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Ask the Expert: Creating a True Customer Partnership

 

January 7, 2021

Nate Jones Welcome to Ask the Expert where we ask industry leaders about their unique perspective on how to navigate the most difficult challenges faced by the broader real estate and financial services ecosystem and also give you a chance to ask the expert some of the most pressing questions on your mind.

My name is Nate Jones. I’m the Senior Manager of Customer Success at States Title. And today, I’m very excited to welcome Lizy Hoeffer, Chief Experience Officer at CrossCountry Mortgage, to talk about the topic “Creating a True Customer Partnership.” By way of introduction, Lizy has nearly two decades of mortgage industry experience and is currently the Chief Experience Officer for CrossCountry Mortgage, a leading independent mortgage banking company.

She started as a receptionist in the mortgage industry and has worked her way to become a top one percent originator and closed over 800 loans in 2018. Lizy has been ranked the number one female loan officer in the nation for most closed loans and as the number one Hispanic loan officer in the nation.

Welcome, Lizy. It’s great to have you.

Lizy Hoeffer Thank you very much for having me. I’m super excited.

Nate Jones All right, well, as the Chief Experience Officer at CrossCountry Mortgage, I’d love for you to tell us a little bit about what your company does to provide a unified experience for consumers. And to expand a little bit more on that, can you start by telling us what exactly a unified experience is for consumers?

Lizy Hoeffer So there are several top complaints when it comes to getting mortgage financing. People don’t know the process. They feel like it’s a bunch of paperwork. But the number one customer service issue that people face is having to resend documentation in over and over and over as the process moves through a loan officer, maybe a loan officer assistant, to processing, to underwriting. And so one of the key initiatives that we’ve been focusing on is having a consistent digital lending platform and application process that makes it seamless from start to finish. We all work out of the same portal – the clients, the processors, the loan officers – and it really helps streamline the communication process. In addition, there’s online verifications for employments, for assets, and it really makes the whole entire process a lot easier and eliminates that whole having to send things over and over again, and also satisfies the fear that they’re uploading to a secure portal.

One of the key initiatives that we’ve been focusing on is having a consistent digital lending platform and application process that makes it seamless from start to finish.

Nate Jones Well, that makes a lot of sense, so you use that technology, which is fantastic. The demand for technology, as we know in the mortgage industry, has greatly escalated, especially during the pandemic. When it comes to leveraging that technology for that better experience, what types of systems do you use?

Lizy Hoeffer One of the things that I love about CrossCountry is that they’re constantly innovating and trying out new products and technology that will make things faster, easier, and with less stress. One of the biggest initiatives that we rolled out is the use of Salesforce as a communication platform, as a customer retention platform, and then the use of Blend, because it syncs with our loan origination software and a variety of other different tools that we use at the company. I would say those two things have been a huge focus for us and have provided so much needed facilitation with communication.

Nate Jones Awesome, and as we know, it’s awesome focusing on the technology the consumers interact with, our teams interact with. But there’s always been a bit of an issue in lending and mortgage and understanding tech, especially down to the tactical, you know, how the loans get sold, etc. How do you share that information about technology also with realtors, especially going through this pandemic? That’s got to be key, but there’s a lot that just don’t understand what’s happening. And there’s a bit of what I call the hidden pandemic in mortgage and real estate. So can you tell us a little bit about that?

Lizy Hoeffer Totally. So I don’t think that actually has to do anything with technology. I think it’s more the information and teaching and educating agents and consumers about what it looks like on the back end, how mortgages are priced out, what actually impacts interest rates, how things that are going on in the news and the economy have a direct correlation to what they’re going to be paying on the open market. And so for me personally, I spend a lot of time recording video messages. I have a monthly newsletter.

We’re all about education and just really explaining what that looks like on the back end so that our partners understand, so that consumers understand what’s a fair price to pay in the marketplace.

I mean, we’re all about education and just really explaining what that looks like on the back end so that our partners understand, so that consumers understand what’s a fair price to pay in the marketplace. So I think it’s more about education versus technology. I don’t know any technologies right now that are really transparent with showing that information. But we do a lot of educational videos and we have a really robust blog and FAQ section on CCM’s website.

So if any consumers have questions about any particular part of the process or what a mortgage-backed security is, things of that nature, I mean, there are hundreds and hundreds of questions that they’ve uploaded with answers that they can find at the click of their fingertips.

