Proactive, Personalized, Positive:
Evolving to Provide the Best Homeowner Experience
One of the best ways for an organization to demonstrate its values is by baking them right into everyday interactions with its customers.
Lou Sigillo and Denise Flannery both know this firsthand, with decades of experience thinking about how to best serve clients and provide customers a warm, welcoming experience.
Lou’s journey on this path started at Verizon in 1994, where he rose through the ranks as call center agent, supervisor, manager, director and vice president, before eventually leading nationwide customer service for the telecommunications giant. Now Cenlar’s Senior Vice President of Contact Centers, Lou is responsible for overseeing the transformation of the frontlines of our customer care.
Denise, meanwhile, has more than 35 years of experience in the financial services industry, focused on forward-looking strategic thinking, communications and marketing strategy. As Cenlar’s Vice President of Corporate Communications and Marketing, she has spearheaded efforts within the organization to approach every homeowner moment with an eye toward service, understanding and empathy.
Together, their teams have partnered in a cross-organization initiative to evolve the homeowner experience at Cenlar. It’s an effort that requires careful reflection on how homeowners encounter every aspect of the business.
Denise and Lou sat down recently to discuss their philosophies on the homeowner experience, and how they are making those ideas reality at Cenlar.
Senior Vice President of Contact Centers
Vice President of Corporate Communications and Marketing
Q: What does the phrase “homeowner experience” mean to you? Why is it important?
Lou Sigillo: The homeowner experience is not a single moment in time. It’s the full experience, over the lifetime of the relationship with the homeowner. That experience has many “Moments of Truth,” whether that’s onboarding, escrow, payments or year-end. We need to be aware of those moments, and do everything we can to ensure they’re as personalized and proactive as possible. It’s especially important for us to be our best at those moments when homeowners needs us most.
Denise Flannery: The homeowner experience is so important, too, because it ties right back into who we are at Cenlar and our core values. All of our core values — Respect, Trust, Integrity and Caring — are equally important. But “caring” is so key. In fact, we like to say that the very best expression of this value is caring for our clients’ homeowners as if they were our own. A home is most likely a person’s largest asset. It is the place where their family is, where they make memories. It’s so much more than the building itself. If we think of the role we play as a mortgage servicer, we should make it easy for the homeowner — easy to learn about their mortgage, easy to get what they need when they need it, easy to get problems fixed right the first time. We should be responsive, attentive and anticipatory. If we can anticipate what homeowners’ needs are, that’s a much better experience for them.
Q: Has thinking about the homeowner experience shifted during the course of your career?
Absolutely. The homeowner now has the expectation that you know them, you remember what they told you, that you use that information to better serve them and you customize their experience as much as possible.
It’s also about Cenlar’s evolution. We are all about client satisfaction and wanting to be their trusted partner. A big part of that is how we treat their homeowners.
We don’t want to just be a servicer. We want to be a partner. That’s a much higher level of servicing because it’s not just transactions, it’s a relationship.
Just look at Cenlar.com. Not very long ago, the website didn’t accommodate homeowners like it does today. There were millions of people going to the site because they knew their mortgage was serviced by Cenlar, but they couldn’t get any information there. With the launch of our new site last year, we’ve put important, really good information on the site. That’s a huge mindset difference.
Q: How else is Cenlar making sure that evolution becomes reality?
It takes many areas of the company working in partnership to make that happen. Marketing, Operations, Client Management to name a few — we all have the homeowner experience in mind. We are working hard to define and deliver the best homeowner experience we can.
It’s looking at how we should be proactively talking with them, educating them, giving them what they need. Lou’s team is providing us with a wealth of homeowner information — analytics and details — so that as a company, we make good changes to the homeowner experience through listening to the homeowners. We, as a subservicer, need to be really good at the homeowner experience.
We are constantly having new portfolios come in and existing portfolios go, as our clients are selling their loans to others. That first 90 days after a homeowner learns their loan has been sold is like triage. We have to be the best at it because that coming and going can be turmoil for the homeowner. We want to make sure homeowners feel like they have landed in the right place and that we’ve got this handled.
