Some people would say you can never have too much of a good thing. But when you’re not able to maximize that good thing, it can be frustrating.
Countrywide Credit Industries Inc. was in just that situation. It had a wealth of data on its customer base, which had borrowed money for mortgages, purchased insurance and other financial products from the company. But it wasn’t making the most of its database. The Calabasas, CA-based lender knew it could make better use of its customer file for cross-selling, retention and various marketing programs. It had a limited e-mail program under way, but thought personalized communications would strike a more responsive chord with customers.
"We see e-mail as a strong complement to the other channels we use," says Paul Chartrand, assistant vice president for online marketing at Countrywide. "E-mail provides another access point to the customer."
Chartrand, who started in the online space with CompuServe about eight years ago, joined Countrywide last summer, just as the company contracted with YesMail, of Chicago, to rejuvenate its e-mail marketing initiatives.
Historically, Countrywide primarily used postal mail and telemarketing to keep in touch with customers. In the past, the company has sent out anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 direct mail pieces monthly. Direct mail volume fluctuates depending on interest rates; because of favorable rates the company hasn’t done any acquisition direct mail in a few years. The universe of qualified borrowers rises when rates drop, notes Chartrand, but drops when they rise, affecting who would be eligible for an offer or mailing.
Today, the company derives 40% of its loan origination business from the Internet. Chartrand estimates that e-mail costs about 75% less than direct mail. "It’s cents on the dollar," he says.
Another benefit is that e-mail has helped Countrywide convert thousands of users to making electronic payments. The benefits promoted to consumers—who must pay a minimal fee for some electronic payment services—include ease of use and the ability to make a payment and see it posted in real time. The cost savings for the company are sizable. "It’s a huge expense—$20 million or so on an annual basis—to print invoices," says Chartrand.
Countrywide, founded in 1969, provides consumer and business-to-business financial products and services and has approximately 3 million borrowers worldwide. Seven of the Countrywide business units are currently working with YesMail on e-mail marketing programs: consumer markets, wholesale lending, full spectrum lending, Countrywide Insurance Services, Countrywide Bank, correspondent lending (which purchases loans from brokerage groups and small banks) and real estate professionals marketing.
The goal of Countrywide’s e-mail initiatives, says Ed Henrich, vice president for client services at YesMail, is to find out where a customer is in the purchase cycle and cater to that. E-mail, he notes, is an opportunity to reduce churn through customer contact.
Countrywide sends different e-mails based on topics like refinancing, selling a home, home ownership and maximizing the value of a home. Some e-newsletters, like an interest rate watch, are sent daily to customers who request that frequency of contact. But typically, a customer is contacted once every two weeks. Some e-mails don’t have a specific call to action, although personalization is a key component of the electronic communications, says Henrich. For example, refinancing is hot right now because of current market conditions. The e-mails Countrywide customers receive are personalized to the point they will tell you to the penny how much you could save by refinancing your loan. In some cases, six to eight data elements are used to personalize the message.
Henrich says he isn’t worried that customers would be put off by this level of familiarity. If he was a customer "and Countrywide called, I would expect them to know what my current loan conditions were," he says. "Companies not doing this level of personalization are missing the boat."
One e-newsletter, called FrontDoor, is sent to all existing home loan customers who have opted in. Created about a year ago by Customer Communications Group, Denver, FrontDoor includes quick tips with links to Countrywide.com. Featured articles might include "A Guide to Getting Your Home Ready to Sell" and "How to Access Your Insurance Needs at Different Stages of Your Life."
There’s an effort to make customer contacts consistent in look and feel across various marketing programs, says Chartrand. Content, copy and graphics for direct mail, e-mail and other programs are shared to create continuity.
The newsletters go out to everyone on the file who hasn’t opted out of such contact. Chartrand says a typical newsletter generates a 10% to 15% response rate, based on customer feedback via clickthroughs or calls to the company. Countrywide, which has a list of several hundred thousand e-mail addresses, runs e-mail campaigns that range in size from 10,000 to 1 million contacts.
The consumer markets division, which offers home loans, uses e-mail as part of an integrated marketing "blitz" program. These support limited-time initiatives designed to stimulate call center volume at a specific time. For example, e-mail blasts may be sent in conjunction with direct mail and telemarketing campaigns to take advantage of market conditions if interest rates drop. Up to a 17% clickthrough has been received for such efforts.
YesMail’s Henrich notes that one challenge is determining "ownership" of a customer as the various divisions get more aggressive with e-mail. Chartrand says this is a concern—smaller divisions like insurance want to contact customers in more robust areas like consumer home loans, for example—but the company is addressing the issue. One department, such as marketing, will likely oversee who contacts which customers when, should the problem arise.
While some Countrywide divisions do rent outside e-mail files, most have not needed to generate extra call volume thanks to favorable interest rates. The company has had success, however, with appending e-mail addresses to other names in its file.
In business-to-business communications, the focus is on informing customers rather than making a direct sale. Chartrand says that in a campaign to mortgage brokers, for example, clickthroughs wouldn’t be measured. Instead, the company would look at subsequent inquiries about that specific product, or number of products sold in the two weeks following the campaign.
On the consumer side, response to e-mail campaigns is measured by the number of applications submitted, and those that actually turn into a loan. Dollar amounts of loans and applications are evaluated as well. Because of low acquisition costs, loans generated by e-mail are more profitable than those originated by other media, notes Chartrand.
Most of the e-mail messages have an 800 number too, so the customer has a choice of how to contact Countrywide. Customers can apply online at Countrywide.com, or can schedule a call from a rep.
"We allow customers to do the application process whatever way they prefer," he says. Countrywide is "very conscious" about the number of unsubscribes, which has only averaged in the .2% range, says Chartrand. "An e-mail address has incredible value for our organization, especially when you look at all the multiple products and divisions we have."