Inside View: Fannie Mae

Contact centers may offer a wealth of data, yet the most meaningful customer insights often lie buried within stored conversations, transaction histories and survey feedback. How can companies begin to uncover the trends, patterns and connections to make sense of it all, and more importantly, incorporate that intelligence into their decision-making?

Last year, the Customer Care and Strategic Development functions within Fannie Mae teamed up for a Voice of the Customer (VoC) initiative to better understand its mortgage lender customers’ needs and experiences. Fannie Mae is a leading source of financing for mortgage lenders, providing access to reliable, affordable mortgage financing in the United States, while driving smart innovations in mortgage finance. The VoC insights initiative was created to help drive the company’s customer-centric vision to be America’s most valued housing partner by providing customers with the products and tools they need to enable a more streamlined, digital mortgage lending process.

“By investing in new technology and being thoughtful around how we gather feedback, our Customer Care department is now able to work with our partners within the organization to continuously improve how our customers do business with Fannie Mae,” according to Graham Babin, Fannie Mae’s Director of Customer Care Transformation.

Elisa Spano

Earlier in 2018, the company had deployed Salesforce for all of its customer-facing functions, says Fannie Mae’s Strategy & Insights Manager Elisa Spano, who led the VoC initiative. “All of our call centers were documenting their calls in Salesforce, as well as the account teams that engage with our lender customers and our mortgage servicer customers,” she explains. “They had been capturing all of their conversations, interactions and meetings.”

The partnership with Customer Care provided the perfect “test-and-learn” platform to determine whether a text analytics solution could identify customer needs, trends and opportunities to improve the customer experience. In late summer 2018, the VoC team began working with Fannie Mae’s Selling Guide Support Team (SGST), one of its higher volume contact centers.

Ronjon Ray

The SGST is staffed by subject-matter experts who respond to policy questions pertaining to the Selling Guide, a 1,200-plus page document outlining Fannie Mae’s underwriting guidelines. Because Selling Guide topics can be complex and nuanced, customers often have questions about practical application, which generates roughly 10,000 phone calls each month, says Transformation Manager Ronjon Ray, who supports all of Fannie Mae’s customer-facing contact centers. “We had high-level insights into what those questions were, but we wanted to get smarter about understanding those insights and the customer experience,” he adds.

Customer Care had two critical drivers for the VoC Insights program:

  • SGST wanted a better understanding of how customers viewed the level of service they were receiving. Previously, the center sent out batch surveys on a monthly basis, but response rates were low. “By the time a customer received the survey, it may have been several weeks since their interaction,” Ray notes.
  • While deploying Salesforce provided the contact centers with information about the categories of calls coming in, “we didn’t have a strong understanding of where in the guide those questions were coming up,” he says. “There was a need for deeper insight.”

In January 2019, the team rolled out a VoC solution (Confirmit Horizons) for the SGST contact center.

Closing the Loop with Customers

To narrow the gap between the customer’s interaction with SGST and the opportunity to provide feedback, the VoC team deployed a transactional survey tool (which was part of the Confirmit solution). “We wanted to be able to send customer surveys as close to real-time as possible,” Ray says.

As soon as a call is closed, it automatically triggers an email notification to the customer. The email contains basic information about the transaction—the case number, whom the caller spoke with, what the call was about—along with a link to provide feedback about the experience.

Sending the case information and survey to the caller immediately following the call has increased the response rate significantly, Ray notes. “As another component of that, we built out a process for hot alerts.” The center set a minimum-score threshold for survey ratings. Anything below the threshold instantly triggers an alert to center management who will then follow up with the caller for more details.

“Fannie Mae identified a need to do a better job of closing the loop with customers,” Spano says. “The scripting and integration with Salesforce not only enable us to let customers know when their case has been closed but when there is an unresolved issue, we can be alerted of it instantaneously. We’re then able to respond personally to customers who have had a poor experience and try to rectify it.”

For SGST staff, getting direct feedback from customers has had a more significant impact on performance than receiving feedback from a third-party, says Ray, adding that: “Our ability to see and hear customers’ comments and immediately react to them has sparked a culture change. Our staff welcomes the feedback. Often, there is very positive and glowing praise, which gets people energized. It has been a great experience.”

