Building a best-in-class customer experience with Sarah Kanna

Building a best-in-class customer experience with Sarah Kanna

My name’s Sarah Kanna. I’m the Head of our Client Experience team on the mortgage operations side. Anybody who is speaking internally or externally with our homeowners is usually tied to my team. And, as of last week, I’m managing servicing transfers as well.

Valon’s tech teams are building the product and the tools that we here in Arizona are the clients of. We use those tools to better assist our homeowners in being able to get their loan serviced effectively and with as few hiccups as possible.

My main goal is empathetic service—bringing heart and transparency to home ownership, which, frankly, can be lacking in this industry.

And what got you into this industry?

My background is in pretty much all things client experience. I actually wasn’t in the financial sector to start out. I was very quick to want to get into the workforce… I started working at 14. At Chick-fil-A. I worked with them for eight years! I worked my way up into corporate, where I was opening stores nationally as part of their training team. Our team would travel across the country and talk about the customer experience: the way things like how clean your outfit is can change the way somebody’s chicken tastes.

I fell in love with the details of service. The stuff that nobody thinks anyone is paying attention to, that’s where I think you make the difference between good and great. And I had the blessing of having a lot of really great mentors early on that instilled in me the idea of doing things the right way, not the easy way.

In my early twenties, even though I was able to own my own store, I didn’t see enough growth remaining for me in the restaurant sector. So I (reluctantly) stepped away.

I knew I still wanted to focus on real human interactions. I worked as a retail executive for a while, but you can only clean up so many toy aisles before you start going crazy. But there’s nowhere better to study the customer experience than within those aisles.

That’s when I stepped into finance. I was talking to a few different colleagues and mentors about how I want to continue to make a difference for people while balancing work with my family life. The financial industry was recommended to me as a place to find a beautiful work-life blend.

In the financial world, everybody was very serious all the time, which, of course, was a product of the serious work we were doing. But I really wanted to find joy in what we were doing. That’s how, over a few years, I found my way to the fintech startup world. Here, we do great work in this industry that touches almost all of America, and we have fun doing it.

In your work now, what would you say is the equivalent of “the clean outfit making the chicken taste better”?

We pay attention to so much of what we do externally. Your “clean outfit” at Valon is about detail and presentation. Some companies can believe that internal communication doesn’t require the same care as external communication, when in reality that’s not true. No matter who is looking, no matter where you are, you are representing your brand.

If someone external gets a hold of an internal message of mine, I don’t have to worry. It’s going to match and represent what I want it to. What I’m saying is: a lot of times, when I was talking to kids at Chick-Fil-A about their outfits, they’d be like, “Well, no one’s gonna see my shoes.” And that wasn’t how we did things there, and it’s not how we do things here. Our mentality is that every detail should make us proud.

What does your day-to-day look like?

Well, it’s never quiet, I can tell you that. Most people who have interacted with me have heard me giddily yelling “GOOD MORNING!” as I come into the office, threatening a hula hoop contest to whoever is willing to join in.

I’m blessed to have a position that allows me to be able to impact a lot horizontally, but that does come with what I call “cave time,” when I’m locked in my office in meetings. As much as I enjoy these meetings, my heart lives on the floor. So, though my day tends to be very meeting-heavy, I try to be intentional about scheduling breaks in the day where you can connect and collaborate in those spontaneous moments.

What kind of advice would you give someone who wants a job like yours?

Think really long and hard about the reason why you want this job.

If you want this job because you think the title will look cool, you are guaranteed disappointment at some point in the journey. If you are somebody who cares deeply about the way a team is supported and how homeowners are getting the support that they need, then this could be something that you would want to grow into.

Do you have any experiences here at Valon that stick out in your mind as extremely rewarding?

Well, at most companies, when you want to push forward a great idea, and everybody agrees that it’s great, there’s so much bureaucracy that you actually can’t push it forward. It doesn’t matter if there’s alignment, if there’s budget, if there’s time, if there’s resources—you usually are still kicking and screaming and fighting to get a project done. And I’m constantly in awe of how different Valon is.

I remember a Product Manager and I were doing a meet and greet. I was eating Skittles, having a good time, and we started talking about an iteration on a product that we were both super excited about. That night, they coded and pushed it forward! Wow! That was one of the most jaw-dropping moments for me.

How do you hope to see the world of mortgage servicing change in the coming years?

Well, what Valon is here to do is so deeply needed in the industry. I want to see mortgage servicing have more data integrity and more trust within the intrinsic data. I want homeowners to have better visibility of where their loans are. If we have a single point of truth regarding what the data is and how it’s moving, homeowners should have the same.

Am I in the middle of a transfer? Am I having a homestead tax refund be applied? There are so many things that are happening at so many levels, it would be great to be able to give accurate and complete transparency to homeowners.

Thanks so much for your time, Sarah. Lastly, what are you streaming right now?

Well, I’m always rewatching The Office. Otherwise, right now, I’m watching RuPaul.

It was a pleasure speaking with Sarah. Interested in joining our team to make an impact on the experience of home ownership? Check out our active job listings at valon.com/careers.