Over the last decade, consumer expectations of a good customer experience have become increasingly dependent on good technology. Today’s consumers look for companies and products that utilize technology for an improved customer experience with greater communication and information access.

Instant service and transparency are requirements to attain consumers of any industry today, but particularly those who are purchasing their first home and making the biggest purchase of their lives. More than 80% of today’s home buyers are beginning their search online and are influenced to choose their mortgage company online, too.

In fact, one in five Millennials use their smartphones exclusively to shop online for all products, not just homes and home loans. It is time for mortgage companies to recognize and update their marketing and customer experience to reach the modern consumer. We have identified a few tools and strategies we believe are key to beginning this process and empowering loan officers with what they need to compete in today’s marketplace.

1. Marketing automation

Every company should be utilizing tools that personalize their customer experience and help consumers feel more engaged with their mortgage process. Employees (and particularly customer-facing employees) are every company’s greatest assets. In the world of social media, companies can better leverage their loan officers’ networks by giving them the tools and expertise to share compliant and effective content on social media.

There are many tools available today that help loan officers market like professionals, while giving them more time to focus on their customers. At Alterra Group, we have developed a marketing platform to help automate marketing for loan officers, including custom media production, digital media campaigns and social media productivity tools. In addition to helping our own team, we are also assisting our partners to increase conversion on their leads and traffic to their sites through automated follow-up communication.

2. Educational resources

Recently, Zillow’s Vice President of Mortgage states that consumers have shifted from initially looking to their real estate agents for home buying advice, to now starting the mortgage process online, often from their mobile devices. Dedicating time and effort towards providing the highest quality information for consumers online is now a requirement.

We encourage our loan officers to get involved in providing education in underserved communities, and we are working to provide more content they can share. For example, we partnered with Cultural Outreach to provide our loan officers with multilingual, multicultural content and leadership through our blog and integrated with our other tools. In addition, we are publishing more content to partner publications and looking for ways we can add value where our consumers and partners are consuming information.

3. Reputation management

Today’s consumers, particularly Millennials, do their research online before making a decision to contact a referral. According to a survey by BrightLocal, 88% of consumers trust customer reviews as much as personal referrals. Companies should make it standard practice that their loan officers or marketing department request a customer review after every closing. Also ask for personal feedback where they can provide a confidential opinion about their experience.

We have employed Social Survey to automate the process of reputation management by requesting a customer review from every past customer. Many of our loan officers had very little available about them when their name was searched in Google, and now readers will immediately see positive customer reviews when their name is searched.

4. Front-end user experience

A company’s marketing is only as good as its follow-through. Today’s consumers have become accustomed to easy information sharing, so a mobile app for applications and access is critical to a positive customer experience. Industry experts such as PwC’s Roberto Hernandez, Principal of their Consumer Finance Practice, believe companies should be investing in technology that frees up the loan officer for what they do best--advising the customer. He says that by digitizing and automating the process, “the loan officer becomes the center of the transaction.”

That’s why we invested in launching a mobile app that allows our loan officers can quickly connect with their loan officer, upload documents and retrieve status updates on their loan.

5. Instant Communication

A recent Nielsen study found that 56% of consumers would rather receive instant messages from a business than a call from customer service. The day and age of email is ending, replaced by chats boxes and instant messages. We are working to improve the customer experience and ease of communication by integrating text and instant messaging into the customer experience through their mobile app. We will soon be able to send documents through instant messaging, creating a seamless and natural communication process.

Focusing on the customer experience and communication will be the difference moving forward for all mortgage companies. The feast or famine in this industry will depend less on the origination process and focus more on the ability to provide fast answers and nurturing through the home buying process for consumers.