A quick look to the south, where a growing number of U.S. states have become COVID-19 hot zones, drives home the value of social distancing in the fight against the coronavirus. It’s annoying and disruptive, but social distancing is here to stay, at least until Canada’s federal and provincial leaders decide otherwise.
That means the kinds of human interactions so many brokers and agents still rely on to generate both leads and demand won’t be coming back any time soon.
“For a long time, financial professionals could just go door-to-door and take people to dinner and play golf,” says Shane Closser, head of industry and general manager for financial services at Yext. “Within mortgage, we had entire companies with that culture. That’s how they would drive business. Now, those physical human interactions are gone.”
Replacing those interactions will be a must for brokers if they wish to remain both visible and accessible during an extended period of social distancing. Establishing and optimizing digital touchpoints with consumers may be their best option.
According to Closser, there are three things brokers and agents can do to ensure their clients, both present and future, get the kind of relationship-building information and advice they’re looking for online.
1. Ensure accuracy
Closser explains that approximately 58 percent of financial professionals are not showing up in online searches. That in itself is a problem, but things can actually get worse for those brokers who are lucky enough to be found.
With so much turnover in the mortgage industry, it’s not uncommon for brokers to have multiple online profiles with former employers. With the possible exception of a person’s cell phone number, all of the other information in these dated profiles will, unknown to the consumer, be wrong.
“This is your lead,” says Closser. “Even if you’re found, having all of this information incorrect – your phone numbers, your addresses, your name – that’s frightening.”
Closser says brokers rarely think of their past profiles, or how they can interfere with future business. A client who drives to the wrong address for an appointment probably won’t be calling back to reschedule, nor will she be leaving anything but a one-star review on either Google or Yelp. These old profiles can also be targeted by malicious actors who might leverage them to elicit private information from unsuspecting potential customers.
2. Simplify the appointment booking process
Another key touch point comes into play when consumers visit a broker’s site: The ease with which they can access the broker, either in the flesh, on the phone or by video. If in-person visits are challenging or unattractive to potential clients, it’s up to the originator to make alternative arrangements as simple as possible.
Requesting an appointment should be one of the central features of a modern mortgage website. If it isn’t, potential clients will be forced to click around until they either find the right page or get frustrated and leave. Closser says some sites still don’t allow visitors the opportunity to book an appointment, an unforgiveable oversight in 2020.
3. Content that reflects consumer desires, emotions and needs
Attracting clients isn’t about finding the lowest rates, it’s about demonstrating a level of value so high that borrowers feel foolish partnering up with somebody else. Strutting your stuff is much easier to do in person, but Closser says providing relevant, up-to-date content online has proven to be a powerful alternative for brokers over the past several months.
For that content to be impactful in an environment of economic uncertainty and constantly changing guidelines, brokers need to recognize the emotional fragility many borrowers are experiencing. They need information. They need help. They aren’t likely to respond to product updates and up-sells.
“What you’re really trying to do is proactively coach – not necessarily pitch,” Closser says.
This is where the concept of thought leadership stops being an empty buzzword and becomes a powerful tool for helping clients at a distance. By doing research into the topics consumers are most interested in – buying that first home, downsizing, deferrals, reverse mortgages – and creating informative content around those topics, that content can be a reliable stand-in for an originator and help build a virtual relationship that is likely to carry over into the real world.
Closser says some of Yext’s clients have been having success with certain types of content since COVID-19 started clogging the Canadian economy. One is thanking borrowers for continuing to make their mortgage payments by telling them that their actions are allowing their broker to provide assistance to borrowers who need it.
“That created a lot of emotional equity for that company,” Closser says. “That’s what’s really important for loan officers right now.”
Another strategy is for a company’s content to reflect its involvement in the local community, something Closser has seen prominent U.S. companies like Cherry Creek, Freedom Mortgage and Movement Mortgage do.
“That’s something [brokers] should be very proud about,” he says. “It’s always resonated with people, but it’s resonating with them a lot more given the stress of the times we’re in.”
There was a time when in-person meetings were the best way to nurture client relationships. When, or if, those days return is too much of an unknown for brokers to bank on. Until then, an improved network of digital touchpoints may be their best option for informing, influencing, and impressing future clients.