Demand Excellence

If you wanna be a great leader, you must demand excellence from everybody…excellence, not really good…exceptional, not just outstanding…the best, not anything else!

And while you certainly must maintain these high standards for yourself – – WITHOUT EXCEPTION – – and for your own area/department/business, you must also expect, and demand, and INSPECT, the same level of support & quality service from the other units/dictions within your own company as well as your vendors.

Inspect what you expect!

When I was with Lehman Brothers (Aurora Loan Services, their mortgage-servicing subsidiary), we were engaged with First American in a joint venture regarding mortgage tax servicing.

First American would deal directly with all the counties across the country regarding the assessment & payment of annual property taxes on all our mortgaged properties…regardless if we paid the taxes (via escrow) for the bank/homeowner or if the customers themselves paid the county directly.

(If the taxes go delinquent on a property with which the bank holds the mortgage, it doesn’t really matter whose fault it was..the bank is gonna take a bath if the property gets sold at a tax sale!)

Any specific questions that required further details (than were currently available on our system) or needed a research/investigation to be performed were to be transferred directly to their (the vendor’s) Customer Service unit.

In this case, the vendor was actually “Westlake Services”, a joint venture between First American (the property tax servicer) & us (Aurora, the mortgage servicer).

As I became more familiar with mortgage servicing in general & specifically, with property tax servicing, I quickly learned several interesting facts about the working arrangement between our 2 companies.

Coming from Citi, I’m used to providing as much info as possible right upfront to the initial point of contact so they can answer any customer inquiries & if necessary, initiate an investigation (research request) themselves.

That investigation request would then be electronically forwarded to the Investigations/Research area so they can resolve the issue & communicate said resolution directly back  to “our mutual customer”. The Investigations Unit would adhere to very strict timeliness & quality guidelines while our Customer Service people would have easy, on-line access to their responses to the customer (especially helpful should the customer call us again on the very same matter).

But I found out some very interesting stuff as I peeled back the proverbial onion.

The Westlake Research Department for property tax-related issues did NOT communicate directly back to our customers. Instead, they would make the appropriate adjustments/corrections, then note the account on our system.

Bad. Very bad.

You spoke with our customer…you resolved the issue…well then, you will communicate directly back to our customer in the most effective & efficient method possible.

That’s what I was accustomed to…and what I wanted.


The Research group (@ Westlake) had a 7 business day standard to resolve at least 95% of all opened property tax-related investigations. But to most people’s surprise, especially mine, they were “allowed” an additional 7 days if the situation merited it.

2 problems with that…

1) If they exceeded the original 7 business days, they did NOT  proactively contact that fact to anyone!

Not to the customer with whom they spoke, nor to our Customer Service unit! They just gave themselves an additional 7 business days.

2) And when they unilaterally, and without any communication whatsoever, “extended” the resolution timeframe by another 7 business days (thereby doubling the original commitment they gave to the customer), it was NOT considered a “fail” of the timeliness standard.

So, they don’t meet the established timeframe to resolve an investigation.

They wave the magic wand…IN COMPLETE SILENCE…then give themselves another 7 days – – and they still don’t get a “failed item”???

Bad. Very bad.


At least, to me! (Why we put up with this shit, before I got to Aurora, is beyond me!)

During a quarterly visit to our vendor, I raised these issues to the management team at Westlake/First American. (Note: I was considered the “new guy”, the troublemaker…something I wore as a badge of honor!)

“But, Mike, it clearly states in our contract that we are, indeed, allowed to operate in this manner!”

*throws his chill pills into the waste basket*

“So, lemme get this straight now…

“You don’t communicate directly with our customers when you complete an investigation.

“Instead, my people must keep a running log of all calls they transfer to you, ticklerize those accounts so they can perform account inquiries 7 business days later to see if & what you’ve done, and then proactively call our customers with the resolution? That’s how it works, right?”

“Yes, Mike!”

“And when you determine that you cannot meet the original 7-business-day timeframe on a specific investigation, you simply give yourselves another 7 days…without informing anyone. That’s means that neither the customer nor my reps know that you’re now looking at Day 14 for a resolution, yet everyone else still expects an answer on Day 7!

