October 12, 2015

Asking What Customers Want, Early and Often

Dave Lowman
Dave Lowman, EVP Single-Family Business

Whether a business involves complex financial transactions, like Freddie Mac, or delivers things, like Amazon, customers judge service by processing their experience through four questions: Did you understand what I wanted? Did you have what I wanted? Did you follow-through to make sure I got what I wanted? Did you beat my expectations?

The key to building a great customer service shop is organizing for great answers to those questions. Here's what I've learned over the last 25 years of running mortgage operations, large and small, about organizing teams to deliver winning service to its customers.

First, ask customers what they want and how we can improve. Ask early, often and always. Because what customers want is the blueprint for intelligently prioritizing the products to fast-track and the systems to upgrade. And what customers want is in a constant state of change.

It seems obvious. Yet over the years I've encountered business teams that seem to assume they intuitively know what customers want.  I've learned that when business teams say that "we've got it all figured out and our process is perfect" they are in the danger zone.  It's only a matter of time before they end up telling customers how they are going to be served, instead of finding out what they really want.

I learned this early in my career when I ran a big correspondent business that always seemed to be one step behind what the customer needed. To fix that, we made a fundamental change. We spent all of our time at conferences and business meetings asking customers face-to-face where we were falling short. They told us and we went to work retooling our operation to give them what they asked for.

Second, look at the cultures of companies that set the pace for customer service. Last summer, 24/7 Wall St. collaborated with Zogby Analytics to survey 1500 adults about customer service quality from 151 of America's best known companies. Topping the list was Amazon, which is not surprising. They laser focus on customers.

You can tell which lenders have an 'Amazon-like' drive to delight customers when you walk into their offices. Their CEO, top executives, and employees come to work thinking the same thing: how many customers can I reach today and how many of their problems can I solve? And they don't leave for the day until every call they received is returned. Customer service is not just something new employees are trained to do. It's in their culture's DNA. It's something you can feel because it's continually reinforced by the way co-workers, bosses, and senior executives act.

I also learned that accountability and certainty are two critical parts of any company's customer service DNA.

Thanks to technology that puts the world at our fingertips, today's customers expect faster turnaround times than ever before. Customers expect fast answers and don't want to see their problem passed around. They also want certainty that the answers they get won't change the day after tomorrow.

At Freddie Mac, we have changed our approach to reflect these and other lessons I learned about serving our customers. We are asking early, often and always what our customers want. Perhaps that's because I was a Freddie Mac customer myself for 25 years. Our customers tell me they are noticing the change. That's good but we still have a ways to go. Delivering top customer service is like running a marathon.

Next week at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Convention and Expo in San Diego I look forward to meeting with as many of our customers as I can. If I don't have the opportunity to meet with you personally, I urge you to stop by and see us in Room 3, Upper Level, at the San Diego Convention Center. Tell us how we're doing and how we can improve.

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