For consumers, finding the right home for their needs is a complex undertaking that requires many pieces of information to make a good decision.
Yet all too often, buyers overlook two trustworthy sources for assistance: their neighborhood financial institution — which they might view more as a pit stop for financing rather than a partner through all stages of the home-buying journey — and the insights of other shoppers.
It’s exactly this type of awareness disconnect that Space Coast Credit Union ($3.2B, Melbourne, FL) has been combatting over the past few years.
CU QUICK FACTS
Space coast Credit Union
data as of 06.30.14
HQ: Melbourne, FL
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 1.7%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 7.4%
“Members don’t just want a mortgage, they want a home,” says Laura Richard, the credit union’s vice president of marketing. “So our ongoing focus for real estate has been to provide a remarkable purchase experience.”
In support of that goal, SCCU has spent more than a year aggregating real estate agent ratings, which — along with reviews for all its products and services — it hosts on a subsection of its homepage called Members’ Watchdog.
“Most members buy a house once every 10 to 15 years or even longer, but SCCU facilitates hundreds of these transactions annually,” Richard explains. “So we wanted to take all our experience and knowledge as a lender and enhance it with these other resources to make our homebuyers as successful as possible.”
Rallying The Masses
SCCU began collecting online user ratings and commentary for its products, services, and locations in 2007 and has amassed feedback from more than 125,000 individuals in the seven years since.
The reviews consist of both a star rating and free-form comment. The institution gives offerings that earn an average rating of 4.75 out of 5 or better a special watchdog shield icon, which means they have been fully approved by SCCU membership.
We wanted to take all our experience and knowledge as a lender and enhance it with these other resources to make our homebuyers as successful as possible.
SCCU relies on a partnership with BazaarVoice, a ratings and review software provider, to aggregate review data and publically display results on its website. The marketing department also funnels the information to internal departments as a crucial form of business intelligence.
“This has been a huge effort for us, but it has also been a huge service differentiator,” Richard says. “For example, in 2012 when our refinance activity took off, member reviews showed our service levels were slipping due to the sheer volume. We were able to quickly alter our approach and now consistently rank at least 4.75 stars out of 5 for all of our mortgage offerings.”
In late 2013, the credit union expanded the listings to include reviews on the actual real estate agents who were helping SCCU members find their homes. So far, the credit union has approximately 225 real estate agents in its database and members have completed reviews on 66 of them.
Real estate agents do not opt-in or opt-out of the process. Instead, SCCU automatically adds them as a result of working with members, so the number in the database is growing all the time, Richard says. And unlike public review forums and websites, only members who actually use a SCCU product or service receive the email that allows them to complete a review, making this information more accurate and transparent than many alternative resources.
In addition to the daily collection and analysis of reviews, the marketing team is also responsible for working with BazaarVoice and its own in-house technologists to identify and implement improvements to the program.
For example, SCCU recently added the ability for members to submit photos with their reviews, Richard says. And although integrating this feature took longer than normal, adding a new review component typically takes only a few weeks to work through form design, data feed development, and testing.
“It would be possible for a company to turn this review capability on and forget it," Richard says. "But I’m not sure how much value would be derived.”
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Closing The Circle On ROI
SCCU is no stranger to the tens of thousands of licensed real estate agents and multiple real estate agent associations operating within its footprint. In fact, it has targeted these groups for everything from broker open house sponsorships — where SCCU helps offset the costs of holding agent open houses — to joint consumer marketing campaigns that promote available properties and credit union financing at the same time.
Posting reviews on these partners' performance might seem like a bold move, but it’s worked well in the past with other service providers such as local auto dealers.
The real value for top performers here comes from being showcased on our website — which receives on average more than 1.2 million visits per month.
In fact, SCCU has found that reviewed partners ramp up their service levels during these engagements simply because they know they’ll be ranked accordingly.
“We normally offer our auto dealers a higher reserve for great service, but with Realtors we’re not able to do that,” Richard says. “The real value for top performers here comes from being showcased on our website — which receives on average more than 1.2 million visits per month — as well as in our newsletters and other communications channels.”
In 2015, ongoing improvements to the website will help SCCU better demonstrate this value, and its long-term goal is to track conversion rates from site visits to product and service adoption.
In the meantime, the credit union offers offline benefits, such as a 30-day mortgage closure backed up by a $1,000 guarantee, for real estate agents who funnel more of their business its way.
“Our Realtors want buyers who are pre-approved, know what they can afford, and have some expectations set for them,” Richard says. “These are all things we can help address.”
Although overall real estate loan growth remains challenging in this market, SCCU has experienced several benefits of this outreach, including a 24.1% annual increase in fixed-rate first mortgages as a percentage of total assets, according to Callahan & Associates, as well as an uptick in mortgage penetration from late 2012 forward.