Drilling Down for Improvement Opportunities

In addition to customer feedback, the VoC initiative team began to analyze agents’ notes to get to the root of recurring issues and calls. “While agents may categorize the calls at a very high level, the text analytics capabilities allowed us to drill down into the conversation to pinpoint specifically what triggered the confusion or issue,” Ray says.

For example, one high-volume topic category that revealed itself early on was based on the homebuyer’s income and employment used by lenders to make the decision to complete the mortgage loan transaction, explains Fannie Mae Strategy & Insights Associate Kevin Vineski.

Kevin Vineski

“It’s one of the factors that you have to check when you’re underwriting mortgages; thus, we get many questions about it,” he says. “As a test case, we looked into the questions about borrower income. Because of our categorization structure, we knew that pension questions were frequently being asked related to income that is received in retirement. Once we dug down deeper into pension income, we realized that there were a lot of questions about pension income from foreign sources and how it’s treated in the underwriting process.”

As Vineski points out, there was already clear guidance on how to handle foreign pension income in the Selling Guide, but the data analysis highlighted the need to proactively communicate that information to lenders, to make it more accessible on the website by including it in the top FAQs, and to inform SGST agents by sending a friendly reminder about the policy.

The intel derived from analyzing customer data is also included in a monthly report for the executive management team. “The report investigates common themes that our customers are facing from an environmental and market standpoint,” Vineski says. “The SGST center has provided a lot of good insight into some of the challenges and questions our customers are facing.”

Leveraging Feedback for CX Improvements

Customer-facing staff are another great source of information about the customer experience, and Fannie Mae’s SGST center provides its agents with several opportunities to offer their feedback. As part of a lean management process called Way of Working, or WoW, contact center teams hold a 15-minute daily huddle to share what they’re hearing from customers, Ray says.

Problem-solving is another essential component of the WoW process. Once issues or problems are identified, the team then works together to come up with a resolution. The VoC initiative added a layer of rich data that has enabled crossfunctional problem-solving, Ray adds.

“Previously, we had some information, but we were mostly relying on anecdotes. We could come up with a hypothesis about the issues, but we didn’t have concrete numbers and the supporting detail to be able to engage all of these different teams at the same time.”

Sharing customer and employee insights with other teams in the policy, training and marketing functions has led to an enterprise-wide awareness of the customer experience, as well as an increased focus on making it easier for customers to do business with Fannie Mae, and thus, driving down call volume.

In addition to mining customer data to identify opportunities for improvement, the VoC initiative team recently began to push the text analytics intel back into Salesforce to ensure those customer insights are more transparent across all customer-facing teams, Spano says. “Now, when an account lead or relationship manager is interacting with a customer, they can see that particular customer’s response to survey feedback for the SGST. They know that this customer has engaged with the support channel, and they can also see what their experience was like. It provides a more holistic view of the customer relationship, which the account lead can then leverage as they’re engaging with the customer. It provides us with another opportunity to improve that customer’s experience with Fannie Mae.”

Customer-Driven Decision-Making Provides a Competitive Edge

Although the VoC initiative officially launched in January 2019 when the Confirmit solution was deployed, Fannie Mae’s business outcomes to date have been remarkable. The company reports a 200% increase in the depth of customer information gathered, and a 300% increase in customer survey responses. Text analytics has reduced the time to understand customer themes, lowering costs and freeing time to focus on strategic issues.

In addition, executive management uses insights into the broad themes of customer inquiries to drive strategic business objectives. “One of the positive outcomes of this work is that it has highlighted the power of leveraging the voice of the customer to influence business decisions,” says Spano. “It wasn’t necessarily one of the ingoing objectives of this initiative, but as a company, it has transformed how we prioritize business decisions, how we make them and how we resource them.”

The VoC program’s groundbreaking approach and exceptional results have not gone unnoticed outside of the company. Confirmit recently recognized Fannie Mae with a prestigious 2019 Confirmit ACE (Achievement in Customer Excellence) Judges’ Choice Award for Innovation in VoC. “The 2019 ACE Award winners truly demonstrate how their programs are integrated companywide and are driving business excellence,” says Confirmit CEO Ken Østreng. “We are thrilled to see how companies are turning their Voice of the Customer programs into a critical part of business intelligence that powers data-driven decision-making.”