Monticello and the Art of Wowing the Customer


Everyone understands that setting customer expectations is important in sales. In fact, every business will say that their number one goal is to meet customer expectations. The problem is that simply meeting expectations isn’t enough in today’s marketplace to wow a customer and generate referral business. Meeting expectations is a mediocre strategy at best that sets the bar too low. Mediocrity is really hard to get excited about if you are a customer.

While it is true that creating a stellar customer experience is not easy for companies or sales professionals, it is essential if you want to lower marketing expenses. Wowing customers means exceeding what the customer is anticipating before the sale, during the sale and after the sale has been made. It means keeping an eye on customer contact points to ensure that each part of the sales process happens better than what is expected. It is fairly easy to give examples of bad experiences, but I wanted to mention a good experience and how a buyer’s journey was well planned.

Recently, I visited Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, VA. Jefferson’s home is a must-stop for anyone interested in witnessing this founding father’s architectural genius first-hand, but the point that I would like to discuss today is how the foundation that runs the historical site handles the customer’s journey and wows the tourist. The foundation’s challenge is to make the visitor’s process interesting and pleasant while moving large numbers of people through Jefferson’s home. This is not unlike mortgage banking’s challenge to move customers through the lending process. Although Monticello hosts thousands of tourists a day, the foundation has crafted a truly fantastic customer experience.

First off, Monticello’s app is easy to use, educational and functional. It features information regarding the home, Jefferson and current research by historians. It links to Facebook, youtube, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram and TripAdvisor (Who would have thought Monticello could be so hip?). Monticello’s online community boasts thousands of visitor reviews, shares recent historical research and addresses difficult topics like slavery.

When you arrive onsite, employees explain what you will be seeing before you even enter the home. You are assigned a knowledgeable tour guide who has been well-trained on Jefferson and his accomplishments and can answer any questions you may have. Once you have finished the tour, employees thank you for visiting and encourage you to return. The bottom-line is that the foundation has mastered each phase of a tourist’s visit and has targeted every need you might have. Obviously, their goal is to create a customer experience so good that you will tell your friends and family to make this trip. They achieve it by structuring each interface to be special for the tourist. If a historical group can figure out how to handle a challenging touring process, shouldn’t mortgage companies do the same for their customers?

Here are three points mortgage companies can learn from Monticello to improve our industry’s customer experience.

  1. Exceeding customer expectations starts at the top. Creating an extraordinary customer experience takes vision, investment and commitment on the part of senior leadership. Just as Monticello’s tour guides don’t determine what you experience during a visit, you can’t expect branch managers to establish the entire customer journey by themselves.
  2. Each part of the customer’s journey needs to be reviewed and analyzed frequently. Monticello’s customer experience has changed dramatically from my previous visits. The foundation has adopted new ways of providing information and is transparent regarding what visitors might want to know even if it might not be complimentary (e.g. they address the slavery issue head on). Likewise, the foundation has formed a community and seeks feedback through established social media sites. Mortgage companies need to do the same — social media is here to stay and customers’ ability to share their opinions need to be front and center for any service provider. Customer reviews are the starting point to building credibility for referral business.
  3. Execution of the customer’s journey is driven by the quality of the personnel. Hiring friendly, knowledgeable people can make any experience memorable — even the mortgage process. Like many museums, Monticello has a training program and mentorship effort to ensure that its tour guides are informed and able to answer all questions. The tourist never feels that there are any dumb questions. Shouldn’t mortgage originators provide the same level of service for the largest investment a consumer will make in his or her lifetime?


If Monticello can organize a wonderful experience, why can’t mortgage companies do the same?