Better Mortgage

Digital ethnography to inform product experience strategy

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In the summer of 2016, I was the Head of User Experience at an early-stage digital mortgage startup. At that time, we were refining the first iteration of the mortgage application experience, focusing on home refinance.

Time distributionI recognized that our usage data depicted only part of the user experience. Our customer interactions began only after the applicant had decided to explore refinancing, which may happen significantly earlier than submitting an application. We needed to learn more about the triggers to refinance, the tools people used, other people involved in the process, factors in choosing a lender, etc.

Therefore, I conducted a 9-week digital ethnographic study of mortgage refinance applicants. The purpose was to understand the entire human experience of the refinance process (not specific to Better), and to inform Better's product experience strategy.


The longitudinal study began with recruiting hundreds of potential research participants who indicated they were seriously considering home refinance, but had not yet applied.

From the pool of respondents, I selected 40 people to complete a digital diary entry that included a combination of closed- and open-ended questions, and a first-person video response describing their goals for home refinance.

DemographicsFrom the first entry, I further narrowed the pool to 18 participants to complete a series of 8 additional weekly diary entries that described their progress through the refi process. The sample included:

At the end of the study, I issued a final survey to the participants, asking questions focused on perceptions at the end of the journey, including what may have changed over the 9 weeks.


The digital ethnographic study provided Better Mortgage a much more complete understanding of the customer's refinance journey, including parts of the experience that happen outside of the typical engagement that lenders might have with the borrower. With this information, we identified gaps in our product experience, and opportunities to differentiate Better's service from typical competitors.

FindingsOne of the critical findings was that the likelihood of successful refinance is determined extremely early in the application process. Once this determination is made, it is extremely difficult to change the outcome.

As a result, I introduced a program to identify those applicants most likely to succeed, and to incentivize those users to engage on a regular basis with our loan officers who could provide extra assistance in the refi process.

This was one of several ideas I introduced once I became Better's Chief Experience Officer. In this role, I was responsible for metrics including increasing customer engagement by 60%, locks by 67%, and NPS score to 80 (industry average 32).

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