Nate Jones That’s awesome, and probably a lot of the reason why CrossCountry is voted a top 10 best lender, right? In terms of meeting customer expectations and providing them with reassurance and support, how else do you provide your customers with the transparency they need to feel comfortable taking on a mortgage?

Lizy Hoeffer Well, we have some of the top loan officers in the entire country, like the list of the top 10 are literally within a half a percent of the top of the top in the nation. So, I mean, you’re dealing with experts every time you deal with somebody at CrossCountry. So there in that should tell you the difference you’re going to experience with customer service, with education, with technology.

I will tell you that everyone is highly trained here to be able to facilitate the communication that’s involved with the transaction. There are typically about fifteen people involved in every mortgage transaction and having every single one of them skilled and trained to be able to answer questions to put the client at ease. We do a lot of customer service training, but I mean, it’s what you get here because you’re dealing with top-level professionals in the industry.

Nate Jones And you mentioned that you have the best loan officers in the country there, and I know that CrossCountry Mortgage has won multiple best workplace awards. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s special about the company and how you cope, especially with the overload of high refi volumes in 2020 and looking that way into 2021?

Lizy Hoeffer So I don’t want to sound cliche, but honestly, the culture here is second to none. I’ve worked for a variety of different mortgage companies throughout my career – I think I’ve worked for six different companies – and they all claim to be based on culture and clients first. But this is truly the very first company where I can say that it’s leadership-down. We have hands down, the best CEO I’ve ever worked for. I really respect him. I trust him. He’s boots on the ground. He’s in the trenches with us. He’s experiencing it and very transparent with us, which just sets the tone for every single department, every single person. And we don’t hire just anyone, right?

I mean, to work at CrossCountry, you have to want to be the best and have to want to perform at that level. And so culture here is literally everything. In addition, we have high focuses on quality, on technology, on efficiency, and on communication. These are all core values of our company. I’ve never worked at a place that was more supportive of my career – and I think loan officers who excel at this level are entrepreneurs – I’ve never had the kind of support that I have here anywhere else. It truly is the best place I’ve ever worked.

Nate Jones That’s incredible, and I think if we look at the data, we can see that, right? I mean in 2019 you closed 980 loans. That’s just astronomical – an average of just under 19 a week. Most people are looking for 18 or 19 referrals in a week, not 19 closings in a week. But being able to attract new customers and retain existing customers has got to be key to building your business. What marketing tactics have you and your team found to be successful?

Lizy Hoeffer So the number one thing when it comes to client acquisition is value proposition. And most agents or loan officers, they don’t understand what that means really. So it’s what is your client really looking for? What questions do they have? What’s their biggest fear? And do you have information that is not Google-able? Like, what is your expertise?

The number one thing when it comes to client acquisition is value proposition. And most agents or loan officers, they don’t understand what that means really. So it’s what is your client really looking for? What questions do they have? What’s their biggest fear? And do you have information that is not Google-able? Like, what is your expertise?

Many people are so afraid to share their opinions, one, because they’re not knowledgeable enough on the topic, or two, because they’re worried that they offend somebody and then drive away clients, and the opposite actually happens. You know, if you don’t have an opinion, no one’s seeking out your advice. And so I have really made it a point to be very boisterous on my opinions when it comes to finances, mortgages, interest rates, the economy… and so, yes, that definitely does detract some people. But I have a very strong following of people who seek out my expert advice.

And because of that, I’ve been able to build a brand of client base of people that are seeking information and I help them throughout the process. And so, I think, that figuring out what that value looks like to your clients is key versus, you know, showcasing all the loans or all the escrows you’ve closed. I don’t think that actually provides any value to people.

Nate Jones That’s fair. So that’s interesting that you mentioned that, I know during the subprime boom, we saw a lot of lenders approving consumers for loans that were above the reasonable level for them to maintain. You also write a blog providing financial advice to consumers. Can you tell us a little bit about how important it is to match a customer with the right product to fit their financial needs? And how do you equip your customers with tools that enable them to have a realistic understanding of their financial commitment capabilities?

Lizy Hoeffer So I take every single client through a client journey that talks about budgeting, that talks about mortgage products. We give them a variety of different tools available to them and we tell them what they max qualify for and then what their budget says, and then what they feel comfortable for.

Ultimately, my job is to be a guide. My clients dictate what they choose. So we have clients that don’t follow my guidance when it comes to smart financing. We have clients that have way more conservative opinions about financing. My job is to show them all of the options that are available to them and what I think the best pathway to success is. But I don’t mandate that people follow them, and if they qualify, I will do a home loan for somebody who’s made an adult decision to move forward.

