MReport March 2021

TheMReport — News and strategies for the evolving mortgage marketplace.

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24 | M R EP O RT FEATURE S top me if you've heard this before. I use a third-party provider to administer some of my firm's human re- sources functions. For years, they provided a dedicated representa- tive (or small team) to handle my interactions with them. The result was an efficient conversation with people I didn't need to bring up to speed about who I was; what my business does; and how we do it. In other words, we skipped the first 10 (inefficient) minutes of a typical call-center interaction. My experience with them was always pleasant and effective. A little less than a year ago, like so many others, my partner made a change in their customer service model. I no longer have a dedicated team of special- ists familiar with my business and its goals. Instead, I have an AI-powered chat bot. If, and when, the bot doesn't completely understand why I'm reaching out, I'm funneled to the queue of a call center. I'm then addressed by whoever's on the phones at that time, first come-first served. Now, I'll admit today that I was at first resistant to the idea. And I have come to like the fact that the new approach gives me 24/7 access. But I'll point out that the AI being used for the chat is very good. Nonetheless, the entire episode highlights a truth we need to keep in mind as we gain momen- tum for digitization. The mortgage transaction is, at its heart, a personal transaction. As we digitize and automate, it's important that we not automate that personal touch right out of the equation. Borrowers still want an expert to talk to during the uncertain moments of this com- plex process. The Personal Touch I operate a technology solutions business. This is not an argu- ment against AI-powered solutions by any means. We all operate in an industry that has been a little reluctant to automate; a little reluctant to truly reconsider how we put the mortgage transac- tion together. But this article is a reminder to mortgage businesses of all kinds to remember that ours remains a relationship-based industry. Although consumers, especially millennials like me, do indeed desire a more efficient ex- perience, they still prefer a trusted advisor over an FAQ or entry-level associate if, and when, they have questions about the transaction. They should be able to have both. Please don't misunderstand me. There are numerous places in the mortgage transaction (sales and operations) that are crying out for more efficient means of produc- tion. We're moving toward that goal as an industry, albeit slowly. But I don't believe we truly understand the importance of the consumer experience, either. Yes, borrowers want the transaction to move faster. Yes, they want access to explanations for why it may be taking an extra day or two on the appraisal or the title search. But they also want a human being—one they can trust—who can explain to them what that status means and why they shouldn't (or should) worry about it. Any bot can tell you that the closing has been delayed a week. Pre-written messaging can be auto populated for the most common questions. The borrower prob- ably has a bit of appreciation for that information. But it takes a trained, experienced human being to explain why the borrower shouldn't, or should, be nervous about that delay, its causes, and how it pertains to this particular transaction. This is also not to say that a personalized borrower experience needs to be manual. We've done that for far too long. But I am suggesting that, as we automate the experience and make it more efficient, we understand where and when it's time for the bor- rower to be able to tap "0" on her phone or click a button and get direct access to an expert that understands her concern. It's Digitized Shouldn't Mean Dehumanized Mortgage technology should enhance what will always be a personal transaction. By Jim Paolino

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