DALLAS — Demographic, cultural and technological changes will reshape customer service in the mortgage business over the next 30 years, a Wells Fargo executive said.

For example, by 2050, there will no longer be a dominant ethnic population in the U.S. and "the implications for servicers are absolutely significant," said Carmen Bell, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Companies will need to look for "polycultural solutions instead of one-size-fits-all," which at the moment for most companies means that their materials are almost exclusively in English.

"Sixty-nine percent of the Hispanic population reports that they use English and Spanish to access media and the Internet," Bell said during her keynote at National Mortgage News' Mortgage Servicing Conference this week. "Do we have information in both English and Spanish? And if we don't, are we able to serve our population?"

Wells Fargo, the largest mortgage servicer and originator by far, has released a mobile app in Spanish to reach and reflect the growing Hispanic population, and has translated and retooled almost all of its materials to be more inclusive. However, "there are many other languages" that need to be acknowledged and accommodated, Bell said.

The millennial generation will also ignite much change, Bell said. Narrowly defined by Bell as those born between 1981 and 1996, millennials present the biggest opportunity for lenders to expand homeownership, but they have higher expectations than their predecessors and came of age with deep skepticism about large financial institutions. According to Bell, 93% of millennials who currently rent want to and plan to own a home.

Bell also emphasized the prominent role social media has been playing for companies, particularly large companies, in consumer experience and how companies just beginning to dabble in social platforms can learn from the mistakes of earlier adopters. Sharing an anecdote about her own use of Twitter when seeking results face-to-face with the supervisor at a major U.S. airline, Bell rounded out her point: "It's amazing how fast you can get things fixed, being on Twitter."

While the ability of a company to meet its customers where they are digitally and on mobile devices will determine whether they succeed or fade into mediocrity, people should still be the cornerstone of the business. Out of the 12,000 interactions per second that Wells Fargo has with customers, 80% of that comes through digital channels. Despite this, 75% of those customers still walk into a branch at least twice a year, and for millennials, that number is 85%. "Adding digital isn't about replacing people," Bell said, but rather offering the "anytime, anywhere" convenience that people have grown accustomed to.

Consumer expectations have also been raised by companies outside of the industry who offer what customers have come to know less as exemplary customer service, and more as simply normal: The real-time reactions of a company like Zappos, for instance, has shaped Bell's own expectations for Internet delivery services.

So mortgage servicers need to train employees, give team members the green light to do "what they believe is right, within guidelines," and encourage them to give supervisors feedback on how processes can be improved, Bell said. Even as Wells recently cut 1,000 servicing jobs, she said, "We must continue to invest in people. If we don't give them the tools and training they need to help a customer, processes and experience will be suboptimal."

Having been among the larger banks skewered by regulators and consumer activists alike for its role in the mortgage crisis, repairing the bank's image and staying out of the line of fire of regulators is clearly a top priority for Wells Fargo. Prevention and resolution of consumer complaints are key to the strategy; Bell said Wells is working on "customer effort mapping," a report that spells out the steps a consumer must go through in order to prompt a response or solution from the company. The company is also examining analytics surrounding the root causes of calls to customer service and ferreting out what the company can do to approach those problems proactively.

"Look to exceed expectations," Bell advised the servicing executives in the audience. "That's how you keep customers happy, keep team members happy and keep regulators happy."

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