Nate Jones That’s awesome. Switching gears just a little bit. We were looking at the data on mortgages and over the past five years we’ve seen a growing trend towards minorities and people who are single, purchasing over the more traditional market. How have you adjusted or have you adjusted your marketing and services to support that trend?

Lizy Hoeffer So I haven’t adjusted any of my marketing towards that, but I will tell you that I think that minority buyers still are struggling out there. If you look at the consensus data, I mean, Caucasian people buy more homes second to Asians, and then Hispanics and African-Americans are just lagging behind quite a bit. And so for me, I think there needs to be a whole lot more focus on educating people on the benefits of homeownership and what it actually does to generational wealth and making that more of a standard, more of a norm.

Many people don’t understand just how to get there, and so for me, that conversation about helping first-time homebuyers and educating people on the steps to owning a house, I try to make as accessible as possible. But I do think that there needs to be a lot more effort in organizations like NAHREP to really focus on making that be the next thing. We all grew up knowing that college was the thing that was going to take us to the next level. It should be that way with homeownership and it’s not for a lot of minority communities.

Nate Jones That makes a lot of sense. We previously spoke with Frank Fuentes, the National Vice President, Multicultural Community Lending at New American Funding about “Customizing Lending for The Hispanic Community.” You mentioned the Hispanic community. You were also ranked the number one Hispanic loan officer. What opportunities are there to serve Hispanics and other under-served minorities going forward in 2021 and beyond?

Lizy Hoeffer The truth of it is, I don’t know that there are any specific programs geared towards minority groups, I think that is actually against Fair Housing. But I do think that there needs to be more information available to minority groups and we need to make it more of a focus to start educating people on what that looks like.

So there was a long period of time where I never felt comfortable acknowledging the fact that I am Hispanic. I’m actually from Nogales, Arizona. My dad’s a Mexican citizen. My mom’s family is from Mexico. The thing is, I look very Caucasian and I have a very Caucasian last name, and so I never felt like I quite fit in in a way that would own that. You know, most people are like, “Wait, you speak Spanish?” I do. I’m fluent in Spanish and I’m Hispanic and I’m very proud of being Mexican, I want to be very clear.

But the thing is, it’s very difficult to own that because of all the stereotypes and the reason that I felt that it was such a need for me to be like, “Hey, I’m the number one Hispanic loan officer here,” is because people need to see that everybody can be part of… we’re all part of this melting pot. And then if you see somebody who has big success in your demographic, it’s easier to believe that you can achieve that same success. And so that for me is super important. I think it’s part of what will change or make this more accessible to minority groups is just having more people claim it and educate it and make that information way more accessible.

Nate Jones That’s very powerful. And I want to ask one more question before we get to the audience questions. We are one week into the new year. What predictions do you have for 2021 given the changing job markets, etc.? What do you expect the split between refinance and resale to be? And do you think there’s going to continue to be a shift in demand from urban to suburban?

Lizy Hoeffer Here’s what I will say. It’s going to be very aggressive just because we’ve had a pent-up demand for properties and a lack of inventory for some time. Is that sustainable for the long term? Absolutely not. Do I think that 2021 is going to be a banner year for most people? Absolutely. Do I think that there is a shift in affordability for the average person? Absolutely. But those things take time and I think 2022, ’23, I think we start really seeing a shift.

It’s going to be very aggressive just because we’ve had a pent-up demand for properties and a lack of inventory for some time. Is that sustainable for the long term? Absolutely not. Do I think that 2021 is going to be a banner year for most people? Absolutely. Do I think that there is a shift in affordability for the average person? Absolutely.

And then we also have to pay attention to the amount of homeowners that are in our aging communities anywhere over the age of 65, they own 23 million properties. I think it’s like one in three, right? So we have things that are going to create a shift in terms of real estate. For the short run, I think that we all work as hard as we can and close as many deals as we can. You know, that’s just my plan personally. But to think that this will always keep going up the way that it is would be ridiculous and if you are somebody who’s in real estate right now as a lender or a real estate agent, your focus should be on “how do I really provide value” because you can get really distracted here.

You’re going to be very busy and so if you’re just focusing on closing the deals you have now, two to three years from now you’re really going to be hurting in business, I think. It’s figuring out how to create enough bandwidth and systems to be able to fulfill the transactions that you will have now because you’re going to be busier than ever, while still marketing and providing value and building that database for years to come.

