Understanding what the customer wants, and how this might evolve over time, should be a major focus for any business. For my team, our customer is also the intermediary, and yet we only get to interact and service their customer – the client – if we meet a long list of both the adviser’s and the client’s requirements.
Being that bridge between lender and customer has clearly grown in status for the adviser, and in a fast-paced mortgage market, where competition is fierce and where there is no shortage of other lenders, we believe it’s vitally important to regularly engage with brokers to see how we can develop our offering and ensure it continues to be exactly what it needs to be.
As part of our re-brand, we went through just such an exercise with a number of intermediaries and I would suggest other firms do something similar. It’s always interesting and informative, for example, to see how you are perceived, what you might be ‘famous for’, what you could do differently and what suggestions the broker has to improve your overall offering.
Working within a business it sometimes pays to take that step back and to get an outsider’s perspective, particularly when it’s about defining what you do well and the areas you perhaps need to improve.
For instance, the mortgage market is so product-focused and (dare I say it) rate-driven that I sometimes think lenders can become too fixated on this area. Yes, pricing is always going to be important to the customer – who, after all, would want to pay anymore than they need to for what is likely to be their biggest monthly outgoing – but speaking to advisers it’s clear that this is by no means their sole consideration.
Time and again, service is a priority too. Whether it’s flexibility, timescales, accessibility, talking to a human being, certainty – the list goes on. All of these came up as often being critical to both the adviser and their client when it came to selecting a product.
As a building society, working closely with intermediaries and seeking to offer a wide a range of products – particularly in specialist and niche areas – we’re pleased we can deliver on much of this but we’re not being complacent. There were suggested improvements that we’ve taken on board and have already begun implementing. We’ve recently updated our broker portal to improve the mortgage application process and we’re proud to have a highly-qualified, knowledgeable broker team.
Advisers want to deal with modern organisations who embrace technology in ways that can enhance the mortgage process and provide flexibility beyond the traditional 9-5. They want accessibility to staff and decision-makers. They want to deal with quality BDMs who are not just sales automatons that are only able to ‘sell’ certain products, and they also want a professional approach – providing integrity with a real personal/human touch.
In a very true sense, this is exactly what the modern-day mortgage customer wants, and effectively advisers are practising what they preach too, doing exactly the same in their own business. Ours is a symbiotic relationship in which we can help each other by becoming more effective at the areas identified above and ensuring we all occupy a customer-focused space that seeks to deliver day after day, keeping the customer at the heart of everything we do.
Improving the proposition, the process and the service can never truly stop because the day it does is the day you’re likely to fall behind your immediate competitors. Understanding what you do well, where you can improve, and how you might do this, is always a worthwhile exercise to undertake because in a competitive industry like ours, you have to concentrate on delivering results efficiently and effectively.
Opening yourself up to broker feedback can be incredibly liberating and we, as a lender and building society, will continue to act upon on the feedback we receive from brokers and customers.
Paul Lewis is national development manager at Mansfield Building Society