Mark Lusted is chief executive of Dock9
In the last six months, we have undoubtedly witnessed a perfect storm of pent up demand, coupled with a government incentive which has led to all parts of the property finance chain (mortgage brokers, surveyors, solicitors, local authorities and lenders) being under pressure for a concerted period due to unprecedented volumes.
All this whilst many are working from kitchen tables, spare bedrooms etc., plus homeschooling and testing the limits of their wifi signal.
The resilience and professionalism of the mortgage industry should be applauded, but such practices are unsustainable and if, as many predict, this pandemic will change the way and where we work for ever, better and more efficient ways of working and delivering customer service must be found.
On the immediate horizon we have a 95% loan to value guarantee scheme launching in April, plus the extension and then tapering of the Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday means that we are also unlikely to see a reduction in enquiries, caseloads and pressure any time soon.
Rightly, businesses like eConveyancer have recently called for everyone involved in a housing transaction to show a little empathy and understanding and to bear in mind the pressures that the various stakeholders are under and endeavour to keep calm.
In years gone by I have often stated that the UK mortgage sector can be a slow adopter of technology, but I feel that such pressures and changes to our well worn practices over the last year have seen incumbents embrace new solutions and use technology to change the status quo forever.
One area that is ripe for change is increasing the use of chat services utilising a combination of chatbots and human interaction.
Other parallel industries such as banking have already demonstrated the viability and value of such a service.
For example this month, first direct announced that the group’s chatbot – called ‘Dot’ – was now solely handling one in four mobile chat queries with customers awarding it an approval rating of 92%, which is equivalent to human counterparts offering customer services on the phone.
The bot was launched as part of its chat service in 2020 and the bank said that Dot is supported by customer services agents around the clock to ensure there is no drop off in service whatever time customers ask a question that needs referral to a human agent.
Natwest also reported over seven million conversations with their chatbot in 2020, so with most of us multi-tasking, being time poor, or simply preferring not to speak to someone directly with a query, the application and value of such a function is clear.
With the likes of Accord, Nationwide and others already using chatbots in their mortgage teams it is surely only a matter of time before we see other parts of the property buying process more widely adopt them too.
Design and implementation need not take months and can be done in stages, as we have for some clients.
Are we prepared for chatbots to take more of the strain? I’m not sure it’s a choice anymore, it’s a necessity.