To understand millennial consumer culture, it helps to understand a little about our language. In the midst of all of the ridiculous acronyms millennials use in everyday speech, there's a term flying around that defines our consumer behavior: FOMO.
It stands for "fear of missing out," and represents the sensation that there is always something better out there if we just take the time to look for it. And, thanks to technology, we can and do look for it. Older generations might not be happy with inefficiencies or low technology usage, but millennials won't put up with it.
I grew up integrally involved in the mortgage industry: my father owned a mortgage company for most of my life. I watched countless families achieve stability and upward mobility through his work. When I purchased my first home, it was more than a transaction to me; it was an experience of success and investment in my future.
Unfortunately, many in the industry have forgotten what a mortgage means to the consumer. The process has become about a transaction rather than a customer's life experience. When lenders compete with transactions, they will always lose the millennial consumer to someone who does it better.
The generational term "millennials" seems to be inextricably tied with the adjective "entitled." While I won't argue for its inaccuracy, I will advocate that businesses must adjust to the dynamics of their consumer, especially if they expect to be entitled to our business.
We expect companies to understand and design for our needs. Companies use technology to study our habits and show us what we need before we know we need it.
It might seem like entitlement, but it's more an elevated expectation for excellence. Free market capitalism is what drives our economy, and millennials are about to get our driver's license.
In most other industries, companies that do not understand their market's needs and desires are driven out by those who have innovated to provide an experience that's better for the consumer.
Take the ride-sharing app, Uber. Cab companies did not innovate to provide the service and experience their consumers wanted, so their consumers found something better. Uber won by designing for their user.
In the mortgage industry, most companies are letting FOMO get the best of them by allowing millennials to look around for something better rather than getting in front of their needs and meeting them firsthand — and this is sure to become prominent as more innovative companies launch in the mortgage space.
To earn more millennial business, consider the following:
Understand Your Consumer
Research millennial values and communication methods. And before writing those methods off as frivolous, give them the benefit of the doubt. Generations have their own distinct cultures, and understanding their preferences helps to better serve them (and better work or live with them).
Use any and all tools available that will make communication and service easier and faster, but at the very least use text messaging. When a conversation by phone is needed, loan officers should simply send a text with the time to expect their call. For better or worse, we have become accustomed to knowing what is happening with our product at all times — we know when our delivery pizza has gone into the oven — so we might nudge our loan officer a few times asking for an update. Or, to provide awesome service, LOs could send us a quick text update every so often.
Don't confuse efficiency with lack of relationship. We may communicate by text and send our documents by email, but we trust our loan officers with the biggest financial decision of our lives. We will love or hate them at the end of this process (and we'll tell everyone which one it is). If LOs go to their closings or send a gift, we will love them forever. Relationships are still the key to marketing.
Provide Transparent Info and Expertise
If loan officers can prove to be a valuable resource for information, they gain our trust. Many loan officers try to make the process easier for customers by avoiding extensive education, but millennials want to understand the process and how the loan officers are calculating their loan options. We will research it on the internet anyway, so it's better for both of us if they don't have to waste time correcting our outdated or inaccurate information.
Millennials may lead trends in technology, but we still value relationships in our service experiences. A good relationship, coupled with technology-based efficiency, can get repeat service and referrals to our friends. Companies that do not design their service with this in mind will soon be pushed out by the companies that do. Lenders that create an experience rather than another transaction will be entitled to big business. Ultimately, the question is whether they will be missing out as other lenders scoop up our business.
Kristin Messerli is the founder of Cultural Outreach Solutions.