Data is great, but housing professionals need to look a step further

Companies need to prioritize instant access to personalized data and humanized support

Today, we live in a world of instant access to information and technology that has empowered us to have more freedom and control in nearly every aspect of our lives. 

At the risk of sounding like a “lazy millennial,” I’ll admit I order everything I need from an app: cars, flights, cleaners, groceries, stocks, healthcare and the list goes on. And I use an app to track everything in my life from my budget to my menstrual cycle. (TMI? Information is never “too much” for this data-hungry generation). 

Kristin Messerli,

When every other purchase is at our fingertips, why would buying a home, the biggest purchase of our lives, be any different? If anything, today’s homebuyers expect the most transparency, the most personalized information and on-demand service.  

While the world around us evolves toward consumer empowerment, when it comes to home buying, today’s consumers often feel powerless. In part, this is because buying a home can be one of the most anxiety-inducing purchasing experiences of a consumer’s life. 

While the industry is far from being completely “Uberized,” it is making big strides to meet these demands for a more on-demand experience, as Julian Hebron described earlier this week on the evolution of the digital mortgage. 

But for an especially anxious consumer, digitization is only part of the solution. 

As I discussed in my last article, it is crucial for today’s housing and finance professionals to understand the emotional context of their consumers in order to effectively build trust with them. For a generation of quasi-traumatized consumers who are distrustful of financial institutions in a post-crisis era, connections must go deeper than the data. 

To empower this generation of consumers, the future of mortgage should be both a personalized and humanized experience, always on-demand

The human touch

In a high-anxiety service such as home buying, professionals cannot simply funnel someone to an app. They also can’t tell them to stop trying to research everything and trust them. Remember the last time you were freaking out about something and someone told you to “calm down?” I can assume it didn’t go well for either of you.

Research by Harvard Business School found that consumers with access to a human being in an online setting were significantly more likely to be satisfied with their experience, even if they never reached out to the person. 

Again, exposing my addiction to the on-demand economy, I’ll compare my experience with two meal delivery apps. I have a vehement hatred for Postmates and a true love affair with UberEats. 

As I was writing this article, I realized the only difference between these two apps is my ability to talk to a human being.

When I ordered something incorrectly once on UberEats, I easily found the customer service line and a nice man helped me adjust my order. However, when my Postmates delivery was lost and I could only leave them hangry emails, I became determined to put them out of business (you can listen to the happy ending to my Postmates chicken sandwich story here).  

Paired with Personalized Information

The human element is critical but only as it pairs with the personalized information. 

While not necessarily shared by previous generations, Millennials have grown to expect that companies optimize the use of their data to deliver a better experience. A recent study by SalesForce found that 67% of Millennials and Gen Z expect offers to be personalized, in contrast with only 35% of Baby Boomers.

As consumers, we are learning that knowledge is power and personalized knowledge is the most powerful. 

Everyone who spends longer than a day with me knows that right now my favorite app in the world is Oscar Health Insurance. They have on-call doctors who can talk through any questions or prescriptions as needed, (and of course I love their trendy branding). For someone who finds herself frequently in a dark internet hole of WebMD searches about why I’m suddenly getting so many hangnails (spoiler alert: the answer is always cancer), this is a real asset to my life. 

When we feel anxiety, it is human nature to want to talk to someone and access more information.

As I wrote about in my last column, that “someone” is harder to come by for a generation who is extremely skeptical of financial institutions. However, when paired with access to personalized information, trust is less of a necessity. Or rather, trust is more easily built.

For example, when my doctor called me to tell me I had high cholesterol, I was extremely unsatisfied with her explanation to “eat better.” Thankfully, with my pal Oscar (the app), I was able to look at the labs and call one of their doctors to review them with me. No, I don’t trust the doctor I just met on the other end of the line, but when they are empowering me with information to understand the data for myself, I am happy.  

The Power of On-Demand

Personalized information and human support is only beneficial when it is easily accessible. For the consumer who has been groomed for instant gratification, waiting on a response or a loan update in a “high cholesterol” type of moment in the mortgage process is pretty excruciating. 

According to SalesForce, 75% of Gen Z/Millennials say they want to work with businesses that have instant on-demand engagement. And Google mobile searches for “near me today/tonight” (such as “open houses near me today”) grew 900% over the last two years.

When homebuyers reach out with an initial inquiry to a Realtor or loan officer, they don’t wait long before moving on to another professional if they don’t receive a response. Many professionals find that even an hour makes a difference as to whether or not they retain that lead. That’s why many sales professionals are finding virtual assistants or other on-demand service professionals well worth the investment to provide quick responses to all inquiries. 

Making the Shift

This shift from being a passive consumer to an empowered one is difficult for an industry with an entirely different vocabulary and fee sheets that make you question your intelligence. 

The economy is shifting power away from businesses and creating the expectation that consumers will receive it, but the most important ingredients are often overlooked by industry innovators in the chaotic quest to modernize.  

To compete in an on-demand economy, companies need to rethink their roadmap and prioritize instant access to personalized data and humanized support.

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