Techniques: Microcases


Problem: Customers and staff are out of sync with the home office
Solution: A unified messaging service that keeps everyone in touch
Payoff: Faster response times help the company beat the competition

When 1st 2nd Mortgage Co. of NJ Inc. saw a drop in its Hawaii revenues, earlier this year, Andy Pada Jr. wasn't sure if the problem was a weak real estate market or strong competitors. But as the vice-president and COO of a small mortgage-banking firm whose home office was five time zones away in Cresskill, N.J., Pada realized that the recipe for keeping his share of the Hawaiian market was the same either way: react faster and offer better service than his bigger competitors did.

What Pada feared most was that his staff would miss a closing because internal communications were too slow. And that brought him face-to-face with the time-zone issue. On any given day, Honolulu branch manager Ella Taong might need to wait until after lunch to set the preliminary details for a closing. But by that time the home office would be closed. Taong needed to know the bank's exact mortgage rate for the following day, which was determined in the late afternoon on the East Coast. If she waited for the New Jersey office to reopen the next day, it would be after midnight in Honolulu. Most of a day went by waiting for clocks to catch up -- a problem her local Hawaiian competitors didn't face.

Of course, Taong could call or E-mail Pada after hours, but she was never sure where he'd be. To allow his far-flung brokers to reach him wherever he was, Pada ordered a unified messaging service to consolidate all of his messages. In addition, the 29-year-old banker gave each of his 75 employees (in 10 states) an account with New York City-based MessageClick, which lets users receive E-mail, faxes, and voice messages at a single phone number or E-mail address.

In addition, users can program the service to forward calls to several different phones using a Follow Me feature. For calls from Taong, for example, the service might try Pada's car phone first, then his cell phone, and finally his home phone.

Each employee at 1st 2nd Mortgage received a personalized toll-free number from MessageClick. The mortgage-banking firm pays $8 per user per month. Like the rest of his employees, Pada checks one mailbox and gets all his voice and E-mail messages -- including an alert if a fax is waiting. (A text-to-speech E-mail translator "reads" him the E-mail out loud.) When checking his messages online, Pada can print E-mail and faxes, and listen to voice messages, which are stored as RealAudio files.

In addition to bringing 1st 2nd Mortgage's 16 field offices into the communication fold, unified messaging has also paid off for the company closer to home. A recent south Jersey refinancing nearly derailed when the homeowner balked at a monthly payment that was higher than the one she had expected. Settlement agent Carol Anne Newman called Pada from the closing table to get more details for the client, and the Follow Me service routed the call to Pada on his cell phone down the hall from his office. Pada checked the title documents and discovered that a previous owner had failed to pay a $1,200 water-tax bill, thus increasing the overall amount due. Pada called back with the explanation, and the refinancing went forward. "In a fast-moving, inflated market, this kind of mom-and-pop service is only possible with technology," says Pada.

Pada gives MessageClick about "75% credit" for the expansion of his firm's business since May. "We have opened two new branches in New York, one in Ohio, and we are opening another in the state of Washington," he says. "We also did some business in Guam -- a 12-hour time wing -- but that has died down in the last year. Unified messaging may allow us to pick it up again."

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