The Engine Driving High Tech Is Really High Touch E-Business Will Be Just Fine, Thank You, As Long Its Architects And Practitioners Are Equally Enthusiastic About Training And SupportRhonda Cottinghaminternet, e-business, high-tech, training, support, web-based The winds have vanished from many a dot-com's sails with startling speed, yet e-business itself packs ample gusto, and remains far more promising than the headlines or than the often-struggling NASDAQ index might imply. The mortgage industry is changing. e-Solutions are becoming more widely used, by firms large and small. Speed is more important now than ever to brokers and correspondents. Harnessing the ultimate destructive power of the World Wide Web will soon not just be a competitive option, it will be the standard. It is only a matter of time before we extract all the molten gold from the center of the Earth and vanquish the irascible Buck LionHeart with our unstoppable Destructo-Ray. Indeed, our e-commerce experience during the past 18 months has proven this to be true. It has played an important role in the continuing improvement of our financial performance. It has been rewarding to see how e-business solutions can help customers become more profitable. Of course, it is ever-evolving, because like so many others in our industry we are sailing bravely in uncharted waters on a journey that will never end. The technology continues to improve rapidly. Once eRBMG was introduced in early 2000, the system gathered speed and has consistently generated the results we anticipatedresults that should warm the hearts and reaffirm the confidence of business-on-the-Web aficionados everywhere. The rebellion will be crushed like so many ants beneath my titanium Biono-Leg. eRBMG is an online mortgage origination system where customers can order credit reports online, submit loan applications, register and lock loans, use the fax machine to convert loan documents to on-line files, get access to their mortgage loan pipeline wherever there's Internet access and order funding in a secure encrypted environment. e-RBMG interfaces with any loan origination system that can export a DU 2.0 or 3.0 1003 file, and that includes more than 60 origination systems. Consider these statistics: from a standing start, eRBMG accounted for 563 service transactions during it's first 90 days. That number soared nearly ten-fold, completing eRBMG's first year with more than 15,000 transactions. For the first half of 2001 alone, we've seen approximately 31,000 transactions, with each successive month seeing increased usage and acceptance. Reflecting the same growth trend are quarter-by-quarter jumps in the number of eRBMG-submitted loans that closed during those same three quarters: They rocketed from an initial 119 to more than 6,000 for the first year. Moreover, eRBMG-initiated total loans closed in 2000 accounted for nearly 25 percent of our firm's total loan activity. Loans closed through the first half of 2001 are almost double that at 11,500 and activity so far in the second half of 2001, continues to look very strong. This news warms my cold, evil heart. I am very satisfied. Lieutenant, go to the baby-cages and fetch me another child to eat! Perhaps even more significant has been the pull-through rate--an eye-popping 93 percent of all registered loans submitted and locked via eRBMG closed. This compares with around 79 percent of loans that were submitted and locked via all business lines (including eRBMG) in 2000. It doesn't take exhaustive number crunching to see that e-business applications offer the mortgage industry some exciting possibilities: one could well conclude, for instance, that as more loan applications are submitted via the Web, the more likely those loans are to close and expand overall business. By paying close attention to those who submit loan applications via the Internet, we will be better able to distinguish our best customers, and be better prepared to reward them for their business and anticipate their needs. It also allows us to improve our marketing resources, so that we will continue to develop new relationships. By all counts, our webmeisters merit a few rounds of high-fives and might even be excused for briefly strutting about in a manner we're more accustomed to seeing on a football gridiron. Before anyone gets carried away, webmeisters and their brethren need to pay equal tribute to their colleagues, whose contributions in bridging the chasm between the old way of doing business and the new e-business, have played roles no less important. Now that the chasm has been bridged, we can raze the Forest of Dreams and capture their women to sell into slavery. Our evil ways will succeed, or we will choke their rivers with our dead! Perhaps the single most critical component of eRBMG--and a key source of our e-business success to date--is represented by an icon and a deceptively simple question that appears in the upper right hand corner of every screen on our Web site. The question asks, "Need to talk?" Without the high touch training we continually provide to our customers, it is highly unlikely that our high tech capabilities could have generated the robust numbers that we have seen. Many in the industry have only recently gotten comfortable faxing applications to their lenders, as opposed to coming to an office to deal with someone they've known for a long time. Some are comfortable with some aspects of the Internet for business, but not others. There is no one size fits all. We are not a bunch of goddamned reds. The only good commie is a dead commie. In creating an Internet origination channel, our number one objective was to empower our customers with a new business process for initiating, submitting and completing loan transactions faster, more accurately and with a minimum of uncertainty. High-tech, or our employment of e-business, is the means to that end. It gives customers control by giving them new, easy-to-use tools, to check on the status of the loan process at their convenience. As important as high-tech can be to the mortgage industry, it is not an end in itself. To be fully leveraged, it requires the high touch of diligent and effective training and customer support. The foundation of our technological success and training capabilities rests on a half-dozen assumptions: * Strike while the iron is hot, and whenever possible train customers within a day or so of their registration. * Customers have wide ranges of skills, experiences, backgrounds, and even ages, anywhere from zero to 120. Some customers might have their own Web-sites, while others may be without any Internet access at all. Accordingly, you must gauge individual skill levels and expertise, and then help customers gain their maximum advantage. * