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Cultivating Leadership in the Servicing Sector

James Braxton, VP of Collections, Servbank

This piece originally appeared in the December 2023 edition of MortgagePoint magazine, online now.

James Braxton serves as VP of Collections at Servbank. He has been with Servbank—and with its previous incarnation, The Money Source, Inc.—since September 2016. Over those years, Braxton advanced through multiple roles, including VP of Customer and Call Center, and SPOC Manager. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Arizona State University.

MortgagePoint recently spoke with Braxton about meeting customers where they wish to be met, how COVID forced the industry to evolve, and working to develop the next generation of mortgage industry leaders.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your role at Servbank.
My official title is VP of Resolutions (collections), and of course with that role, I dedicate a large portion of my time to driving results while looking at the landscape of our industry to make sure we not only exceed expectations, but stay ahead of the curve for both Servbank and our clients. In addition to those important items, we try to approach servicing a little bit differently here at Servbank. We ensure that sufficient time is dedicated every day to developing the future leaders of the company.

For example, we routinely have impactful leadership development sessions with management teams in addition to one-on-ones, and skill-based development we have with our people. We invest heavily in many initiatives to develop the next generation of leaders, while continuing to deliver the highest quality level of service and performance results. We’ve found that the more time spent developing and engaging team members has a direct impact on our people taking personal ownership of quality of service, the KPI results, and the customer experience.

Q: You said that Servbank approaches servicing “a little bit differently.” Could you unpack that for me? What does that look like?
We are obsessed with the customer experience. Servicing is a highly regulated and rigid world, so in many aspects, the mechanics behind servicing remain the same, but where we can make a difference is in the customers’ experience with us.

From a customer’s perspective you usually do not contact your mortgage servicer unless you have an issue, and more often than not, when you do, it’s not a high-quality experience. As I stated, we are obsessed with ensuring that does not occur. We want to make sure that when our customers interact with us, they leave with an experience that is unlike anything else. And I can say unequivocally that we do, and we have the receipts to prove it.

Our Net Promoter Score is 85%, our Customer Satisfaction is 98%, and One Call Resolution is 92%. Not only are these all best-in-class numbers, but they are also not normal in this industry. We take great pride in our achievements statistically, but even more importantly, how it translates to our customers and clients. These are things most servicers don’t put a big emphasis on. We are not sure why, maybe its cost, maybe it’s some other measurable, I don’t know. But for us, it is the priority. We operate at a highly compliant level, and we do it in a way that our customers have an experience that always exceeds both their and our own high standards.

 Q: One topic we hear about a lot is how customer expectations for their servicer have changed in the wake of the pandemic and a general shift to more digital, more self-service. How have the past few years changed your approach or your philosophy, if at all?
COVID challenged us to innovate new ways to continue to operate at a high level not only in the office but outside of the traditional work setting. We have always had a stringent process to find the best talent, but given the large scale remote dynamic, it forced us to review all our existing process[1]es, procedures, and our communication for any and every potential area to improve.

Primarily, we had to tailor the way we engaged our people. Things like gamification, digital team building events, feedback and discovery sessions, enhanced communication, etc. were all new additions.

Our culture is what makes us who we are and perform the way we do, and we had to make sure we kept that culture alive by finding new ways to export it to our remote people. We had people dealing with personal and family issues, working at home from their kitchen table, stuck in the house with no friends or family outside of work for months. This was not the same level of personal interaction that our people were used to, not to mention the mental stress and challenges they were experiencing, so we wanted to bring our culture home with them.

Not only did these innovations help us during the crisis, but we were able to utilize a lot of them during the return to the office. And as I noted before, when we invest in our people it translates into better results all around, which is why we have continued to see our already best-in-class numbers continue to rise.

Q: One area we’ve heard servicers suggest there is room to innovate is in the mobile experience. Is that a focus area for Servbank as well, or are there other tech or innovation areas that are being prioritized right now?
Servbank has always been on the cutting-edge of technology, and we haven’t stopped. We are tireless in the efforts we put into these endeavors.

We are always looking for ways to best meet the customer where they are at, or rather, where they want us to be. We continue to expand the ways we can provide for customers to self-service, and not only is that a positive for us resource-wise and timewise, but most of the customers, quite frankly, prefer to communicate with us in this manner.

Anything that we can offer our customers to make their lives easier, to help them communicate in a way they feel comfortable with—whether that be text messages, email, notifications on our customer website, or our mobile app—we want to make sure that the customer is communicated with in a way that they feel most comfortable with.

I must confess, I am that customer. I do not like talking on the phone outside of work. I cherish that time to spend with my family, so if there is something I can jump onto a mobile app or website to handle, I am going that route.

Q: You mentioned your focus on developing leaders. What does that look like? What are the programs or practices that you are leveraging to empower that goal?
One of our four core values at Servbank is “Inspiring Leadership.” It’s infused in our DNA and critical to what we do and what we want to achieve.

Every leader within Servbank is empowered and given the latitude to have a strong focus on developing the next line of leaders. We host unique events like our Women’s Leadership Forum that meets monthly to discuss various topics unique to our women’s leaders. The Forum includes members that are both from the company’s leadership, as well as non-leadership. Everyone has a voice and participates. Obviously, I’m not invited to those. [laughs] (as I reference before, we are always investing in our people).

As you know, having quality future leaders starts with the way that you hire. As such, we hire team members who live our core values first and foremost. We hire for character and train for skill. When you hire that way, we find that most of our people strive for more, to be the best version of themselves, that they desire to elevate. It is not uncommon to hear our approach and come to us directly and say “I live these core values. I live inspiring leadership. I want to develop myself into that next level of leadership.”

That part is on our current leaders to pour back into them. Just from a supervisor level, to give you an example, my expectation is that they spend the majority of their day doing coaching or some type of coaching activity. That can be anything from doing one-on-ones to just meeting and mentoring people on their team, but it is the emphasis on coaching from every level. For myself, for the managers, and for the people whom I report to, time is put into every level of development for everybody. When that effort is put in on all levels, we get the results I outlined above.

Our clients get a level of collaboration and service that is outstanding. And the key to this is that it starts with and is reinforced from the top. That is why our Chief Servicing Officer, Jason Kwasny, personally holds both companywide and department-based development forums. He also holds direct development one-on-ones. This consistent investment in leader[1]ship trickles down from there. I hold them with my managers and supervisors, and so on. It is just part of the fabric of what we do, because if we value our investment in our team members, you not only get your next wave of leaders, but have happy team members. We know that happy, engaged, and caring team members translates into happy customers and an unmatched overall experience.

About Author: Eric C. Peck

Eric C. Peck has 20-plus years’ experience covering the mortgage industry, he most recently served as Editor-in-Chief for The Mortgage Press and National Mortgage Professional Magazine. Peck graduated from the New York Institute of Technology where he received his B.A. in Communication Arts/Media. After graduating, he began his professional career with Videography Magazine before landing in the mortgage space. Peck has edited three published books and has served as Copy Editor for Entrepreneur.com.

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