Technology Can Help Title Agencies Deliver Smarter Customer Service
June 30, 2021
By Randall Nelson
Most title agents will tell you that customer service is at the heart of their businesses. Business plans and mission statements are built upon that concept. The settlement aspect of the real estate transaction is positioned such that a title company is inherently dependent upon professional communication and data exchange with numerous other professionals (lender, real estate agent, etc.) and consumers in order to bring together the delicately orchestrated ballet that is the closing. In many ways, the title agency is the “traffic cop” through which a mortgage must pass to reach closing.
Along the way, a title agency’s staff spends a tremendous amount of time on the phone or exchanging emails with borrowers, real estate agents and many others—usually to gather informational details, correct small errors or exclusions, answer questions or issue instructions. This is true for just about every single purchase mortgage transaction.
Unlike many industries, it’s rarely a fully staffed customer service department that handles these conversations and exchanges. It’s often staff members also charged with executing other parts of the settlement such as doc prep or coordinating the search. After all, title companies tend to operate in a lean, mean fashion in a world of paper-thin margins. A closing assistant is just as likely to spend time on the phone with a buyer is she is putting the final touches on the closing documents. And, of course, while she’s on the phone, odds are, she isn’t doing doc prep.
All of that activity and interaction is about to spike.
All indications point to the end of the lengthy refinance wave and the rise to dominance of a strong purchase market. While refinances ruled the day, title agency owners could position their resources to turn orders quickly. After all, there were likely no Realtors, buyers or sellers to communicate with. Just a loan officer and borrower. By its very nature, a refinancing transaction tends to be less emotionally charged all around. There’s no new house at stake. There’s no possibility the borrower will somehow lose out on getting that house. There are no Realtors—or consumers—contesting inspection results. And the vast majority of the information needed by the title company is provided by the loan officer. Most of all, while homebuyers are naturally a little more anxious to get through the closing and receive the keys to their new homes, there tends to be far less anxiety and far fewer parties seeking status updates with a refinance.
In addition to the impending increase in purchase transactions, we are also experiencing a slow but steadily increasing push by both regulatory and market forces to make the homebuying transaction more transparent. TRID was really just a first step in that process. All of this pressure to increase transparency will likely mean even more inquiries and call-backs; more information sought and provided and generally; and more interaction between the title company and both consumers and real estate agents.
It all adds up to the likelihood that title agencies will be spending more, not less, time answering questions and explaining forms in the coming months and years. But in the world of title insurance, throwing additional staff at a challenge can be the difference between profit and loss. Simply dedicating more personnel to collecting needed information or resolving customer inquiries is usually a luxury many cannot afford. However, a failure to deliver timely information or quick responses can eventually damage a title agency’s brand and, in the long run, business. Mortgage lenders and Realtors alike prefer to work with title agents who answer emails, respond to texts and return calls quickly.
So how will already busy title agents be able to maintain customer service levels without sacrificing the resources needed to push the mortgage transaction through to closing in a reasonable amount of time? Savvy, experienced real estate agents can often answer their clients’ most basic questions about the process. But few Realtors can take time away from client meetings and open houses to take in educational materials from and about the title industry. So simply offering training for real estate agents on the title process rarely brings significant interest from real estate professionals.
While this is an age-old dilemma for title companies, there are a few proven means to address the issue without necessarily compromising service levels.
The first, which can take various forms, is to empower clients to provide information or have questions answered via self-service. There is a delicate balance here, however, as self-service isn’t always welcomed by the consumer or real estate agent—especially during a transaction as complex and emotional as buying a home. However, there are ways to offer FAQs or other resources easily that allow those inclined to take advantage. Much like a grocery store that offers both self-service and staffed checkout lines, the customers tend to “self-select.” But there will always be a good number who choose to have guidance through the process.
Beware, however, relying on phone or tablet applications. Many firms—and not just in the title industry—have introduced their own apps in an effort to speed service and better manage client interaction. However, simply producing a stand-alone application isn’t likely to solve the service/production conundrum. After all, the typical real estate agent is working with numerous title companies on numerous files. All while juggling a busy schedule with clients as the first priority. Is it really a “convenience” to them to be asked to download an app to communicate or share information when they might only need to use that app a few times?
Technology, of course, can help the service/production question in numerous ways. Again, though, careful thought must be put into this. Do not abandon the “human touch” altogether, especially for the purchase transaction. This is, after all, likely to be one of the biggest transactions a buyer and seller may make in their lives. They’re probably not eager to handle the closing through a limited chat-bot! Nonetheless, as the sophistication of title technology advances at an accelerated pace, there are AI and automated tools becoming available that allow a title agency to “offload” some of the routine interactions without sacrificing professionalism. In short, if a technology can replace the need for communication between consumer or Realtor and a title staffer at a professional level—but without simply delaying the point at which a staffer will need to jump into the conversation—it’s worth investigating.
Finally, if one can’t or won’t consider alternatives or automation in the customer service process, it can also be effective to redouble one’s efforts to streamline and accelerate the production process itself. The title industry is coming into an era of new production systems and layered solutions that allow a closing to come together more quickly and with less need for antiquated, manual methods. Take a hard look at your workflow and identify the pain points. It’s highly likely there are solutions available to speed the closing without sacrificing quality. And there’s no better form of client service for a title agent than a quick, smooth, error-free closing!
It’s always been a badge of courage for title agents to manage a barrage of customer inquiries while heroically pushing a mortgage through to closing. There are more war stories about end-of-the-month free-for-alls than one can count in our industry. But those days may be drawing to a close. The title industry will, in many ways, bear the brunt of market and regulatory pressure to be more, not less, available to consumers and their Realtors. The age-old “solution” can no longer be “work harder.” Instead, it’s becoming time to “work smarter.”
Randall Nelson is the CEO and co-founder of alanna.ai, a conversational AI assistant for title agents. He is a serial entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded other businesses such as RamQuest Software and PhaseWare Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.