The Support Automation Show: Episode 24

In this episode of The Support Automation Show, a podcast by Capacity, Justin Schmidt is joined by Robin Clayton, Director, Digital Lending and Marketing at Paramount Residential Mortgage Group. With a strong background in financial services, real estate, and corporate operations, Robin brings creative and innovative solutions to the organization’s toughest challenges. One of her key focuses is automation, and today Robin shares her approach to automating support and onboarding at PRMG.

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 Justin Schmidt: Welcome to the Support Automation Show. A podcast by Capacity. Join us for conversations with leaders and customer or employee support who are using technology to answer questions, automate processes, and build innovative solutions to any business challenge. I’m your host, Justin Schmidt. Robin Clayton. Welcome to the Support Automation Show.

Robin Clayton: Thank you, Justin. Glad to be here.

Justin: Where’s this podcast you?

Robin: I am in beautiful Lake Forest, California in Orange County, having a great day.

Justin: Love Orange County. I’ve spent some time in Long Beach and in San Francisco. Whenever people ask me which I preferred Northern California or Southern California, my brain wants to say I preferred Northern California, but it’s really hard to be Southern California in just lifestyle, so love me some California. You’re calling us as the director of digital lending and marketing at Paramount Residential Mortgage Group, for disclosure off the top PRMG is a customer of Capacity, but we’re not here to talk about capacity. We’re here to talk about support automation and how PRMG and how you yourself have used automation throughout your journey and the lessons you’ve learned. Maybe start us off. Tell me a little bit about PRMG and your role there.

Robin: Sure. We’re a mortgage company. We were founded in 2001, we just celebrated our 20th year.

Justin: Congrats.

Robin: We have about– oh, thanks. We have 3,000 employees. We’re licensed in 48 states and it’s really exciting. I’ve been here a little over a year. They brought me on to really challenge the industry in terms of technology and innovation. The mortgage industry is very traditional. We still use fax machines. [chuckles] There’s a lot of processes where there’s wet signatures and all that kind of stuff. From a tech perspective, it’s an ocean of opportunity, and there’s a lot of things we can do with little small moves that really knock people’s socks off. It’s just a blast for me.

Justin: Yes. How did you, personally in your journey, get into a director of digital lending? Is digital lending an emerging role inside of mortgage, or is this something that mortgage companies have had for at least the last 5 or 10 years or whatever? How does one end up in digital lending and digital strategy in the mortgage industry?

Robin: Yes, so it’s certainly not brand new but companies are taking it a lot more seriously. For me personally, I’ve been in the mortgage industry my whole life just by accident, starting with a temp job, right out of college and here I am. [chuckles] I’ve had a lot of the operations roles ended up actually in training for a decade. Got really used to being empathetic and repetitive tasks and all that kind of stuff that grew old right quick. It was like, how can we shorten the amount of time from the day you start to the day that you’re fully productive?

That’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Then naturally that, well, for me, it was, I flowed into marketing and being creative and helping sales people even more, so with those two things running in tandem and just having a propensity for technology in general, this is a role that was created with merging just my interest in supporting people creating revenue for the company and also using technology to get them there. That’s how I ended up where I am now. [chuckles].

Justin: It’s fascinating when you think about the journey that we all go through in our careers and how that journey evolves with the technology that is available to us. A lot of times when I get asked by fresh graduates out of school or an intern or something that comes in, there’s a big part that tells them, “Look, your career is going to go in a place that I can’t define for you yet because the business world and the tools and processes and best practices and whatever else in the discipline that you’re in, are going to change over time.”

You might not be in marketing in 10 years from now. You might be in an entirely different discipline, but evolution is what really drives all this. One of the things that has evolved in our way of working in the modern world is the concept of automation and how automation has gotten into knowledge work, “white collar work”. Here at Capacity, we’re big proponents of the concept of support automation. The first question I’m going to ask you is the first question I ask everybody and that is when you hear the phrase support automation, what does that mean to you?