Nate Jones That is sound advice. All right, well, let’s take the first question from the audience. This one says, “What are your top tips for growing your team during these high volumes while maintaining a high standard of customer experience?”

Lizy Hoeffer So that has been a really big challenge just because I mean, to be very candid, I was not prepared to go 100 percent remote. And so, one, it’s being able to have trackable systems, so using technology. We use RingDNA to track calls to be able to show when people are actually working at their homes. So that was, number one. Having customer service checks and balances. Most teams or most people don’t actually have a way to check the quality of work from their employees, right? So creating those systems, conversion rates is one, surveys after every part of the process is another way.

In terms of recruiting, I have found the best success recruiting brand new people and then training them up. That is very difficult, especially in this environment, but I find that I get the highest quality of worker when I do that and then loyalty, you know, they stay with my team for a longer time. So I hope that helps.

Nate Jones Great tips. And one of the questions that brought to my mind was how did you guys cope with the switch to remote work all of a sudden? I mean, that took a lot of people by surprise. And how were you guys able to deal with that so successfully?

Lizy Hoeffer So, super hard, and I don’t know that we did it well. But, you know, the one thing that was in my favor is I don’t know that anyone did it well. So I wasn’t an outlier. It was really, really challenging. Honestly, this year was a blur. I would say that I don’t know that we did it well. One day, just everyone had to work from their homes and it was chaos and a mess.

And, you know, little by little, we implemented systems like the call tracking, being able to figure out when people were on using Teams so we could see their lights on, implementing the surveys to make sure that people knew, implementing a whole lot more video, a whole lot more instructional emails, providing way more information online because we’re missing that face to face customer service interaction. And so that gets built up over time. But I would say for the first 90 to 120 days, it was just pure chaos.

Nate Jones I think we all felt that quite a bit. Another follow-up question on that is, how do you see that changing in 2021 or is this a permanent change for CrossCountry Mortgage now?

Lizy Hoeffer You know, I can’t speak for the company as a whole, but I will definitely say that we have a lot more platforms now and a lot more technology to make it easier for people to work remote. And whenever you can work remote, you actually expand the number of talented people that want to work for your company.

So I generally think that for the long haul, this will actually bring better talent to the table and make us more flexible with what we’re willing to do in terms of hiring. Now, for me, as a team, I definitely think that we’ve adapted most of our processes to be more digital. So we’ve taken up Zoom. We’re now utilizing Mortgage Coach a lot more. The YouTube channel’s a lot more robust. Putting information on all of our social media is huge. Implementing the survey is also really big.

Nate Jones Right. Well, it sounds like some permanent changes, but you sound like you guys have adjusted very well.

Lizy Hoeffer I think that real estate is a relationship business. And I think that for some people, they’re going to love the fact that they can work remotely, and I think that the big advantage in the future is going back to personal relationships. I think that if Coronavirus taught us anything is that we love human interaction and I just don’t think there’s a replacement for that. Now, in the short run, I don’t think that there is an option. I don’t think we get to dictate that. So this is what it looks like for 2021. I’ll tell you about 2022 in 2022.

Nate Jones All right, excellent. Well, the next question that we have from the audience is, “What are the most common questions and concerns you get from first-time home buyers?”

Lizy Hoeffer People just don’t know how much it’s going to cost and they’re afraid to check their credit. They are afraid that they’re going to be denied. So it’s mostly just encouraging them and coaching them up enough to feel good about giving their information out and letting them know that it’s not if it’s when and that there’s always a plan for people when it comes to purchasing a house. And so we get questions on credit, we get questions on interest rate, interest rate versus APR, understanding a monthly payment, but primarily it has to do with how much they can afford. What’s their down payment going to be, their out-of-pocket expense.

Nate Jones Alright, next question: “Marketing and client relationships are key when it comes to bringing them in for a new loan or refi. What about your nurturing plan post-closing? What are you doing to keep in touch with them?”

Lizy Hoeffer For me, it’s about continuing to provide value, so that’s why I teach a lot of financial principles. I teach them about money, about investments, what’s going on with the market. People are still very interested in their home values, interested in what’s going on with the market, the economy, and they need it in a digestible format from somebody that they trust. So that is my plan. In addition, we have really good birthday programs and client events when we were allowed to have them. I mean, that’s what we do.

Nate Jones Alright, and that is the end of the questions that we’ve had in, so Lizy, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. It’s been invaluable. Your insights and experience are helpful for everybody in this industry, so I really appreciate the time that you took to be with us today.

Lizy Hoeffer Absolutely.

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