John Hillman, CEO Nationwide Title Clearing, Inc.
As the CEO of a service provider to the US mortgage lending industry, I’m always asking myself how my team can do a better job of delivering our offerings to our lending and servicing partners. In the process of answering this question, I have come to realize that the relationship with the customer in a service business doesn’t start with the sale. It starts long before that.
Our typical client relationship, like the business of the industry we serve, is cyclical. It can be depicted on a circle with the sale at the top. Moving around clockwise from there is the setup, delivery, maturing relationship, referral, public relations and marketing, sales process and ultimately we return to the top with another sale, often to a new customer who became aware of us through our work with an existing customer.
So, where does service start?
Most executives are likely to say that it starts at the top. The sale is when the prospect becomes a customer and as Peter Drucker taught us: there is no business without a customer. Others may say it doesn’t really start until the service is delivered. That’s when someone who has agreed to be your customer actually becomes one and enjoys the promised benefits.
After giving this a great deal of thought, I disagree. For a successful service company, the service must start long before either of these events.
Executives who know how to run a service-based business, even one like ours where we also offer a great many products, understand that the relationship with the future customer starts when they first become aware of your business as an option. That’s why well-run companies do a great job of winning referrals from their satisfied customers. This is where the process really starts.
This is why it can be so very challenging to get a new service company off the ground. Without social proof provided by your prospect’s peers that speaks to your ability to deliver, it can be very difficult to move prospects forward through the sales process. That’s why the origin story for so many service companies starts with them creating a first client for the experience, often at their own expense.
That was our experience. When we started our company in 1991, it was with a vision to create a better experience for servicers and the home loan borrowers they serve. It was hard work in the early days and it took some time to get to where we are today, now serving the nation’s top mortgage lenders, servicers and investors as well as various government entities.
We did it by realizing that the service cycle doesn’t start with the sale or delivery. It starts the first time a prospect hears about your company. That has an impact on how you run your business. I’ll talk more about that in a future post.