ICE Mortgage Technology’s Sandra Madigan: When Technology Supports Empathy, Everyone Wins

Sandra Madigan is executive vice president of servicing product strategy with ICE Mortgage Technology.

Exceptional customer experiences transform lives. That’s especially true in mortgage servicing, where the experience we’re supporting is home ownership – and all the well-being, wealth-building and financial commitment that entails. A good customer experience can also be the key to fierce brand loyalty, which is no small thing at a time when comparative offers are just a few clicks away.

A recent customer loyalty study from PwC found volatility in consumer behavior at an “all-time high.” Twenty-six percent of 4,000 consumers surveyed said they’d stopped using or buying from a business in the past year. Of those, 32% cited a poor customer experience as the main reason.

Among financial service customers specifically, more than half (55%) said a lack of human interaction would be their main reason for leaving. So how your customers are treated during every experience they have with your team really matters if you want to retain their business and perhaps refinance their loan as interest rates drop. Ironically, in today’s busy and chaotic world, the key to providing consistent high-quality human interaction is technology.

To consistently provide superior customer experiences today, servicers need technology that performs to a high standard. Technology that supports mobility, automates repetitive tasks and prompts customers to help them find the information they need or connects them with a human who can answer their questions. That level of support and empathy needs to be considered and baked into your mortgage servicing platform long before it hits the market.

Putting People First From the Start

Empathy-led product development is looking from the outside-in as you develop software and products in the servicing space. This approach is especially important as the market shifts and customers begin to inquire about refinances or home equity products or lines of credit. If they call their servicer and receive poor service or a runaround, they may take their business elsewhere.

Ask yourself, how well does your servicing team handle homeowner inquiries? Are they supported with intuitive software that helps them guide customers to solutions as a single point of contact or are they juggling multiple screens, searching for sticky notes, or handing customers off to someone else who may or may not have answers?

Also consider that while most interactions on the servicing side are about processing payments or managing escrow accounts, some are more sensitive. For example, being behind on payments or not understanding what’s happening when you get a servicing transfer letter can be an embarrassing and frustrating experience for a homeowner. If your response is to tell them to check the Q&A on the website or, worse, transfer them to several different departments, you’re setting off poor customer service alarms. When customers do reach out, how well does your team support them? Are they handled as people or are they just loan numbers?

To understand the difference in approaches, ICE has spent a great deal of time mapping the customer’s journey and outcomes so that our products deliver a user experience that is empathetic, frictionless and proactive to homeowners. This approach earns trust, which translates into customer loyalty. Homeowners who trust your brand will return when buying a new home, refinancing or tapping into home equity.

How Empathy Guides Our Servicing Software Development

While a product roadmap is important to product development, so are our developers and the unique experiences we bring to the table. We are people. We are homeowners. And we’ve all experienced good and bad customer service.

At ICE, we use our customer journey roadmap and our own experiences to redefine how technology supports servicing. Empathetic product development is just as focused on the outcome as how it helps people get there. To do that, flexibility and the ability to customize should be built into the platform. For example, instead of the borrower calling your office to discuss their late payment, they could fill out a waiver that the system helps you process according to rules you’ve set, approving requests from accounts that have not been late during the previous 12 months or denying those owned by a certain investor. The same service logic can be applied to loss mitigation by automatically offering payment options and allowing the homeowner to submit documents to support a forbearance or other mortgage relief.

The empathetic experience we support through our consumer-facing web and mobile application, Servicing Digital, also carries through to our back-office solutions, so it’s easy for your team to provide homeowners with the information and support they need. Making servicing procedures easily accessible and supporting workflows with servicer-defined, rules-based automation gives team members the ability to get up to speed faster on the system and assist customers through more situations, while optimizing the servicing process.

Our goal is to provide both servicers and customers with easy-to-use tools to help better manage the loan, and when a hardship may occur, help those customers stay in their homes. This all begins with a proactive approach that educates customers about the options available to them before they need assistance and follows through with a software ecosystem that makes it easier for your team to support homeowners with everything from offering answers to frequently asked questions to getting back on track with payments after a hardship.

Empathy as a Competitive Advantage

As market conditions improve, making the right impression with homeowners interacting with your team becomes even more essential. If rates drop as forecasted in 2024, many will be looking to refinance, pull out home equity or maybe buy an investment or vacation property. If you’re already providing them with great customer service, maybe even sending birthday cards or holiday greetings, you’ll likely be their first call when they start to consider another financial investment.

To become a trusted partner, you need to be thinking about ways to support your customers home finance needs, especially the most sensitive ones. To that end, you can use outreach texts or emails to educate them about frequently asked questions, like how amortization works or why they will receive a 1098 tax form. Those communications, especially if they include a link to a brief video, can head off calls to your servicing team and leave your customers feeling comforted and cared about.

Sending personal messages will also keep your company name in front of customers. As the PwC data show, relationships matter, and some consumers are willing to leave a company that does not deliver a personal and supportive experience every time they interact with you.

You want to position your company as the one that’s been there for them over many years, offering ongoing support and deserving of their long-term loyalty. Technology that lets you proactively manage that relationship will set you apart and earn you preferred partner status with new and existing customers.

(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 Editor Michael Tucker or Editorial Manager Anneliese Mahoney.)