Robin: Great question. To me, support automation focuses on how we shorten the amount of time for when someone is hired to when they’re fully productive. In the operations or fulfillment stage, that could be how quickly can you learn our software, or how quickly can you learn our particular policies? On the sales side, it could be learning what marketing tools are available to you, learning what regulations you have to do. The more support that you can provide them, one, retention is really big because it’s very competitive to recruit. You get that person to feel, “Wow, this company really takes care of me. They really care.” Then they start talking to their friends and their network and say, “You should come join this organization.”

When you use automation, it now takes, “Oh, well, now you can talk to this one person, she’s your concierge, she’s going to help you, oh, well, sorry. She’s not available right now because she’s only one of you that can help at the same time. Now she’s available. The system can help 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.” It will learn from answers that people have about how we’ll get an FAQ going. It means that companies are more profitable. Employees are feeling more supported, which all in terms of making the company more money.

Justin: Yes. You’ve touched on a very interesting concept with all of this. The faster you can realize the investment in a new hire, the better. It’s not only that initial period of ramp-up. In something like the mortgage business, when regulations change even seasoned loan officers or people in the underwriting department or whatever, still need to be brought up to speed with whatever the new regulations are.

If there’s any macroeconomic forces at play with rates going up or down, things have to shift on how you guys basically do the sales enablement to use a phrase from outside of the mortgage industry. Technology is a really great lubricant to get that process moving quickly and smoothly and not have you waste cycles on ramping people slowly. It’s not just, “Hey, I have to constantly be hiring people.” It’s constant hiring and going back and retraining or re-skilling or just leveling up existing people.

The other thing that I’ve learned just observing the mortgage business is the competition for good talent is very, very, very high. You want to get a good LO who can drive value for the business, that person’s going to have a lot of options on where to go. Abstracting that outside of mortgage, there’s a real good lesson for all of us here with the great resignation or the great shift or whatever you want to call it on employer retention and automation doesn’t have to be, “Hey, we’re going to replace people.” Automation can be, “Hey, we’re going to augment our best people and help those people do their best work.”

Whether you’re in mortgages or software or pipe fittings, I don’t know, I’m making stuff up off the top of my head, these principles still apply. Do you find with the lenders and servicing and underwriting, all the different parts of the mortgage value, do you find that there is in general pretty open arms to automation or do people think, “Hey, you’re doing this to take my job. I’m not interested in it.” How do you do the change management and internal selling for lack of a better word on bringing automation into the business?

Robin: It’s a really interesting question. There is not a resistance to, I’m going to lose my job because your support teams and your training teams are perpetually understaffed. I don’t care what company you’re in, but in this industry, I have yet to work at the largest bank in the United States or a small boutique lender, there was never a support person saying, “Boy, what shall I do with my free time?” [laughs] That’s not really a concern.

The biggest concern I see is with those top-performing salespeople, that if you mentioned, have been corded and lured by every single competitor. They have this perception that good service and quick service means a live human and a direct phone number I can call. The idea of, well, now you’re using a system or using technology, or you’re using a chat or an email ticketing system feels less than, and it doesn’t feel like a white-glove experience.

Trying to educate them that actually, this is a better experience. You’ll get an answer at 9:00 o’clock on a Saturday night, you will get the right answer instead of, well, maybe you ask one person, but that’s not really their area of expertise, so they had to go tap someone on the shoulder. You’re getting it directly from the source of truth. That’s the biggest hurdle we overcome is getting them to trust that this is really going to help you. It’s going to be better quality of data, it’s going to be better speed. That’s my job every single day is selling that, explaining that, and championing that.

Justin: You said earlier that PRMG has 3,000 employees. Is that correct? Is that the number?

Robin: Yes. We have 3,000 employees.

Justin: How many of those 3,000 are LOs selling loans?

Robin: It fluctuates. Right now it’s about a thousand.

Justin: Wow. Yes, that’s a lot. You have just the law of large numbers here. If you have a thousand people that could have a question or need something at any given time, you basically have a situation where there is a constant need for answers or particular things. In a world where time is money, if you have a potential borrower and you need to close that borrower, and you’ve got to wait six hours for something that could be the difference between getting that loan and not.

It really is a time of the essence thing, which goes back to your original point anyway, and bringing in support automation to help with that onboarding process of getting people up to speed very quickly. I’m a big proponent of thinking through how a business can drive value quickly with any investment it makes. We’ve talked about how we could drive value with getting people on board quickly. Another question I have for you is have you seen places outside of hiring people, so maybe external marketing or other functions in the business where you have brought in automation and have seen that time to value increase maybe outside of specifically new hiring?

