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How Can Originators Empathize with Their Borrowers?


Not long ago, my wife let me know she was having a particularly challenging day with our one- and three-year-old daughters. The former had emptied her smoothie all over the floor and the other was refusing to eat her Cheerios because, and I quote, “They’re too round.” In true clueless-husband fashion, my response was to simply suggest that she make the smoothie-spiller help her clean up the mess and tell the Cheerio-critic that she could just try eating them again for lunch…then dinner if need be. Anyone know what I missed here? If you didn’t immediately think, “Empathy!” then this article is for you.

It’s been a tough year, and we’re not even halfway through. Borrowers and lenders are facing the same challenging environment, just in different ways. Our question this month: How can originators empathize with their borrowers to deepen relationships through the struggles of 2022?

Listen, Affirm, Empathize

If you’re employed in the mortgage industry in any way right now, it’s pretty easy to throw yourself a pity party. In fact, it might even be justified.

  • Rates are two points higher than a year ago.
  • Home affordability is decreasing.
  • Refinance applications recently dropped by 75 percent year-over-year.
  • Margins have tightened, making every deal a fight and causing a cash crisis.
  • Lenders without a Servicing portfolio are becoming targets for acquisition.
  • Most lenders have initiated or are considering layoffs.
  • The entire mortgage landscape is being defined by inflation worries, geopolitical concerns and Federal Reserve moves.

To call it volatile or to say the future is uncertain would be an understatement. So, it’s understandable if there’s a bit of a “woe is me” attitude floating around out there. Last year may have been all rainbows and butterflies, but it’s HARD now. Know that the struggle is real. Even more so, know it’s worth it. Whether it is helping people pursue the American Dream of homeownership, helping them find financial peace through refinancing, or helping them tap their equity to build their dream kitchen, these are all noble and worthy reasons to keep getting out of bed every morning and fighting through the hard times. It’s a fight, but it’s one worth fighting. And you are not alone — we will get through this together.

Let’s pause for a second: When you read all of that just now, did any of it resonate with you? How did it make you feel? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Perhaps seen? Understood? Encouraged? Did it make you feel like you’re not alone in the struggle? Did you feel anything?

When we take in information, we have two conversations that happen inside our brains: a logical one and a visceral one. Our logic tests the information and connects it to other ideas and either accepts or rejects it. Our “gut” on the other hand, tells us how to feel about it. If you’re like most people, both processes were activated just now.

With lower volumes and tightening margins, lenders have to compete not just on the technical offering of their product (product and price) but also on the emotional elements on the offering.   They must look to differentiate themselves based on customer experience. The ability to foster deep relationships with both their new and existing customers and their referral partners will be the defining sink-or-swim factor that separates the winners from the losers over the coming months, and perhaps years. Teaching empathy should be part of every lender’s Customer Experience strategy, and it starts with practicing what you preach. If you want your employees to display empathy with customers, you need to first model it by listening to and understanding your employees. STRATMOR Sr. Advisor Sue Woodard just penned a great article on this topic.

Diagnosis

Sometimes the best medicine we can take is to look outside ourselves and to help others. Sure, this year has been a bear for mortgage industry professionals, but we need to remember that we’re not the only ones being affected by the current harsh environment. We’re not the only ones feeling the pain.

Put yourself into a borrower’s shoes for a minute:

  • Rates are going up quickly!
  • If you’re house-hunting, that means you qualify for less home now than you did even a month ago.
  • With low home inventory, you’ve put in multiple offers and gotten rejected multiple times, missing out on homes you really loved.
  • If you’re trying to refinance, you definitely “missed the boat” on the lowest rates and you’re kicking yourself for it.
  • If you were counting on lower rates, you’re now having to consider riskier products (ARMs, HELOCs) to make up the difference.
  • With rates on the move, you’re justifiably worried about rate lock expirations and closing timeframes.
  • If you’re selling your home, you might be amongst the 20 percent who have recently had to reduce their price in order to sell.

That’s a lot of weight to be carrying on top of the already stressful, giant-sized financial transaction that is a mortgage. Borrowers need someone to remind them of the big picture, the long game, the value of real estate investment. They need empathy, a listening ear, affirmation.

Prescription

Here’s a simple pneumonic device you can use to remember how to use empathy to deepen your borrower relationships — a triple-A approach to empathy:

  1. Ask how they’re feeling.  One of the best questions an originator can ask a borrower is, “How are you feeling about everything?” Ask it multiple times throughout the process. Then just listen. You’ll be amazed at how much people open up when given the chance. And they’ll like you better for it.
  2. Anchor. Listen intently and repeat back to them (paraphrase) what you’re hearing, and they’ll likely talk some more. According to former FBI hostage negotiator and master communicator Chris Voss, “People who feel heard feel more connected to you, trust you more, and open up to you more.” This is the foundation of deepening a relationship.
  3. Affirm. When you do speak, encourage your borrowers. Read STRATMOR Senior Partner Garth Graham’s recent article about the WHY of home ownership and how it is so much more important than the WHAT of the mortgage. Help them remember their WHY. Then give them a wide-angle perspective on interest rates: rates may feel high now, but they’re still very low when compared historically (8.52% in 2000, 10.67% in 1990, 18.63% in 1981). And if rates dip back down, they can always refinance!

How can you learn more about creating a better customer experience and about how the customer experience impacts your company?

Find out more about STRATMOR Group’s CX services and how transparency into the loan process can help your company. Contact Mike Seminari at mike.seminari@stratmorgroup.com.

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