REQUIRED READING: With the multitude of challenges facing the mortgage servicing industry – from rising default and foreclosure rates, increased real estate owned (REO) inventories and loan modification efforts to an ever-widening circle of regulatory compliance issues – the customer service aspect of operations often gets lost in the mix. And yet in today's environment, customer service has become more important – and demanding – than ever.
Customer service representatives (CSRs) are fielding calls that run the entire gamut of servicing operations. It is crucial that mortgage servicing companies continue to strive for customer service excellence, consistency, compliance and accuracy, even in the midst of what can sometimes seem like operational chaos.
CSRs need to be able to provide answers to an incredibly varied set of issues, but most lack the targeted access to the information they need to resolve customer issues quickly, efficiently and correctly. The challenge, though, is not a lack of data. In fact, most CSRs today have far too much information to perform their duties most effectively.
In most shops, CSRs must be trained to know exactly what to look for and specifically where and how to find it amongst the massive amount of data contained within the average servicing platform. This situation is further complicated by the fact that many new people have been added to customer service departments to help manage skyrocketing call volumes, making the comprehensive level of training that is necessary both difficult and time-consuming.
However, by implementing lightweight, dedicated front-end customer service applications, the glut of information can be filtered and focused to deliver new levels of efficiency to mortgage servicing customer service operations. Through the smart use of available technology and proper access to specialized data, servicers can achieve optimum utilization of human resources while ensuring consistency and accuracy in all customer service interactions.
Jacks and Jills of all trades
The customer service organization is, by definition, a catchall entry point for every possible consumer-facing mortgage servicing issue. In today's environment, that means calls regarding loan modification, collection, escrow analysis, insurance, tax payments, adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) resets – you name it. The average CSR can expect to receive calls on a tremendous variety of call types within any given day.
As the servicer's first line of communication with borrowers, the customer service department must quickly assess customer issues, determine the proper course of action for resolution and route the task to whomever it is within the organization who can accomplish that resolution. In such cases, having access to too much information can slow down the process immeasurably.
Rather, CSRs need data access that allows them to quickly focus the request based on the reason for the customer's call. Further, incoming calls tend to be cyclical, based on things such as outgoing communications from the servicer itself, media coverage of new government programs and so on. The department needs to be able to shift focus quickly as these cycles occur.
For instance, escrow analyses are sent out to borrowers, and for the next few weeks, the overwhelming majority of incoming customer service calls may be escrow related. The customer service staff must be able to quickly call up the borrower's last analysis and understand historically what deposits have been made into the account while being able to clearly explain why the account is short or over the required balance.
The following week may see the distribution of ARM notices, requiring a completely different set of data and skills to answer customer questions. The CSR must now be able to explain indices, Treasury bill rates, margins, rounding, payment calculations and interest rates. One can see how having the necessary expertise and information easily at hand can be critical to the effective handling of these calls.
The ability to build such screens on the fly will give the CSR a distinct advantage. For example, imagine how effective CSRs could be if servicers could quickly build screens to help CSRs respond to unpredictable events such as natural disasters. Even more important, imagine a customer's perspective on servicers' responsiveness.
Once it is clear what type of service call a CSR is dealing with, it really is a matter of putting the right data set quickly into his or her hands. Often, this is simple enough: confirming balances, validating the receipt of payments, ensuring that insurance or taxes have been paid, etc.
With all these variables, complex calls require CSRs to have access to not only the right data set, but also to scripts, which can help improve the customer experience.
Guiding through scripting
Part of the challenge facing CSRs is walking a customer through complicated processes in an easy-to-understand manner. In the escrow-analysis example above, this would entail explaining the proper balance for the escrow account, the various deposits and disbursements that have been made into and out of that account, and how a projection is developed based upon that information.
Historically, this has required a level of understanding and expertise on the part of the CSR that could only be achieved through time and training. As the demands on servicing organizations have increased in recent years, many of those more senior and experienced staff members have been shifted to other, perhaps more mission-critical, areas of the enterprise.
Fortunately, these discussions can be scripted and provided to the CSR alongside the relevant customer data. By scripting and matching data to particular situations, the customer service staff becomes much more adept at effectively and appropriately fielding a myriad of call types while, at the same time, keeping training time to a minimum.
Of course, knowing when to pass a call is just as important as knowing how to resolve one. Returning again to the escrow-analysis example: If it becomes apparent that taxes were dispersed twice, the CSR should route a real-time task to the department responsible for resolving that exception. The same sort of task routing could easily apply to cashiering and a misapplied payment, or to an ARM department to address a wrong index or rounding factor.
Handling customer service calls effectively is, therefore, basically a three-tiered event.
First, it is crucial that CSRs have quick and easy access to the right data to answer any type of customer request.Â
Second, because the requests themselves can be so wide-ranging and can call for varied degrees of expertise and understanding, the servicer should have scripted process flows for CSRs to follow, with relevant data fed in along the way.
Third, when there is some sort of exception that CSRs cannot handle on their own, there must be some sort of facility for passing that request on to another person or department that will take responsibility for resolution.
The goal is for the first-line customer service organization to answer and resolve between 75% and 80% of calls without routing on to another department. To achieve this, the servicer must have a set of tools that not only provides access to data, but intelligently guides the CSR through a scripted process flow based on the type of data he or she is accessing.
Because the data that feeds these tools generally will come directly from the servicing platform, the first thing the servicer should do is reach out to its platform provider to see if this sort of functionality is available. An important factor is to ensure the servicer's recommended solution to enhance customer service operations is simple enough to use without a lot of up-front training time.
As mentioned earlier, servicers are hiring more and more people to handle customer service, while often moving more experienced personnel to other areas of the enterprise to handle the increasing volume of complex loan modification discussions along with other calls best handled by the most experienced personnel. Customer service call volumes today are massive, and it has become essential to have a clean user interface where it is a simple matter, even for less experienced service reps, to drill down as far as necessary to answer customer questions quickly and correctly.
Servicers would do well to ask their platform providers if they have the capability to provide the three-tiered event spelled out above, and through what mechanism. Beyond providing the data and process scripting, this should also include the ability to feed exceptions into the work queues of various divisions across the enterprise.
Specifically, a servicer should ask its vendor if a platform targets the right servicer-defined data and can help the servicer to define the right processes to put that data contextually in front of its users. Also, since flexibility is key to adjusting processes and adapting to changes in volumes, does the vendor allow the servicer to determine its own decisions based on that data and those processes?
By providing CSRs with the right data, at the right time, to answer the widest variety of customer questions accurately and consistently, mortgage servicers will be ensuring customer service excellence across the board while improving efficiencies and saving time and money in the process.
George Fitzgerald is senior vice president of product strategy for Lender Processing Services' mortage servicing unit, and Lesley Grimes is senior vice president of information management for the company's mortgage processing services division. Fitzgerald and Grimes can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.