Q: Lou, how has Cenlar adapted to these expectations in our Contact Centers?
There are certain things that are expected of our Contact Centers. We need to answer the phone quickly, and have the tools and information that our homeowners need. We don’t get a lot of credit when we only do those things.
However, how the homeowner walks away from an interaction with us is totally in our control. We’ve done so much to give homeowners who need answers to simple questions the tools to do so without having to call, whether that’s through the IVR, the web, our app or our bots. The calls that are left for our Contact Center representatives are often complex and from homeowners with new loans or those who have just started their relationship with Cenlar. Making those experiences positive and handling the homeowner’s questions in a single contact are super important.
We’re spending a lot of time with our Contact Center representatives to work with them on how they break down the components of a call, making sure they understand why the homeowner has called and acknowledging the reason for the call. We want them to be empathetic and make a connection with the homeowner, as much as possible. This is their home they’re calling about, after all.
We work with our representatives to develop specific skills in listening, expectation-setting and resolution, so the homeowner understands immediately what we’re going to do, how long it will take and what the follow-up will be if we can’t handle something on the first call.
Q: Denise, you’ve said being proactive also means educating homeowners about their loan. Why is that important?
The more educated a homeowner is, the better. Again, this is their largest asset. They need to be aware of and understand the basics of their loan — processes like escrow analysis.
Also, as a regulated entity, we have to make sure we are experts on programs that a homeowner should have access to while working with our clients. The pandemic is one good example of that. We had to first consider how we communicate with homeowners in a way that makes it easy, especially in a crisis situation. Under those complex circumstances, there’s no such thing as too much communication.
Q: So, essentially, providing a better homeowner experience requires thinking like a homeowner. What is Cenlar doing to be empathetic as an organization?
For our Contact Centers, it starts with the interview process, how we recruit and screen our representatives, and what skills we look for during the hiring process. Then it’s things like monitoring with tools like speech analytics and reporting, and using that information to coach our representatives.
With the new telephony system we launched in March 2021, we do segment our calls between simple, complex, high-value and specialized. When we have new hires, we only send them simple calls during their first few months to help get them comfortable on the more basic call types. If they do well, we graduate them to the complex topics, such as taxes, escrow and insurance.
We try to add empathy by thinking about the language we use when communicating with homeowners. Is it understandable, plain language? Is it as welcoming as it can be? Does it help the homeowner understand their situation and what they may need to do?
Q: With so many variables, how does Cenlar ensure it provides a consistently positive experience for homeowners?
One thing we do right now is survey homeowners after calls. More than 40,000 homeowners have completed our new quality survey since we launched it in September, and we’re making great strides. Homeowner satisfaction scores have increased month-over-month consistently.
We continually need to keep improving and listening to our homeowners, and listening to what our clients tell us about the homeowner experience. We need to take all this in and understand. As a company, we subscribe to the notion of continuous improvement. We can always be better.
From a marketing perspective, at some point, we will consider surveying homeowners about their experience in addition to the surveys they are asked to complete after a call. Right now, we do survey our clients after they go through implementation with us. We should consider the same thing with homeowners.
Q: What is your vision for the future of the homeowner experience at Cenlar?
It’s more than just the Contact Centers. It’s the true omni-channel view of the homeowner experience, making sure everything is connected and there is a seamless homeowner experience that makes sense when you go from one channel to another. It’s taking what we know about the homeowner to be proactive and anticipating their needs. It’s making the self-service channels so easy to use that our homeowners prefer to use them over calling. And if they ever need to call, we’re always there for them, with quality, caring service.
We also really want to be the chosen partner that clients ask, “Can you help me market to my homeowners?"
We have been developing strong relationships with the marketing departments of several of our clients. I would like to do that more and more, by listening to what our clients’ marketing teams and service leads tell us they would like to see. I’d like to deliver solutions to them across all vehicles, so they’re able to target their homeowners in a timely fashion based on their objectives. Each client is different and equally important to us. How can we help them work with their homeowners and be that strong partner each and every day?