Customer service is your biggest differentiator

Joe Caltabiano, one of the nation’s top originators, talks about what separates Guaranteed Rate from the pack

Joe Caltabiano is one of the top producers at Guaranteed Rate, one of the nation’s largest privately held mortgage lenders. Guaranteed Rate is also one of the top mortgage companies when it comes to customer satisfaction, beating out big contenders like Wells Fargo and Chase in J.D. Power’s satisfaction rankings.

Caltabiano, who’s based in Chicago, has funded more than $2.5 billion in loans since 2001, and has been one of the top loan officers in the country every year since 2005. So far this year alone, he’s closed $250 million in loans. MPA recently sat down with Caltabiano to talk about how Guaranteed Rate keeps its customers satisfied – and likely to recommend the company to others.

“At Guaranteed Rate we take customer service seriously. It’s of the utmost importance,” Caltabiano said. “Our business is built on a referral basis – whether that’s referrals from real estate agents or past customers. And the easiest and least expensive way to increase your business is to provide good service to your customer. The people that you do loans for are your biggest advocates – or, unfortunately, your biggest detractors.”

One of the simplest things an originator can do, Caltabiano said, is get back to customers quickly. Caltabiano has a policy that he will return a customer’s phone call about any issue, great or small, within 24 hours.

“More often than not, we hear people say they’ve contacted their bank and haven’t heard back for 24, 48, 72 hours – for little things,” he said. “If I leave a phone message for my insurance agent, I expect a call back the same day. I want my response quickly. That’s something that we drill down on at every level at Guaranteed Rate.”

Guaranteed Rate also reaches out to customers directly to find out how to make the mortgage process more buyer-friendly.

“We do post-loan surveys to customers, and we take their feedback very seriously,” Caltabiano said. “Obviously, the response rate is never as high as you would want. But the 15-20% of people that do respond, we ask them some key questions – about what they’re happy with, and about what they’re unhappy with. Now, sometimes people are disenchanted with the loan process itself – and it’s hard to fix Dodd-Frank as a loan officer. But if it’s real constructive criticism, we take that very seriously.”

And customer criticism can have consequences. Guaranteed Rate, like many mortgage companies, gives performance bonuses to highly effective originators. But those originators can lose bonuses if they have a history of customer complaints.

“It’s really listening to people and what they want, and making changes appropriately,” Caltabiano said. “Treating people how you want to be treated is the underlying baseline. It really can differentiate you a lot, especially from the big banks.”

So why do many big banks struggle when it comes to customer service? In Caltabiano’s opinion, it comes down to too many cooks spoiling the broth.

“What happens is that banks become very compartmentalized. When I talk to customers, I explain to them that I’m involved in their transaction from the day it started to the day it funds,” he said. “With my clients, I’m a one-stop shop. Now, I have support people – but I make it very clear to clients in our initial conversation that I am their ‘throat to grab’ through the entire process –and even after the loan funds.

“People at banks get compartmentalized. They don’t have access to the next level of information,” he said. “They’re not the conduits to find out about underwriting, whereas I am. They’re not the conduit to find out whether payment’s been received, whereas I am. I’m not the one underwriting the loan – but I’m the person who can give the update on the underwriting. They don’t have to reach out to someone else.”
And with a relatively flat rate environment, that personal service can make a big difference.

“Rates in general are fairly generic from bank to mortgage broker to mortgage banker. At the end of the fay were all drawing from a similar well,” Caltabiano said. “Customer service is a giant differentiator. Having someone who knows the underwriter and knows how the process flows is critical.”