Robin: Yes. One of the partners that PRMG is a huge fan of is one of our point of sale systems in particular Blend and Blend is really focused on creating a seamless mobile-friendly loan application experience. Being able to sync up your bank statements so you can log in or just being able to quickly tap through a bunch of questions to fill out the loan application versus the traditional paper 1003 that you’re filling out.

We’ve seen higher conversion rates. We’ve seen enormous time saving with a loan officer, not chasing down documents and also just the overall feeling of the customer like, “Wow, you guys really get it. You’re here to serve me when I want to log in,” because most people just like us, they work. The time for them to take care of their home purchasing or do a refinance is going to be after an hour. It’s going to be on the weekends during the kids’ soccer game. Being able to meet people where they live has proven to be very successful. We are on track to have 50% of our loan production through this system just because it’s been such an incredible experience for the customer and our salesforce.

Justin: There are two things that come to mind when you told that story, but first, this is just anecdotal and funny, but in a prior life blend.com, that domain was a marquee property for a job I used to have. It was really funny for me getting into this and we see Blend everywhere. They’re one of the biggest mortgage tech companies in the last few years. Every trade show, everything we see, everyone’s very familiar with blend and it always just trips me out seeing that domain name, because it’s like I used to manage that and it was an entirely different business. Shout out to our friends at Blend.

The other thing comes up and I’m interested in double-clicking on this with you because you and I both come from a marketing background, we spend a lot of time with prospects and customers as marketers, that’s just part of the job. You brought up this expectation of experience. I have an expectation holding up my iPhone of just absolutely remarkable user experience in my digital life because of what the smartphone revolution has brought about and some of the big operators inside of that space.

A good example of this. If I buy something off of Amazon, I can get support on returning it, or if there’s a billing issue or if there’s whatever might be with the package or with prime video or whatever it is. There’s just this remarkable expectation that’s set on how good, how fast, how available that service is. It’s incumbent upon technology vendors like Capacity, Blend, and others to give people that same experience in their work lives or in some niche part of the economy versus Amazon being everything that all people, all the time, even a company-like Blend is small compared to Amazon.

My question to you is have you seen a big change in consumer expectations in mortgage that maybe surprised you in a way and what was that change? The reason I ask this is because it’s easy for some of us to think, oh, well, I get my mortgage whenever I buy a home and I refinance it whenever rates get significantly lower than what I have currently. Otherwise, I just pay the bill and don’t think about it. I’m curious what moments of delight and interesting change have you seen in the mortgage business that maybe you didn’t expect or caught you by surprise?

Robin: Yes. The biggest change was COVID-19 because you took an industry with physical branch locations, hey, consumer, come by my office, bring the kids, we got a stack of coloring books in the corner, bring your box of tax returns and we’re going to work this out. There were a lot of retail loan officers who were very successful and used to working in that way. Then all of a sudden it was, well, now we have to learn how to Skype and how to Zoom.

Now I have to enter everything into a computer or give it to the consumer and have them enter it on their own. There was a few tech-savvy originators who have been doing this for decades and that’s just how they operate, they’ve trained their partners and clients and so it was easy, but to see some of these other folks that were a little bit older or more traditional that’s why we actually had a campaign at PRMG called path to pivot. Because it was like, how do you take this model that we’ve had for decades and just say, now we’re going to completely shift it? We’re going to have people message us on Facebook, and if they have questions about a mortgage or fill out a calculator on a website. Now they expect it.

Before it was, “Oh, yes, that’s fine. I’ll come on by the office. Just send me the paperwork and I’ll fill it out by hand.” Now it’s, “What do you mean I have to fax it? What do you mean I have to sign it? Can I just DocuSign with my finger on my phone?” Every mortgage lender either has to figure this out and get it right immediately or you will be left behind by the other lenders who are tech-forward. There are some lenders who are already doing it. It was like, “Ha, ha,” they got to pull ahead and everyone else is either getting with it or getting left behind so we’ve invested a ton in technology. I was actually hired in 2020 because it was such a wake-up call to us and to all of our peers that this isn’t a nice to have, it’s necessary and consumers are demanding it.

