(by Jamey Lutz)
“The only sustainable advantage in business is world class service!” At the former HomeBanc Mortgage Corporation, this mantra was fervently recited by employees to kick off every company meeting, regardless of meeting type or size. It reflected the organization’s commitment to placing the customer at the center of everything.
I had the good fortune to serve in a senior customer experience leadership role for nearly five years during HomeBanc’s reign as Atlanta’s largest independent mortgage company, and one of the most profitable residential mortgage players in the southeast. Up until the global financial crisis forced HomeBanc to shutter its doors in August 2007, the company received numerous accolades as a national leader in both employee and customer service best practices. HomeBanc didn’t just “talk the talk.” They actually “walked the walk.”
Looking back nearly a decade later, there were several key operating tenets which fueled HomeBanc’s unique service culture; tenets that remain benchmark worthy today.
Tenet #1: It Takes A Village
Former CEO Pat Flood ran a tight ship. Customer service excellence was a non-negotiable, no holds-barred, take no prisoners requirement at HomeBanc, and it was relentlessly driven from the top-down. No one was exempt from this cultural mandate, whether you served the customer directly or supported a fellow colleague somewhere down the line who did.
Service escalations were also not something to be passed down from the executive office to a junior lieutenant for follow up. Receiving a complaint meant you were personally obligated (and empowered) to see it through to final resolution. While collaborating with subject matter experts on behalf of customer needs was both accepted and expected, final ownership lay with the initial complaint recipient.
Tenet #2: Train Relentlessly
One of the hallmarks of HomeBanc’s success in fostering a culture of service excellence was directly linked to training employees in the things that truly matter. Of course, technical competence and compliance are critical in any highly regulated environment. But HomeBanc made training investments beyond mere regulatory requirements to include strategies that enhanced customer rapport, demonstrated service empathy and brought certainty to the home loan process.
HomeBanc new-hire “boot camps” were among the toughest in the industry and lasted for several weeks depending on job role. Likewise, all employees were required to complete an annual “re-certification” training test to demonstrate mastery of key customer service principles.
Tenet #3: Measure Customer Sentiment
Complaints were viewed as a gift at HomeBanc. For many years, the organization offered a 100% unconditional service guarantee, the only one of its kind in the industry. Any customer who was not fully satisfied with their mortgage process was encouraged to request a refund of their application fee ($375 at the time). The only “catch” on HomeBanc’s behalf was purely educational in nature – the opportunity to learn where the company failed to deliver on its service covenant. It turns out that less than 1% of consumers annually took advantage of the offer, despite numerous verbal and documented reminders along the way.
The company also heavily leveraged customer feedback through the implementation of a closing table survey, a brief, albeit comprehensive questionnaire that measured the most critical touch points of the mortgage process. Survey results were tracked at the loan processor and loan officer levels and rolled up to a branch and overall corporate level. To ensure service excellence was continuously reinforced, HomeBanc leadership incorporated survey results into annual employee reviews, with sizable incentives awarded to top performers.
Tenet #4: Reward and Recognize Service Heroism
The term accountability is most often viewed through a negative behavioral prism highlighted by written warnings, documented performance improvement plans and when all else fails, termination. However, research is replete with examples showing that positive reinforcement of desired behaviors is much more impactful.
HomeBanc Mortgage invested heavily on the side of constructive accountability, as evidenced by the company’s response following the tragic death of one of its dearly beloved employees. Looking for a way to properly honor Ron Hicks, a loan processor who had faithfully served his fellow colleagues and customers so well over the years, the Ron Hick’s Customer Service Award was birthed.
At the end of each month, employees from across the organization submitted examples of service heroism observed within their branches and work areas. A formal committee met by phone to review top nominations and select both a winner and runner-up. Winning stories were celebrated during a monthly all-company call, with the winner awarded $250, his/her nameplate added to highly visible office recognition plaques and the opportunity to vie for a $25,000 grand prize at the HomeBanc annual meeting! While the financial investment the organization placed on service excellence was truly noteworthy, the heartwarming stories relayed by customers and employees alike were the stuff of legend.
So there you have it – some seemingly commonplace but highly impactful service tenets to differentiate you from your competition. Do you believe the only sustainable advantage in business is world-class service? If so, what steps will you take to enliven this mantra in your organization?
Forrest Performance Group (FPG) is a global leader and designer of sales training programs, management training programs, and corporate training programs. FPG leads change within companies by improving the skills and utilizing the existing talents of the company’s sales professionals, leadership, and executives.
This training and development is dedicated to transforming companies into sales organizations and focuses on perfecting the science and art of sales. FPG redefines the concept of training, changes culture, and transforms lives, one company at a time. FPG is the X-Factor – the hidden variable – to companies’ growth and success.
The company believes that true, permanent change begins at the top, transforms from the inside out, and requires long-term coaching and accountability, rather than short-term training. This belief system has led to accolades for FPG, the most notable of which was their placement on the 2016 Inc. 5000 list, the most prestigious ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. In addition, FPG was winner of the global Stevie Awards for Sales and Customer Service for two consecutive years: The Silver award in 2014 and the Gold in 2015 for sales training and coaching program of the year.