As the world continues to navigate the impacts of COVID-19, HousingWire sat down with TMS to learn more about their customer service philosophy, and how it has served them during the pandemic.
HousingWire: So, right off the bat, let’s talk results. How has TMS fared relative to other subservicers during COVID-19?
TMS: In short, we’ve fared well — and it’s all because we saw this coming.
Let’s look back to this time in 2019. Mortgage delinquencies (DQs) in the United States had reached 13-year lows. That was great, of course, but while everyone else was celebrating, we were thinking: We don’t know how or when, but DQs will go up. Operating under that assumption we had staffed up in the default and loss mitigation worlds. Sure enough, a completely disruptive force — COVID-19 — struck, and DQs increased.
For a lot of people, COVID-19 was a total sucker punch, and they had to act in fast, suboptimal ways. But because TMS has always staffed with growth and increasing delinquencies in mind, we weren’t scrambling to keep up. We had already added new staff to help handle an influx of loss mitigation work. We had long been embracing remote work, so our infrastructure was not burdened by a mass shift out of the office. Our online portal made comprehensive information instantly available (as it always had). We had more Careologists trained in our clients’ brand voices, providing expert guidance to more customers than usual. Ultimately, we have been able to keep our DQ rates well below the industry average.
We’ve also been able to keep forbearance rates lower than the industry average. With our proactive and thorough customer education, we kept customers out of forbearance who didn’t absolutely need it. Forbearances can cause problems both for customers — who might have credit issues down the line — and for clients, who are essentially losing money when their loans go into forbearance. Because of our high-tech, high-touch subservicing approach, we were able to work with our customers to determine whether forbearances were absolutely necessary for their situation — and if they weren’t, we presented other options.
HW: Other than planning for a rise in DQs, what would you say has distinguished TMS’s subservicing approach during COVID-19?
TMS: The approaches that have distinguished us during COVID-19 have distinguished us for many years. We love to brag about SIME — Servicing Intelligence Made Easy — our proprietary subservicing platform, which gives full transparency into clients’ loan portfolios in real time, while providing the tools for oversight that subservicers and lenders can rely on. It gives exhaustive, up-to-the-minute information and insight on customers’ borrowing habits. It brings total knowledge to our customers, our clients, and ourselves. Especially during a crisis, that’s hugely important.
More broadly, we distinguish ourselves by thinking of the customer-subservicer relationship as — well, exactly that, a relationship. We pioneered the concept of combining the loan originator and the loan subservicer, so that throughout the entire lives of our loans, our customers are talking to one person. This consistent, single point of contact is the cornerstone of customer loyalty.
A trusting customer-subservicer relationship pivots on our holy trinity of values: Education, Empathy and Action. We speak in a language that customers can understand, educating them on their entire range of options. We comprehend the more emotional side of homeownership, empathizing with our customers, and assuring them that we’re on their side. Most importantly, we take quick, precise action, so there’s no lag between recommending an approach and taking that approach. This resulted in 98% customer satisfaction — a lot of happy customers, and a lot of happy clients.
We were great before the pandemic, and so we were able to be good during the pandemic. Subservicers who didn’t prioritize their customer relationships in the same way struggled much more. You can’t go from satisfactory to great during a crisis.
HW: What are the biggest challenges TMS has faced during the pandemic?
TMS: Our main challenge has been the same one that everyone has faced: We just don’t know how long this is going to last. COVID-19 has been a jolt of uncertainty for everyone in the world (maybe except for Zoom), and people have had to take it day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment.
We can’t provide the kind of certainty that everyone is after, which would be to say, “We’ll have a vaccine by xx date, and then everything can go back to normal.” But nobody, not even health experts, can provide that. Within uncertainty, we can provide our customers with a lot of other concrete information. We are experts on the different options customers have who might be struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments. We can analyze a customer’s unique situation and work with them to find the appropriate solution for their situation, rather than just blanketly offering forbearance. We can provide peace of mind to our clients, who know that they have knowledgeable, on-brand subservicers working on their behaves.
All of this comes down to bringing order to the chaos ordering the chaos. In a crisis, customers want to know three things: 1. How can you help me? 2. What does that help look like? and 3. What happens next? Being able to effectively answer these questions brings customers from a point of zero knowledge and total panic to a point of total knowledge and zero panic. They know where they stand, they know what we can do, and they know what’s going to happen.
Ultimately, it’s the subservicer’s job to provide as much certainty as possible. If you can bring order to the chaos and help a customer keep their home, that customer is going to be infinitely more loyal to you, and infinitely more likely to come to you for their next loan. That’s the kind of top-tier subservicing we strive for.