Justin: Yes. It gets right back to the expectations. The theme of this conversation is expectations and how technology can help fit those. Another question I have for you is when you think about all the different technology you’ve brought into various organizations, whether it’s PRMG or past stop on your journey, during the shopping evaluation implementation of that, are there any big lessons you’ve learned that you could share with someone else in your shoes who’s looking to next level, up-level, their team with technology that you wish you would’ve known before you went into whatever buying process it was?

Robin: Yes. I think the main issue or lesson learned for people in my similar situation is empathy, particularly for home buyers. It used to be a few years ago, a lot of our marketing and advertising were, “Hey, you should work with us. We’re a great company and here’s just some education for you.” Now, particularly in really hot markets, Southern California, it could be Idaho or Nashville, Tennessee, these markets have exploded, and the home buyer is not as worried about which mortgage lender should I work with, but they’re more just agonizing over, “Will I ever own a home?”

I’ve realized that the marketing and the messaging that we’re using needs to shift from, here’s why we’re a great company you should work with us to, here’s some lessons learned, or here’s how we can guide you, or we get it, we know how frustrated you are. Some of our really successful originators have been using humor to deal with this and just explain to them like, “We get it. You want to pull your hair out and you’re so frustrated, and this is the hundredth home you’ve made an offer on.”

They’re demanding for myself and my team to challenge the way that we present marketing because the old stuff that we’re using seems really tone-deaf. We need to really understand what their experience is, their frustration. They don’t want the same old message, they want to know that we’re here. Even if it takes them 90 days or 2 years to find a home, we’ve been with them, we understand, and we care. It’s really been a wake-up call to all of us and we’re actively trying to change our messaging, change our strategy so we can be more empathetic to today’s home buyer.

Justin: That is really interesting because ultimately, it’s very easy to get overly mechanical with technology automation inside of what you do. As you were talking, I was thinking about earlier today we were going back and forth, me and the marketing operations folks, going back and forth about the Marketo email sequence that was triggered for whatever reason it was triggered and just going back and forth on all these like super technical, robotic details basically.

Ultimately, we pivoted the conversation a little bit to the concept of what’s in the message and “Hey, could we deliver this message maybe more succinctly and impactfully, which therefore we could do it in less emails, which therefore we could cut down on some of the burden of making sure the nurture streams didn’t collide with each other?” Anyone who’s ever done marketing operations probably understands exactly what I mean, anyone who ever hasn’t, I can’t get to your point, Justin, but shout out to all the people who have ever had to configure a marketing automation platform there.

Your point is very well taken to me that understanding a lot of the why, the audience, the situation, bringing empathy into what you’re doing from a communications and technology standpoint, all this stuff really matters, especially in something like housing where the inventory is just bananas right now in terms of what’s actually available on the market. You hear all these stories of cash offers 30% over list with no inspections or whatever.

It would be really hard to be a first-time home buyer in today’s market. It’s very easy for someone in your shoes to forget that, and it’s like, look, we’ve got 3,000 employees, we’re operating in 48 states, we’re plowing ahead, but no, that is a huge part of the business, bringing that empathy in and connecting with customers, connecting with borrowers, really making the brands stand out and your technology stack is a part of that. When we think about the future of automation, what’s something that excites you the most?

Robin: Oh man. One of the things that I’m really passionate about is letting people do what people love to do. Whether that’s being creative or whether that’s connecting with others and removing the stuff they don’t like to do. Tasks that are repetitive, tasks that are very granular and hyper-detailed oriented. There are so many little things that we even do today that make me bonkers.

It’s just like a simple thing of getting one field that’s in a spreadsheet to another system that needs the field and it requires a person to do 10 steps and make a phone call and all this. I’m just, I can’t wait for automation to take all these manual tedious processes and just go. Then I think about the time that gives that person back to come up with a new idea, or even imagine blank space, to think and innovate and challenge and connect with others.

I know personally, I spent so much– You mentioned marketing operations, we spent so much of our day getting in the weeds of these tiny granular details and it’s like, how much better would we be as people and for organizations if we could step away from that and do the cool stuff that you can’t automate. Robots cannot have human inspiration and creativity.

