Banks spend a fortune on advertising, promotions, public service, even clever buttons for personnel. Recognizing that the mortgage market is a brand-switching environment driven by price and quality of service, they seek to improve service and client relations.
Gleefully going for the glitz, some hire high-powered ad agencies to create big-splash print or television campaigns. Others take a more grass- roots approach: building relationships with clients by stressing the role of customer relations departments, often by adding high-priced talent.
In spite of all this, banks systematically overlook effective and cost- free marketing.
While advertising efforts have substantial value, mortgage departments often either ignore point of sale advertising or are unsuccessful in such efforts. One of the best and cheapest places to get your message across is where the customer buys.
According to marketing consultant Kenneth Kehrer of Princeton, N.J., marketing to existing customers is a large and largely untapped profit center, but banks are historically poor at marketing for repeat sales.
The preparation for and completion of the mortgage closing is a prime opportunity for lenders to put their best foot forward, to build goodwill. It is here that customers actually receive the product they pay for.
Lender's counsel, whether in-house or outside, is a service provider just like a mortgage officer. Customers perceive him or her as an extension of the bank, even when they close in a law office. Yet banks view counsel as external to marketing efforts, often because the lawyer ignores the role or the bank fails to see professionals as a part of the marketing package.
Lenders' lawyers are pitifully poor at providing service commensurate with the trauma experienced by borrowers, especially the first-time homebuyer.
Because allowable lawyers' fees (paid by borrowers) are often low and the legal work repetitive, lawyers often treat mortgage transactions as bulk-rate, low-priority matters.
With the present trend toward using paraprofessionals (it's cheaper) encourages an impersonal, cut-and-dried, couldn't-care-less approach, the closing resembles nothing so much as an industrial assembly line.
Further, too many closing lawyers, when they do get involved, see their function as intimidating the borrower and overawing the borrower's lawyer. Properly, protecting the lender is secondary; building goodwill is the last thing on the lawyer's mind.
The customer feels that the bank's approach is adversarial, uncaring, and impersonal. Often it sounds like this: "If this deal doesn't close, we can always find another." Or worse, "If this customer is harassed and alienated, we could not care less."
But the bank's lawyer, acting properly, can sell the bank, while fulfilling the primary mission of protecting the bank's interests. Attention to detail and professional manner need not be hostile or indifferent.
The more professional, courteous, and careful the bank's lawyer, the more the customer perceives that the bank cares about its client. And the single most convincing proof that the bank cares is that it puts a caring professional in charge of the deal.
It might be argued that the customer has long since bought the bank's product by the time the closing comes around. There is nothing left to sell, goes the argument. Signing on the dotted line is a mere formality.
But making this mere formality a trial and a trauma loses good will and jeopardizes future business: the refinancing, the home equity line of credit, the home improvement loan, the college tuition loans, and the IRA.
A good experience will be fondly remembered and rewarded, but a nightmarish experience will undo all the publicity money can buy.
Mr. Major, a lawyer in New York, specializes in representing banks that make residential and commercial mortgages.