Customer satisfaction with companies that service mortgages has declined for a second year in a row, according to a survey by J.D. Power and Associates — a potential problem for lenders looking to land repeat business.

Customers with "high levels of commitment" to their servicer are more than three times more likely to say they “definitely will” continue to do business with their current lender than those customers with "moderate" levels of commitment, J.D. Power said in announcing results of the 2008 Primary Mortgage Servicer Study.

Customer satisfaction scores were tied to the number of problems borrowers experienced, how servicers resolved problems that did arise, and customer adoption of electronic billing and payments. Most customers view their mortgage servicer as akin to a utility company, said Rocky Clancy, executive director of financial services at J.D. Power.

"They just want things to work, and they expect a friction-free experience," Clancy said in a press release. "Any bumps in the road that cause customers to have to spend time asking questions or solving problems negatively impact satisfaction, particularly if they have to call more than once or talk to more than one person to get their issues resolved."

Lenders may be able to generate $30 million a year in additional profits for every 1 million loans serviced by improving customer satisfaction, retention and acquisition, the study claimed.

For the second year in a row, Branch Banking and Trust had the highest customer satisfaction index score — 839 on a 1,000-point scale. BB&T was followed in the rankings by SunTrust Mortgage (825), Wells Fargo (813), Chase (812), Bank of America (811), Regions Mortgage (808), Wachovia (806), CitiMortgage (803), U.S. Bank (803), PHH Mortgage (802) and Washington Mutual (802).

A financial services provider that serves only members of the U.S. military and their families, USAA Federal Savings Bank scored 912 but was not included in the rankings because of its more limited customer base.

The lowest-ranking servicers, all scoring below the industry average of 784, were Ocwen Financial (616), Greentree Mortgage (675), Homecomings Financial (688), Beneficial (723) and HSBC Mortgage Services. Others big-name servicers scoring below the national average included IndyMac Bank (743) and Countrywide Home Loans (756).


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