need to be prepared to provide proactive support and guidance to customers who may be struggling to make their payments.

Ultimately, these challenges will require much more out of servicers in the coming year, and a growing number of organizations are partnering with subservicers that have combined smart technology investments with a customer-centric approach. Especially in today’s challenging environment, having the right servicing partner can help fuel customer satisfaction, trust and retention.

(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policies 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 Michael Tucker, Editor, at