Focus on customers drives best-practice performance
By HIF Staff | October 13, 2016
Fannie Mae introduced the Servicer Total Achievement and Rewards™ (STAR™) program to offer performance and operational standards that help servicers excel in an ever-changing servicing industry.
Among its benefits, the program gives servicers access to best practices that are based on sustained performance Fannie Mae has observed in many of its largest servicer operations.
Servicers that have embraced these best practices have generally improved their overall performance by increasing their focus on customers.
STAR servicers participate in an operational assessment, and a servicer capability model rates their results. The STAR program identifies best practices among the best servicers in three key areas: general servicing, solution delivery, and timeline management.
“Through years of strong partnerships with our STAR servicers we have seen significant process improvements that have led servicers to be more timely and effective when working with their customers,” says Caroline Patane, vice president and credit risk officer at Fannie Mae. “By sharing the STAR best practices, we are striving to continue to raise the bar in servicing.”
Putting Customers First
In recent years, focusing on the customer has helped differentiate the performance of best-in-class servicers, says Patane.
By adopting a customer-centric approach, Central Mortgage Company has seen its performance as a loan servicer improve significantly – and steadily – since 2013.
“We took Fannie Mae’s suggestions and best practices, incorporated those practices into our processes, saw what worked, and then tried to be the best servicer we could be,” explains Tim Kenny, mortgage systems manager for Central Mortgage.
“Nothing is off the table when it comes to making changes,” says Slade Camp, the company’s loss mitigation manager. Central is always evaluating its own way of working and considering how to improve its operations to remain competitive and outperform its peers. “No matter how ridiculous an idea might sound, we vet it and then might put it into production for a couple of months to see how it works out. We can adjust from there,” Camp says.
For Caliber Home Loans, proactively communicating with borrowers is key to its success delivering best practices in general servicing, says Justin Nezda, vice president – asset performance.
“We try to give borrowers as much access as possible to self-service on the web,” Nezda says. “That has been very important to our borrowers, who can access us and fulfill their needs 24/7. We also spend a lot of time training our customer-facing staff in customer service and collections. This ensures that they are fully prepared to treat customers in the best and most professional manner – whether customers are experiencing a hardship or whether they have a need that can’t be met on the web.”
Caliber – a full-service mortgage lender operating in all 50 states – aims to be more proactive than many servicers about sending letters to borrowers who are behind on their loans.
“Putting the customer first, over-communicating to our borrowers and ensuring that they have the ability to communicate with us is paramount to our success,” Nezda says.
Central Mortgage’s successful climb up the peer-group performance chart has required a commitment to improvement, lots of teamwork, and a willingness to test new approaches. Fannie Mae has recognized the company for best practices in the areas of general servicing, solution delivery, and timeline management.
“It was a collective effort,” Camp says. “We all worked together for months and months to find different ways of doing our processes. There was a lot of thinking outside the box.”
Those efforts included assigning individuals to work with each area of the default process. They listened to phone calls with borrowers and trained members of the call-center team – and worked on short sales, modifications, and foreclosures.
“We aren’t afraid to change,” says Nakita Cox, homeowner assistance manager. “If we’re not hitting on something, we run reports and review them, and then we work to improve it.”
The Central Mortgage team also has worked closely with representatives from Fannie Mae.
“We have a fantastic working relationship with Fannie Mae,” says Millicent Stanley, the company’s director of mortgage loan servicing. “We always feel comfortable asking them questions. It’s an open and honest relationship.”
Through comprehensive training, Central Mortgage representatives learn how to counsel homeowners who are experiencing hardship. Customer-service training includes web-based courses, side-by-side interactions with experienced professionals, bi-monthly sessions to review calls and suggest ways to handle situations that arise, and annual training in Fannie Mae’s Know Your Options™ program.
“Our call-center representatives are counselors,” Stanley says. “They work to build rapport with borrowers. Once that relationship is established, borrowers feel comfortable talking to our counselors to figure out the best resolution for what they’re facing.”
Sometimes, that conversation is challenging.
“One of our more tenured customer-relations specialists had to have a really tough conversation with a borrower who did not get approved for a loan modification,” Cox says. “The borrower was very upset at first, but the specialist was able to address the benefits of a short sale. The borrower went through with the short sale and felt good about it in the end, when they were able to move to another property that created less stress in their life.”
“The key is to have open communications with our team and with our customers,” she says.