As a 16-year veteran of the mortgage industry, I’ve learned a thing or two about creating win-win relationships between business and client. From supplying marketing strategies and valuation assignments at Citi to working as the director of client management for Altisource’s mortgage and real estate services, I built my career by forming close partnerships and developing a deep understanding of client goals and pain points. In my new role as head of client enablement at Maxwell, I nurture customer relationships on the fulfillment side of the business, a fast-growing segment that has driven 300% employee growth in Q3 alone.

Some of the insights that guide my success in this space are based on advice from mentors and titans of the industry. Still, nothing can replace more than a decade of in-the-field experience. Over time, I’ve created my own framework for successful client relationships. Executed together, these tips result not only in winning client trust—they become invaluable elements to organizational success for other key stakeholders, including operations and sales teams. 

Oftentimes, there is so much subliminal context that goes beyond the words they’re speaking. Listening helps you take ownership.

1. Listen more than you talk.

I’m a talker, and I have to sometimes take pause to truly absorb what I’m being told by the customer. Oftentimes, there is so much subliminal context that goes beyond the words they’re speaking. Listening helps you take ownership. You can use what is said and turn it into a solution that gets you and your partnership to a successful place.

For instance, I once had a processing customer ask me how other customers use the “junior underwriting” role. Instead of directly answering, I asked the client to let me know how they handle this position. My question led to an in-depth conversation on the number of touches per file from their underwriters. Eventually, the customer opened up about how much they’d benefit from us increasing the scope of our processing to facilitate more efficient underwriting. Not only did this unearth a business opportunity, but it also built trust. The client realized my true concern was to provide them with the services they actually need—not blindly upsell them. Today, the customer has become a favorite of mine, eventually adding on our underwriting services as well. 

Overall, I like to ask questions because they allow the client to reflect on both positive and negative experiences they’ve had with other providers or even with their own internal processes. That reflection helps me to understand how we as a business can enhance their strengths or solve their problems. Pressuring people into ideas only backs them into fixes they might not even need. If I truly focus on listening, I’m able to find valuable solutions for the client that also help my business succeed.

Each meeting I have with customers, I use a tool like Evernote or simply a Word doc to take copious notes.

2. Pay attention to what the numbers tell you.

Regular reporting is instrumental to client success. By setting clear expectations for both your internal team and your customer workflow, you can lay out a concrete understanding of what success looks like for you and your customer. Then, developing ways to track the substance of your interactions and the feedback over time is critical to having that great story to tell about your customer.

Ensuring client success means monitoring metrics at every stage of the relationship with the customer and your operations team. It’s vital to track production, turn times, SLAs, and KPIs. You’ve worked incredibly hard up front to establish expectations. Why not push that much harder to ensure you’re meeting those same expectations? Without data, you can’t possibly know if you’re delivering on what you’ve promised.  

Each meeting I have with customers, I use a tool like Evernote or simply a Word doc to take copious notes. I make sure to tell the client I’m doing this, usually at the start of the call, so they know I’m not multitasking, but documenting what they’re saying. You know that feeling you get when a server doesn’t write down your order? It’s the same when you’re having those weekly or monthly calls with your client and they sense you aren’t paying attention to or documenting their feedback. Show them that you’re hanging on their words! Then, revisit those notes later and notice what you’ve bolded, underlined, or need to follow up on. There is no substitute for live-time information—use it to your advantage.

Most horror stories about third party fulfillment (believe me, I’ve heard them) stem from a lack of communication, misunderstanding how the client works, and not syncing teams.

3. Planning is everything.

The more you know about your customer up front, the better off you’ll be. A partnership doesn’t mean signing contracts then simply throwing bodies at a process. It’s understanding the intricacies and strategies that the customer feels are important to their success. When you understand this, you understand what makes them tick.

For example, I ask the customer to take me through their entire workflow and let them tell me how they do things. Something I might consider to be the norm within Encompass may not be how they operate. Don’t make assumptions. Instead, let the customer talk through how they do business. Then, communicate to your team what to expect going into discussions with this client.

When beginning a relationship, my goal is not only to make clear that I’m here to advocate for them as a customer, but also to ensure my entire team meets their needs. I can’t do this unless I ask what seems like an endless line of questions. I need the customer to show me exactly what they do and what they need to reach their goals. I’d be setting both of our teams up for failure if I simply threw staff at a situation without taking advantage of the information the customer is usually happy to provide. Gathering this intel also helps the operations and customer success teams, who will inherit the relationship after the customer is onboarded.

Most horror stories about third party fulfillment (believe me, I’ve heard them) stem from a lack of communication, misunderstanding how the client works, and not syncing teams. Avoiding these missteps requires melding our team with theirs, not just providing production numbers—and that starts with meticulous planning and a deep grasp on each customer’s individual wants, needs, and processes. 

Bonus Tip: Be genuine—and don’t forget the human element.

Building relationships during COVID is tough. Whenever possible, get your customer’s face on that screen if you can’t be in person, and tune out everything else! Of course, you never want to push your on-camera preference too much, but seeing facial reactions, expressions, etc. is such a key piece of understanding what’s being conveyed to you. Meeting face to face is also instrumental to forming a solid relationship that predicts long-term success. 

Use your on-camera time to gauge satisfaction, ask detailed questions, and show genuine interest for your customer’s criticism, praise, aspirations, and drawbacks. A simple “tell me more about that” shows that even if you think you know how to fix it, you’re interested in their thoughts on the matter. The customer can see right through someone who doesn’t believe in what they do. If you have a passion for and dedication to efficiency and excellence, your customer will pick up on that attitude. It’s during these small interactions that solid, lasting connections are formed.

Amy Jo is head of client enablement at mortgage fintech Maxwell — and a NEXT alum. Connect with her via LinkedIn.

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