As the nation’s housing mess has worn on, a growing number of borrowers are finding themselves dissatisfied with their mortgage servicer, according to data released Tuesday by market research firm J.D. Power and Associates. For a second consecutive year, customer satisfaction with the servicing of mortgages declined, the research company said. Part of the problem likely stems not only from a growing number of troubled borrowers unhappy with what they perceive as a lack of responsiveness to their needs, but also from performing borrowers who are finding it increasingly difficult to get a quick answer to easy questions, as servicing employees are being stretched thin by a surge in borrower defaults. “For most customers, their mortgage servicer is akin to a utility company – they just want things to work, and they expect a friction-free experience,” said Rocky Clancy, executive director of financial services at J.D. Power and Associates. “Any bumps in the road that cause customers to have to spend time asking questions or solving problems negatively impact satisfaction, particularly if they have to call more than once or talk to more than one person to get their issues resolved.” The study found that, in addition to reducing the number of problems and improving the resolution experience, a key to customer satisfaction is increasing customer adoption of electronic billing and payments. Fifty-six percent of customers report making payments through an automatic deduction or a Web site, compared with 36 percent of customers making payments by mail. In 2006, 49 percent of customers made payments electronically, while 42 percent paid via mail. “Satisfaction with payment processing is 50 points higher for people making payments electronically instead of through ‘snail’ mail,” said Clancy. “Automatic deductions, in particular, are associated with fewer problems because once things are on auto-pilot, the chances of something going wrong are slim.” BB&T takes the cake, again Branch Banking and Trust — that’s BB&T to the rest of us — ranked highest among primary mortgage servicers for a second consecutive year, J.D. Powers said. SunTrust Mortgage and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) followed BB&T in the rankings. The nation’s worst servicers, according to the study? The bottom five included Ocwen Financial Corp. (OCN) — rated the worst servicer among those in the study — as well as Greentree Mortgage, Homecomings Financial, Beneficial Mortgage, and HSBC Mortgage Services. Also scoring below the industry average were CitiFinancial, Countrywide Home Loans, and IndyMac Bank. Customers with high levels of commitment to their primary mortgage servicer are more than three times more likely to say they “definitely will” continue to do business with their current lender than those customers with moderate levels of commitment, according to study results. “Primary mortgages tend to be a highly commoditized product, so lenders can benefit considerably by increasing loyalty among their current customers,” said Clancy. “Highly committed customers tend to make more recommendations, intend to use the mortgage servicer again in the future, are less likely to switch and are more likely to use multiple products with the same firm – all of which help to benefit a lender’s bottom line.” Disclosure: The author held no relevant positions when this story was published; indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.
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