Mystery Shopper’s Experience with Mortgage Industry

We’ve all seen the television commercial featuring the actor who says, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”.

Well, I’m not a mystery shopper, but I work as an account representative for Customer Perspectives™, a national mystery shopping company. Among my clients are several banks that have contracted to measure the customer service provided by their employees, both in-person and over-the-phone.

Recently, my husband and I decided to refinance our mortgage in order to take advantage of the current low interest rates. It fell to me to be the one to make the phone calls to find out where we would get the best “deal”. I’ve worked closely with many bank clients over the past few years, and felt confident that this was a task easily accomplished. I knew how the phone calls I was about to make were supposed to go and fully expected they would be quick and easy. In no time, I would have sheets of information at my disposal and would have only to pick one of the many suitors eager for my business.

In all, I contacted nine lending institutions: one small local bank, one small credit union, two small to mid-sized regional banks, two large regional “super banks”, two mortgage companies, and the mortgage group of a large regional bank. Of these nine contacts, only one offered to put an application in the mail to me! Guess who got my business?

My Experiences

The mortgage officer at the small local bank was quite pleasant and forthcoming with information about interest rates and monthly payments. He concluded with the invitation to call if I needed more information – a nice “close”, I thought. But when I did have a question the next day, and left a message on his voice mail, I never had my call returned.

The woman I spoke to at the credit union made me think that perhaps my business was of no value whatsoever. She also did not volunteer the information that the rate she quoted was available only with automatic payment from a credit union account.

At both of the large regional “super banks”, I had to negotiate automated call attendants and hope I landed in the right place. New account? Well, yes but I do already have a mortgage, so I’m not a first-time homebuyer. Home equity or mortgage? Hmmm, I’m not sure – which will work out best for our particular situation? But the home equity people are in a different department, at a different extension – heck, they’re probably in a different STATE – than the mortgage people. I’m old-fashioned enough (even though not very old) that for a big-ticket item like a mortgage, I want to be able to talk to a living, breathing person – especially since it was beginning to sound like the interest rates were all pretty close anyway. (To be fair, I should note that at one of the big banks, once I did get to a real person, the woman I spoke to was very helpful and quite personable.)

We decided to include a couple of mortgage companies in our research – we hear the ads all the time and one of my husband’s co-workers had recently concluded a successful transaction with one. The first call was unsuccessful – the after-hours night phone attendant was on at 2:30 in the afternoon. I tried the next day and was told the loan officer was not in, but was expected shortly. I got the feeling this office was very sparsely staffed.

The second mortgage company was not much better. The woman who answered the phone said no one was available to help me, but I could try another office and ask to speak to “Joe”. Joe was pleasant and seemed willing to help, offering to meet with us at any time. But he took no contact information for follow-up and didn’t offer to send an application.

My last call was to the mortgage group of a large regional bank. I never did talk with a person. Both times I called, I was instructed by the automated attendant to leave a message and someone would call me back. Too impersonal, I thought. I believe voice mail is fine once you’ve established a relationship, but I’d like to at least start out having my questions answered at the time I call. I just crossed out that bank name and number and went on.

Who are we refinancing with? Not the smallest bank – which, quite frankly I thought would provide the most personal service. And not the largest bank, which I theorized would have the best rates, based on sheer volume alone. Not one of the mortgage companies which, despite their heavy advertising, seemed to offer no clear-cut advantages over their competitors.

We filled out the only application that was sent to us, from a relatively small regional bank. The mortgage officer I spoke to had answered all my questions, clarified points I was unsure of , did not sound hurried or bored, and finally asked for my business by offering to put an application in the mail.

We received the application two days later. The closing process took exactly three weeks – as promised.

by Karen Gomes Moore
(former Account Representative for Customer Perspectives)

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