Tales of customer service

A mortgage broker was helping me with my remortgage at home. My wife and I are a pretty complicated mortgaging case (we’d make a good case study in the Sunday papers, I wonder why they haven’t called…?). We’re both self-employed, so no two years’ income are ever the same; and we both have part-time fixed-term contracts that are forever being chopped, changed and moved around. So I concede that we aren’t exactly the customers from heaven as far as the banks are concerned. However, there are lots of attractive things about us too (and not just the consummate tennis and cookery skills). We have a fair chunk of equity in our house and we’re lucky enough to have a reasonably-sized, pleasant family house just a couple of minutes’ walk from a handy station and a lovely village primary school. Sales in our village in the last few years have been, if not exactly barnstorming, at least reasonably active.

Our broker started off with a few application forms and was initially very enthusiastic about the rates he might get us, with the mortgage market extremely competitive, especially if you are some years in and have a bit of equity. But he wasn’t received by the banks with quite the open arms he was hoping for. Several came back with endless, extraordinarily-detailed questions about this or that bit of income.

My broker would present these questions to me with no emotion, often sending queries by email with no top and tail and sometimes consisting of an almost text-message-like brevity. After several of these over a couple of days I began to feel frustrated. Why weren’t the banks more ready to take us on? Of course, post-global crisis, lenders are being sensibly cautious. But for goodness’ sake, I began to think. In our case, if we ever defaulted on the mortgage, the house could be repossessed and sold in about five seconds flat, for substantially more than the outstanding mortgage value. Why weren’t the banks biting?

Eventually I poured out some of these thoughts in a very frustrated email to my broker. “Sorry”, I concluded, “rant over. I’m sure you’re doing your best”. Three days later, I was holding my shiny new mortgage offer. I felt as if my broker had taken my frustration away and vented it on the banks, which had brought them round.

If I were coaching my broker, I’d offer him three tips in customer service arising from this story (and happily I’d be able to charge him more than his brokering fee in return).

  1. If you’re conscious of frustration about the third party not playing ball, share this with your customer. It will help him/her.
  2. Be aware that you may be unconsciously projecting your negative feelings about a slow process or a difficult partner into your customer, so that s/he does all the feeling for you. Again, this isn’t fair. You’re being paid to be frustrated about it too. (How many agents in call centres could do with taking this note on board, when they field the call from the angry customer about the repair that wasn’t done?).
  3. Don’t wait for your customer to authorise you to grumble to the slow third party. You’re human. You’re allowed to grumble.

Jon Harris

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