Serve without the expectation of reward. We will help a realtor with an offer letter on the weekend, regardless if the client is going to use my team for their lending experience.
As part of our series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammy Wittren.
Tammy Wittren is a licensed loan originator serving Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding areas. With over 30 years of real estate and lending experience, Tammy has a detailed understanding of the industry from all angles. From becoming a licensed realtor and assisting the nation’s top real estate agents to a branch manager at award-winning NFM Lending, Tammy has separated herself from the competition by building a team of professionals and community who share her same commitment to serve others.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been in the industry, whether real estate or lending, since I graduated college in 1988. Initially, I was selling real estate alongside the #1 agent in the world. After a few years, I had relocated to Oregon and was in the process of applying for a home loan when the mortgage lender helping me had mentioned that I had the most real estate experience he had ever seen as I had lots of experience learning from the best. Humbled, he has asked if I was interested in the home loan lending process and working for his branch.
I quickly joined the team, was branch manager for six months and have been doing home loans ever since. My background in real estate has allowed me to see the industry from all angles and truly understand the needs and struggles of realtors.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It wasn’t necessarily when I was first starting out but there was a huge snow storm that had hit the entire city of Portland. Everything was shut down. At this time, the government was giving 8k dollars credit to qualifying homebuyers and I had a client who needed to get their paperwork signed. They drove out to my house, in the snow storm, for me to review and sign the docs. Halfway down my 150-foot driveway, the client’s car got stuck in the snow. I threw on my snowsuit and start shoveling my way out to them.
When I got to the car, the husband is scraping the windshield and the wife gets out in a dress, no coat, and large wedge sandals. Without hesitation, realizing there was no way of getting their car down the remainder of my driveway, I tell the lady to jump on my back and I’ll carry her to the house since I had my snow boots on. The moment she did, the lady flattened me like a snowboard. Now, we are both rolling around in the freezing cold snow. I ended up giving her my boots and sprinting back to the house. All of their paperwork was signed and they earned their 8k dollars in homebuying credit.
Needless to say, it’s a day I’ll never forget and will always make me laugh.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people I am grateful for along my journey but one particular person who stands out is Rick Ruby. I used to be a part of a coaching program known as the CORE Training and he truly changed the way I thought about and executed my business as a loan originator.
Before I had met Rick, I was producing good volume, but he coached me on how to build a team. By flipping my mindset to — it’s the Wittren team, not the Tammy Wittren team — I learned how others can grow in my success which took my volume production to a whole new level.
I truly respect Rick. He always had a vision for me and my team that was bigger than I could ever imagine for myself. For me, it took the perspective of another person to step into the successful business woman I was meant to be. I worked towards this vision of becoming a top producing loan originator and morphed my business to develop a team that was dedicated to serving others — just like me.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
The client determines what good customer services is based on their needs and expectations. As a business owner, it is my job to learn how I can serve the client and meet those expectations. Seek to understand, then serve and give.
In the mortgage industry for instance, I learned that I needed to be available on nights and weekends because that is when my clients and realtors needed guidance and answers from me. At the time when I had extended my team’s hours into the weekend, our industry was saying that wasn’t necessary. However, the clients’ needs were showing otherwise.
Choose to serve your clients and build relationships within your industry network. On my team, instead of asking “do we have good customer service?” we pose the question, “are we meeting the needs of our clients and realtors in an exceptional way?” At the end of the day, I don’t care if the client uses me for their lending needs. I have come to learn that if I serve enough people, I will always have abundance in my business.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
I feel that typically poor customer service is seen when a business either doesn’t care about the customer’s needs or doesn’t take the time to figure out what those needs are.
If the customer service is less than exceptional, where can your business step up to service better? For example, if you are out to dinner and the food isn’t fantastic, what can the waiter do to fix it? It may not make up for the bad meal, but it will improve their overall experience. Seeking to understand where your business went wrong and then working to fix it.
Some companies will also fail to own their mistakes which I feel is super crucial. It’s just as important to take note of how your team reacts and serves when things are down, then it is when things are going great. When it is your mistake, own it. That is true customer service and how you become a champion.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
Absolutely. Anyone that sits back and relies on success is confused. Last year’s numbers don’t matter this year. What really matters is where I am in the present and how I’m working to consistently improve my customer experience. If every day we are working to be 1% better, then by the end of the year we are 365% improved.
A few external pressures that can force a company to improve their customer experience include technological advances, changes in leadership (people coming in that are reinvigorated with new ideas) and alterations in industry regulations, rules, etc.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
There are lots of stories I could share. I think the difference in my industry is that people expect to get a good interest rate and close on time, as promised. That’s my job. We execute that on 99% of all my transactions and my team is constantly receiving flowers, food and wine from happy clients as a thank you.
What stands out to me is when I have a realtor comment that a client’s offer was accepted because I had a relationship with the listing agent and called them to mitigate any concerns, winning their client’s offer over the ten others that had been put down. Not just doing our job, but truly making a difference.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Most of the time they do. Word of mouth referrals are huge in my line of work.
Also, when my team does make a mistake that could potentially harm our reputation, I make sure that we are turning the experience around in a positive direction. It’s the best to receive flowers from a customer noting that how you handled the situation is unlike anything they had ever experienced, and for any family or friends, they will make sure you are at the top of their referral list.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Allow your team to shine and own the credit for success. Take yourself out of the mix. If I receive a compliment, I make sure my team was empowered by the compliment because it was their compliment, not mine.
2. Seek to understand in all situations, good or bad. A good question to ask is, “help me understand how I have failed you?”
3. Serve without the expectation of reward. We will help a realtor with an offer letter on the weekend, regardless if the client is going to use my team for their lending experience.
4. Take responsibility and own it. If it happened on your team, it is your fault. Deescalate all situations by owning responsibility.
5. Be grateful. Let the people in your life know often that you are appreciative of them.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
Ask for them not to keep us a secret and to share their experience. As previously mentioned, my customer database is built one customer at a time who is sharing a positive review.
I also tend to worry about making sure the client knows what a great job the realtor did. Advocating for and elevating our referral partners changes the dynamic in every transaction.
My particular expertise is in retail, so I’d like to ask a question about that. Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
My industry is being impacted by online lenders so this is real for us. While we can’t compete with the technology, they can’t deliver on the same level of customer service. And that to me is invaluable. I can win deals over such competition because I have a team with over 150 years of experience in the industry that is willing and wanting to speak one on one with the client. The depth of knowledge and the local presence within the community is irreplaceable.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Serve without the worry of earning your fair share. Just serve people. Be kind. Do the right thing.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!