When Justin Crowley asks his clients what they want, the top three answers have been overwhelmingly clear.
They want him to answer correspondence quickly; they want to have a thorough understanding of the mortgage process; and they don’t want to be bothered for things they either don’t need, have already given, or that waste their time. The rest is gravy.
“If I can be respectful of their time and give them as much time of my time as they need to understand, and then at the very end of it say, ‘does everything make sense to you? Are you happy? Is this good?’ that’s the overwhelming set of reasons that I get why people come back to me and why people refer me,” Crowley said.
Crowley is the senior mortgage loan originator at First Western Trust, and closed $98 million in 2017. Over the years, he and his team have established habits that have contributed to his success, and one of those habits is touching each file at least once every 48 hours. That way, if something falls through the cracks or drops off the conveyor belt, so to speak, it gets back on schedule with minimal disruption. This allows them to avoid most of the last-minute fire drills—or at least, he says, the ones that are self-inflicted.
More than that, though, Crowley says that it’s one of the two instances where referral business is earned: by keeping the process as smooth and painless as possible and by identifying a problem and fixing it quickly and efficiently.
“When there’s an issue we want to be the ones to identify it, find the solution and implement the solution first and foremost before anyone else, to really show that we’re the strongest link in that chain. That earns us that respect and those referrals, not only from the clients, but also the realtors, the builders, and all the other people involved,” Crowley said.
Automation and technology aren’t top of Crowley’s business requirements. That’s not to say that he doesn’t use them (he does), but they’re mostly implemented behind the scenes. When it comes to interactions with other people, the best way to answer questions specifically and accurately is by doing it directly.
“If it’s something that doesn’t require communication with that customer or the customer’s agent, where we don’t have to be absolutely 100% precise in our answers and guidance, then we’ll automate that as best we can, but when it comes to the forward-facing stuff, we just find that the risks outweigh the rewards. And the rewards are usually one-dimensional,” Crowley adds. “It helps me have more time, but that doesn’t help my client. So I have to make the sacrifice to give them the time and that’s where they see the value.”
Helping customers see the value is something that is getting increasingly difficult. There’s so much information readily available to consumers, it’s difficult for them to sort the good resources from the bad resources, and identify the factual information that’s relevant to their particular situation.
It’s that challenge, not rising rates or margin compression or consolidation, that’s on Crowley’s mind as how best to serve his borrowers.
“There’s so much bad information online, and that tends to be where a lot of people, especially millennials, go first before they talk to someone like me,” he said. “In the past when people contacted me, the first conversation is, ‘hey, I have no clue what I’m doing, help me out,’ now the conversation tends to start off ‘hey, let me tell you all the things I read on the internet and you tell me what’s true and what’s not, and then let’s start having that conversation’, so you have to fight through that information, good bad or otherwise before you can start having the conversation,” he said.
The other challenge, he said, is the over-commoditization of the mortgage industry. In the quest for “the best deal” borrowers forget that there are two components to that: what they pay and what they get. There’s so much emphasis placed on the price that people forget the potential value in expertise, and it’s hard to break those barriers with a borrower before they’re even clients.
For borrowers who do commit to him, though, Crowley and his team are developing new ways to accommodate their needs. They want to focus on using digital tools to produce content on questions and subjects that frequently arise during initial conversations. Regardless of how a client wants to communicate, this content could be sent or otherwise accessed at their leisure.
Responding to client needs are something that some originators overlook, even though it could result in more business and more referrals. Crowley has seen this over the past couple of years when talking to other originators.
“When I ask them, ‘what are the top three things you’re doing that are getting you more business?’ inevitably, most of those answers are things like direct mail and drip campaigns, it’s all this stuff that somebody else told them will get them business. So when I slow them down and say, ‘what do your clients want, what do your customers want?’ most of them have the deer in headlights look,” he said.
For him, it all comes back to answering the phone, returning emails, being honest, knowing the craft, learning the guidelines, and keeping it personal. All of the other things can be added later.
“I try to be available and I try to be a living breathing human being for a process that requires that to usher them through those challenges.”