Maybe, I don’t know, there’s probably somebody working on it, [chuckles] but for now, it’s just having technology do what it does best which is repetitive and highly detailed tasks. The other piece of this is quality. We deal a lot with customer data and user data and just a simple typo in an email address or in a social security number can have massive consequences.

Well, and when you’re relying on someone who’s rushing, they’re multitasking, they’re just being a person. They mistype something, they’re looking at the wrong file. It happens every single day. Like I said, it’s not a boy, that sure would be nice, it’s mandatory. Especially when you have regulators who are looking at your data, home funding’s on the line so I cannot wait. I’m a huge fan of automation. [laughs]

Justin: I am too, and not because I’m paid to market automation, but because I really like being able to free my brain up for the tasks that I enjoy the most. I’ve heard it described as automation takes the manual out of the mundane. That’s just a great way to look at things because all of your happiest moments at work fall into two buckets, either A, most often it’s with people who you’re developing relationships with, who you care about or good friends or funny, they’re inspiring, whatever it is.

Then B, it’s when you really get to do something that matters and something that gives you an intrinsic reward and feeling of, I did something that matters. Automation, when done well, regardless of what step in the process it’s in, gives you a little more time to make exactly that happen. I love this conversation that we’re having here because we’re getting into a piece of the automation puzzle that I don’t always get to dive into in these conversations and that’s around empathy.

It’s about creating an environment where people want to come in and work and creating good expectations for customers and employees on how the interaction with PRMG is going to go. It’s fascinating stuff and a really unique angle. I want to close this out with a question that’s maybe a little different from the path we’ve been going down, still related to support automation but going down a slightly different path and that is, do you see the next big thing in the mortgage industry specifically? Is there a specific piece of the journey through alone that you feel is the most ripe for benefiting from automation?

Robin: I would have to say communication and this has been something we’ve been chasing for a long time and not just communication between the company and the client, but also all of the people connected to the loan transaction. That could be the real estate agent, it could be the loan processor, it could be a settlement agent or a title company and just expanding it and I’ve seen some companies use this really creatively, whether there’s a portal where they can check statuses, or text messaging automation.

We have actually seen– we do surveys at the close of every transaction, it’s black and white, the five-star experiences that we have are solely based on the quality and frequency of communication and our one-star poor ratings are all based on, I didn’t know what was going on, no one returned my calls, I had to email several times and this is like 99% of the time, the stats bear this out.

Anything that I can do as a marketer, and as a technology advocate, to allow our sales teams to just focus on what they do best and lift all the communications piece off automatically, it gives the consumers and the partners and all the peripheral folks involved that feeling of okay, I know what’s going on, I feel confident I’m up to date, there’s no question on where I am, without a loan officer having a stop what they’re doing, and write an email or pick up the phone. We’re always going to be chasing that, it’s become a running joke, there’s no such thing as communicating too much and it’s such low hanging fruit, the technology is there. We see it with text message automation, we see it with email marketing, all sorts of different ways that you can do this. I just think we just need to keep pushing and keep getting better at it.

Justin: That might be one of the best takeaways I’ve had on this show because a lot of people have to deal with managing either expensive, emotional, or both when it comes to the transactions that their business does. The more you need to automate, typically, the “scenario” of the transaction is. For those of you listening who have never looked into how many hands and eyeballs the mortgage goes through between when you fill out the application, and you pay your first bill or whatever, it’s a wildly complicated and complex and deep chain of events.

That again, until I was exposed to it in professional situations and selling in the mortgage industry, I just figured I just give these people my money, and they let me keep my house but there’s a lot that goes into it but whether you’re selling mortgages, or five figure a year software deals or fairly complicated shipping logistics, or whatever it is, the communication that you have with your customer, and the communication you have with your employees through each and every one of those transactions is so vital and automation really is the golden ticket to managing this at least somewhat well without running into ridiculous scale problems or it’s like, “Okay, well, we just need to hire another 7,000 people to manage all the phone calls and letter writing or whatever.

