By Jay Fraga, Director of Customer Experience, Lendio
When applying for a loan for your business, do you prefer a do-it-yourself, automated process that’s fast and easy? Or would you rather work with an experienced loan professional who can advise you every step of the way?
Most small business owners want both, and they’re increasingly turning to online lenders and online lending marketplaces to get it. Offering both a high-tech and a high-touch approach to business loans is a departure from traditional lending methods. It’s the future of small business lending. And at the heart of it, is a tailored customer experience.
Customer experience is not customer service
While the two terms are commonly used interchangeably, customer experience is not customer service. However, customer service is part of the customer experience. A customer service team may answer questions and troubleshoot problems, but they might be limited to one-time interactions with a customer. Customer experience, on the other hand, takes into account the customer’s entire journey with your brand. And a good one often builds customers for life.
The ideal customer experience looks different for every brand, and for every customer, for that matter. Particularly in financial services, when information is sensitive and stakes are high, a great customer experience is crucial.
My team at Lendio can tout its 15-minute loan application that leverages machine learning, or its dedicated funding managers that provide consultative services, but if the customer experience as a whole is less-than-stellar, none of that matters. Our award-winning customer experience team (yeah, we tout that, too) has taken this to heart.
While the team strives to be perfect with its communications, sometimes we fall a bit short. But when that happens, we’re quick to own mistakes, resolve issues, and do what’s right, even when the mistake wasn’t ours to begin with.
For instance, a small business customer recently had trouble getting a refund from her lender. She reached out to us for assistance, even though technically, this isn’t part of the service we provide as a loan matching marketplace. We contacted the lender and worked with them to ensure she received her refund promptly. She was so impressed by Lendio’s dedication to the issue, she gave us a five-star review.
When to focus on tech
Some customers are all about a high-tech, mostly automated experience. That’s why it’s so important to tailor the experience to the customer, and to find a way to make that approach scalable for your brand.
Here’s a small business lending example to illustrate this point. Let’s say a customer owns a couple of successful yoga studios, and he wants to add another location. He’s been through the expansion process before, so he knows the exact type of loan and features he needs.
His priority might be comparing multiple lenders or loans at a glance. He’s comfortable with choosing the best option and quickly completing your application. After all, he’s got a yoga class to teach this afternoon.
As online lending technology has evolved, the application, approval, and funding processes have become much more streamlined. And the high-tech approach works for many business owners because it’s fast and hassle-free. Businesses often get their funds in as little as 24 hours after approval. But it’s not the right approach for every customer.
When to implement human touch
When customers interact with a brand, they are often looking for a trusted advisor. But most of the time, what they get is a salesperson. This is especially true in small business lending. When business owners fill out a loan application, their goals and livelihood are at stake. Many of them are new to the world of small business loans and have no idea where to begin. Perhaps they’ve struggled in the past to qualify for financing from traditional sources (like their bank). Or maybe they’re highly qualified and simply want to talk to an expert to help them sort through their options. All of these scenarios require some human touch.
Even outside the financial services space, it’s important to identify the customers who want to build a relationship with someone who will walk them through the decision-making process, and remain an advisor afterward.
At Lendio, every customer has the option of working closely with a personal funding manager who can help filter through loan options, pinpoint the ideal loan for the business’ needs, and help them gather the necessary documents. Additionally, the funding manager doesn’t simply ask questions; they’re trained to take a deeper dive. Why? Because their aim is to get to know a small business so well that they could run it. (Well, at least for a day or two.)
The more a brand knows about its customers, the better it can tailor the customer experience for them. This approach not only works well for solving immediate needs but for establishing long-term customer relationships, too.
In all relationships, honesty and trust matter
Mutual trust is key to any type of relationship, and that’s no different in brand/customer relationships. In small business lending, the customer has to be honest — for his or her own good. Disclosing bankruptcies, existing debt, credit dings, or other issues upfront can expedite problem-solving.
On the flip side, the lender or lending marketplace must be completely honest as well. If they don’t ensure a business will be better off for taking out a loan, there’s no room for creating a long-term relationship. A focus on honesty and trust keeps customers coming back. We know this because 50% of Lendio’s first-time customers return when they need another small business loan.
The customer should be in control
Lendio’s CEO Brock Blake said this best when he wrote about the concept of a small business lending utopia. Small business owners should have the opportunity to choose the lending experience they prefer: high-tech, high-touch, or both.
“To best serve small businesses, financial solution providers will need to find a way to blend their new-age technology — the tech that makes accessing credit quick and easy — with the human touch. Having access to a friendly voice (or face) that can answer their questions gives small business borrowers more confidence to make important financial decisions, and in turn, grow their operations.”
The customer experience revolution has already begun — in small business lending and beyond. Customers realize the power of choosing an experience that’s perfect for them. As such, brands must find the right blend of tech and human interaction, ensure that honesty and trust are paramount, and put the customer in the driver’s seat. In essence, exceed customer expectations or be left behind.