STRATMOR Group’s Sue Woodard: Prioritizing the Employee Experience

Sue Woodard is a senior advisor and consultant with mortgage advisory firm STRATMOR Group. A former top producing originator and winner of multiple industry awards, she began her mortgage career more than 30 years ago and is frequently called on as an industry speaker and subject matter expert. She may be reached

Sue Woodard

Prioritizing the Employee Experience is Key to a More Successful Business

In business, “the customer is always right” has long been a guiding principle behind customer service. While this motto undoubtedly holds value, it’s important to remember that the quality of the customer’s experience is directly linked to the well-being of an often-overlooked entity: your employees.

In the world of mortgage lending, where customer interactions are pivotal and financial decisions are life-changing, this connection is even more important. The truth is, your borrower’s experience will never exceed the quality of your employee experience, because the satisfaction your customers derive is firmly anchored in the experiences of your workforce.

It’s like a loop of positivity: happy employees make happy customers, and happy customers bring more business your way. Happy and engaged employees are more inclined to go the extra mile in delivering exceptional customer service. When employees feel valued, empowered and content in their work environment, their commitment to exceeding customer expectations becomes second nature.

This loop is especially vital in mortgages, where trust and relationships are critical. It’s a symbiotic relationship where the cycle of a satisfied employee delivering exemplary service culminates in satisfied customers who, in turn, become brand advocates and sources of referrals.

Employee Experience vs. Employee Engagement

But let’s not confuse the employee’s experience with employee engagement. Sure, they’re related, but they’re not the same thing. The employee experience is the whole package—work environment, perks, growth opportunities, and everything else that goes into making your employees feel satisfied. Employee engagement, on the other hand, is all about how emotionally invested employees are in your company’s goals.

Too often, the buzz around customer experience overshadows talk about employee experience. But creating that amazing customer journey starts with making sure your employees are content and feel valued. When you build a culture that values their voices, gives them room to learn and grow, and makes them feel like they belong, magic happens.

It’s not just about delivering better customer service to your team. It’s about giving them a reason to jump out of bed in the morning. When employees feel appreciated and satisfied, they don’t just do their jobs. They step up, innovate and own the whole customer experience.

Of course, I’m not ignoring the tough stuff mortgage lenders face—shifting markets, economic rollercoasters and rules that are constantly changing. But having a team that’s “all in?” That’s like having your very own power squad to take on those challenges!

Navigating Employee Challenges

We’ve talked about the magic that happens when your employees are on cloud nine, driving the customer experience to new heights. But let’s dive into a few more real-world challenges that are shaking things up in the mortgage industry.

You’ve probably heard of the “Great Resignation.” It’s been a wave hitting various industries, and while the mortgage sector hasn’t been hit as directly, it’s not immune. Everyone’s got new expectations now, which can make finding and keeping great employees a bit trickier.

And let’s not forget the “war for talent.” The lending industry knows this battlefield all too well. We’re in an era where every business is scrambling to secure top talent.

Now comes the plot twist: the future of work is changing faster than ever. With the rise of AI tools in the mortgage industry, employees are wondering about their roles and whether they might be replaced by shiny new technology. It’s like the economic downturn wasn’t enough. Now there’s the tech uncertainty to spice things up.

But the biggest barricade to boosting employee engagement? Management distraction. In STRATMOR Group’s talks with lenders, we hear that they care about employee satisfaction, but when you’re struggling to keep your head above water, the color of the boat doesn’t matter.

We get it—focusing on the employee experience might feel like a luxury when other storms are raging. But it’s essential for any lender’s future success.

Creating a Game Plan

Once the lightbulb goes off and leaders see the wisdom in giving their employees the VIP treatment, they need a game plan. But how do you even figure out what’s going on with the employee experience in the first place?

It’s simple. You ask them.

When every interaction counts, knowing your team’s vibes can be a game-changer. Here are three popular engagement models that can help lenders tap into the pulse of their workforce:

•           The PEARL Model, created by UK-based employee engagement consultancy People Insight, is a framework that gauges employee engagement through five factors: purpose, empowerment, alignment, relationships, and learning and development. By conducting regular surveys to measure the employee experience across these metrics, lenders can gain insights into how well they’re performing in areas that matter to their employees.

•           The Gallup Engagement Model, centered on the belief that employee engagement drives performance, employs Gallup’s Q12 Survey to assess fundamental employee needs. This model poses questions about whether employees know what’s expected of them, have the tools they need, and receive recognition for their efforts. These questions delve into employees’ perceptions of their workplace environment and interactions.

•           The Job Characteristics Model takes a different angle, focusing on how job design influences motivation by identifying core job characteristics.

These models offer diverse lenses for understanding and improving employee engagement. The PEARL Model homes in on specific factors, helping organizations assess their employee experience systematically. The Gallup Engagement Model focuses on fundamental employee needs, while the Job Characteristics Model explores how job design influences motivation.

By embracing any of these methods, lenders can decode the secret language of their employees’ experience. Understanding what drives engagement gives you the keys to crafting a workplace where people feel heard, appreciated and motivated to bring their A-game.

While market challenges may come and go, your employees are your secret sauce. Prioritizing their experience isn’t just about making them happy. It’s about turning them into the superheroes of your customer experience, and in the process, making your business shine.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve the employee experience at your firm, read the most recent STRATMOR Insights Report.  

(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 NewsLink Editor Michael Tucker at or Editorial Manager Anneliese Mahoney at