The mortgage industry is in an uproar across the United States because of COVID-19. Thousands of people have lost their jobs, leading to a major stop on the American economy. This means fewer house payments and more financial pressure on loan originators to meet investor demands.
With the federal government release of the CARES Act, borrowers are granted a grace period of forbearance extending indefinitely as uncertainty looms above us all.
However, forbearance is not forgiveness. Kelly Zitlow, VP at Cornerstone Home Lending says that many borrowers are seeing on the news or hearing somebody say they don’t have to make house payments
and that questions around what to do are increasing. Zitlow has recommended that the first thing these borrowers do is contact their servicers.
“The servicer is the one that intakes your home loan payment. And they are going to have guidelines around the forbearance programs that are currently available and what those current rules are. Now know, that sometimes the waiting periods from what I can hear can be 2-3 hours long if you are calling in. So, a lot of the services have information online. Go there. Start there. See if you are a candidate for it.”
When people come to your website, how do you want that experience to be like? Chatbots could be one of those solutions.
Chatbots are virtual customer service agents you put on your website to help people find the answers they need. These artificial intelligent creations take on your company brand with a unique personality, imitating human behavior through text and voice. To put chatbot technology in context, let’s examine a modern scenario you may be struggling with today.
Sally, a customer, wants to know the forbearance policy for her mortgage. As mentioned earlier, the phone lines are overcrowded with long wait times to speak with a human representative. Problem: not enough employees to customers. So now Sally comes to the website and a chat window pops up asking how it might help.
Sally knows it’s a bot and focuses on getting to her end goal. The bot works with Sally by asking and responding to a series of questions. The conversation may go along this:
Bot: Hello, welcome to Jakobs Loans. I’m Sean, a chatbot here to help with your mortgage questions. Please type your inquiries in the provided box.
Sally: Hi Sean, I heard that my loan might be eligible for forbearance. Can you tell me what the company policy is?
Bot: The company policy for forbearance depends on the type of loan you have. Please type in your loan account number starting with a “#”:
Bot: Thanks Sally. I see you have a Fixed Rate Mortgage for 30 years. Is this correct?
Bot: Sally, you are eligible for forbearance until July 1, 2020. This means you do not have to make any payments on your house and interest will be deferred for the duration. However, if you choose to make payments, it will go straight towards the principal amount. Would you like to apply?
Bot: I’ve updated your account. You are in forbearance status until July 1, 2020. This has been updated in our records. Is there anything else I can help with?
Sally: No. Thanks a lot. Bye.
Bot: Goodbye. Have a nice day.
The conversation like the interaction between Sean and Sally is a great example of the power of chatbot technology solving top challenges in customer service for mortgage companies. But to get to this point, the chatbot relies on a couple of powerful features.
Features of Powerful Chat
The first thing at play is that chat is a two-way conversation
with the tug and pull of responses. The bot listens and works to understand what the other person is saying and then responds to decipher its context. This is an important distinction from the static website designs users experience from searching a page’s content. People crave engagement
in a modern web experience which is exactly what a chatbot intuitively creates.
The AI in chatbots uses a framework called natural language processing (NLP). Let’s take the first question a customer asks in our above example.
“Hi Sean, I heard that my loan might be eligible for forbearance Can you tell me what the company policy is?”
The chatbot latches onto keywords “loan”, “eligible”, “forbearance”, “policy”, and through a series of calculations interprets the user requests from a library of different possible answers. It’s a really amazing system that replicates the part of the human brain that uses linguistics.
The second feature to notice is that chat conversations are not always limited to open text. As the bot owner, you have the option to guide a customer through boxed conversations
by giving them choices among a list.
The most common among this is the yes or no options. When Sean asks for confirmation on Sally’s account number, instead of typing in her reply, the chatbot could supply two buttons to click:
“Yes” or “No”
While there’s certainly merit in open-ended dialogue, sometimes you as an originator want to key in on very specific topics your chat will have. It wouldn’t make much sense to respond to customer inquiries on gas prices or healthcare assistance, would it?
Finally, one of the most powerful features of modern day chatbots is their seamless integration with existing mortgage systems.
Chatbots communicate with back-end systems to gather, store, retrieve and update information in real-time.
When Sally shared her account number with Sean, the chatbot was able to look into the company database and share the details of her information. This is a powerful tool for saving time and troubleshooting some of the common problems in customer service—accurate and timely information about customer data.
Integration creates a web of possibilities. On the subject of scalability, we noted earlier that one chatbot can service thousands of customers at a time, as opposed to the 1:1 ratio of a human live agent. But besides living on your company website, you can deploy your chatbot to social channels like Facebook, SMS directly on customer’s phones, and even augment your existing proprietary applications.
It’s important to note that being a customer-centric lender is more important today now than ever. Pat Jackson, CEO at Sabal Capital Partners, points out the development of a new lender
that’s gaining advantage in the playing field of an already saturated industry of fierce competition.
“There is another type of lender, although fairly uncommon, actively lending today – the life of loan lender. This type of lender uniquely oversees the entire duration of the loan from origination through maturity, servicing and then securitizing and investing in the b-piece. This type of provider is fully invested in the success of the loan and is much more concerned with providing enhanced customer service to the borrower. The single-source lender views the borrower less as a fleeting transaction and instead as a long-term relationship. Through the consistent touch points it creates with the borrower, this lender understands the customer’s needs better and holds an ideal position to assist the borrower with refinance needs, debt for additional assets, navigation of agency relief programs, and better prevention of payment and default issues.”
Rethink the foundation of your business
When you build along the coast, you know to build houses to withstand a hurricane. Those that fail to prepare for the coming storm are the first to suffer irreparable damage. You now have an opportunity to improve your own digital infrastructure with chatbots to combat the incoming wave of customers. Your customers are the lifeblood of your company and they are scared for the future.
Now is the time to show empathy and pave a path forward with clarity, transparency and understanding in the midst of the current crisis. Provide a voice to speak to your customers and become a harbinger of peace.
So be kind to others.