Really great stuff. Robin, I could talk to you all day about this, but I want to be respectful of your time. We’re going to land the plane with our famous quickfire round and a famous local diner has world-famous chili or whatever, my world-famous quickfire round. First thing that comes to your head on these and I like doing this because it gives us a window into how the people we have on this show work and approach things. It’s incredibly valuable for me and my favorite part of the entire interview. What’s the book that you most recommend to people?

Robin: Obviously, I like reading. [laughs] I have a whole bunch of books behind me as you can see.. I was thinking about this question, I have to say Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Justin: I’ve briefly heard of those. Is that a relatively newer book or was that written a while ago?

Robin: Probably in the last 5, 10 years, I guess.

Justin: That one has come up occasionally in my conversations and research. Second question, you’re a very busy person, you’ve got a lot going on, you probably have all sorts of different tips and tricks and hacks and tools, and all sorts of things you use to manage your productivity. What’s the number one practice in your productivity management, that when you brought it into your daily workflow made the most difference to you, and what is that?

Robin: I would say habit layering. If you have a single habit that you do every day, the classic example is brushing your teeth and then you say, okay, after I brush my teeth, I’m going to read for 10 minutes and then you get into that reinforcement so the second you pick up that toothbrush you know you’re going to read, and then once you get that going, and you feel more established, then okay, after that, I’m going to meditate for five minutes or whatever and you just keep stacking on little micro habits on top of each other so you’ve created a chain, sort of productivity or things that you want to get better at.

Justin: Habit layering, I have never heard about this, this is fascinating stuff. There’s a virtually 100% chance in the 2023 edition of my productivity hacks webinar that I do, that’s going to be in there. I love it, habit layering. If you could recommend one website, blog, slack community, LinkedIn group, real-life group for people who want to become better digital lending and marketing strategists, what would it be?

Robin: For me, I actually have a digital subscription to Harvard Business Review. They actually send out daily tips, and then they have long form articles on being a learning organization or using automation or different techniques, it’s just nice to get. They’re very well researched, they can be bite-sized, or really long if you have a little bit more time, but I always get a good nugget out of that.

Justin: Yes, shout out to HBR, they do great stuff. If you could take one person out for either a coffee or a cocktail, depending on the time of the day, and pick their brain about getting better at what you do, who would it be?

Robin: This is going to sound crazy but I would say Jeff Bezos.

Justin: He comes up a lot as an answer to that question, by the way.

Robin: You think about what Amazon is and it’s just relentless pursuit of the digital experience, it’s kind of a gold standard.

Justin: It really is and he is one of those people that obviously his track record for success is undeniable but a lot of this stuff and stories you hear about Amazon culture, whether it’s a two pizza team, or building their own desks in the early days to save money, whatever it is, all the legends and lure around it, all definitely very interesting stuff and he does seem like one of those people that we could all learn from. I would probably spend most of my time asking him what it’s like to have a space company as a hobby but it operates on an entirely different level if I’m bored, and I want to do something, I know, I’m going to build a rocket company.

Robin: I’d ask him about building a yacht so big you have to take a bridge apart, it’s a different league, I’m not there yet.

Justin: Yes, it’s just an entirely different set of things you have to think about. Robin, thank you so much for coming on the Support Automation Show. Where can people find you and PRMG and learn more about what you and PRMG does?

Robin: Great question. I’m on LinkedIn, Robin Clayton. PRMG, we have a website@prmg.net and then we’re on all the social media and if we’re not there yet, that’s my job to get us on there. It’s been so awesome. Justin, thank you for having me on. We didn’t really talk about it that much but we are huge fans of Capacity and the work that you’re doing, it’s been a game-changer for us as an organization, and we’re so proud to be a client of yours.

Justin: Well, I really appreciate that, Robin, and I do and I like what we do here too. If I didn’t, then I’d be in the wrong seat but it really makes me very happy to hear you say that and I’ll be sure to pass that along to the account management team over here but thank you so much for coming on the Support Automation Show and have a wonderful afternoon.

Robin: You too.

Justin: The Support Automation Show is brought to you by Capacity. Visit capacity.com to find everything you need for automating support and business processes in one powerful platform. You can find the show by searching for support automation in your favorite podcast app. Please subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. On behalf of the team here at Capacity, thanks for listening!

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