“Am I correct in stating that so far?”

“Yes, Mike, that’s right!”

“And you don’t feel that it’s not necessary to inform the customer that their item will not be completed until Day 14, when the last thing you told them was “Day 7”? Nor inform my people exactly what happened so they can just blast my reps? Do I have this all right?”

“Yes, Mike, that’s how the current process works!”

“Well, I want it changed ASAP.

“I now want you to respond directly to my customers by Day 7 with the result of your research, as well as continue to note the account for my people.

“If you can’t meet the 7 day standard, then you must proactively let the customer know via letter, and appropriately note the account, of the new/extended timeframe. At least in that way, my people know what’s going on if/when the customers calls us back

“And when that happens, you know, when you magically extended the original deadline, you will automatically fail the timeliness standard for that item.


“I find it extremely strange that you’re telling me that you complete ‘98%+ of all items within the standard timeframe’, yet my unit is constantly being besieged with customer complaint calls for property tax investigations that are still unresolved, past the 7-day standard!”

“Sorry, Mike, that’s not in our contract.”

“Well, how do I get this stuff put into our contract then?”

“The contract is up in about 8 months when we can then renegotiate.”

I pause. I take a deep breath. Then a few more.

Then I unholster my weapons.

“If you guys don’t agree to changing your procedures ASAP…that means within days…I will GUARANTEE that you will NOT get our next contract! I will raise these issues up my company’s flagpole as well as yours in order to get both of our senior management teams’ attention to the absolutely-absurd way that you’re disservicing our customers, that you’re falsifying the timeliness records as I can’t find that “7 day extension” anywhere in the contract & that we may consider this contract violation as grounds for terminating our working arrangement immediately!

“I am 100% dead serious!”

“B-b-but Mike, this is all so sudden! We’ll need time to discuss this with our bosses!”


“But when we get back from lunch, I’d better have your approval for you to implement these changes by the end of the week. You’re lucky today’s Monday.”

I don’t remember exactly what our group had for lunch, but I’m certain that our hosts did not join us.


We reconvened after lunch…with ALL my requests agreed to! In fact, we gathered their managers & supervisors & trainers to discuss exactly how they’re going to work in these new processes.

BTW, this is what’s called “a NY attitude”…you don’t accept someone’s bullshit, especially when it’s hindering you from doing the best thing for your customers & for your people.

I don’t give a damned shit what the book/contract/procedures/Bible/boss  says.

If it isn’t right & it doesn’t pass the smell test, then do something about it.

Don’t tolerate nonsense, regardless of how long it’s been going on!

To this day, I still feel sorry for my reps who had to manually track every call they transferred to Westlake…ticklerize all the items…search thru all the items/accounts (currently on Day 8 or older) on-line to see if the item was resolved & how…if resolved, call the client with the resolution…if not, repeat the process for that customer every day until it is completed…if the customer answers, provide the info & note the account…if you get no answer, note the account & call back tomorrow…if you reach an answering machine, just leave a generic message that you called (as Legal prohibited us from leaving any specific acct info on VM), note the acct & call back tomorrow!!!

That is, without a doubt, the most inane process I’ve ever come across in my entire career…and pure torture for the reps themselves!!!

But it was quite the satisfying flight back to Nebraska later that evening!

I knew that the new, streamlined process…better for the customer, better for my unit/people & actually better for Westlake (as they finally understood what REAL customer service & TRUE partnership is all about)…would be in place by the end of the week!

All of a sudden, our #1 pain point in Customer Service completely disappeared.

And I’m sure that it also helped tremendously with our customer satisfaction scores. In a little more than a year’s time, our TOP BOX survey results (“extremely satisfied”) rose from 64% (when I arrived in ’07) to 74%!!!

We actually earned a special gold award from this “Customer Excellence” firm that handled our customer satisfaction surveys (5 extensive phone surveys/rep/month!!!) & specialized in providing industry expertise & guidance to the various companies that contracted with them!!!



As always, “Thanks so much!” for being such a great audience! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

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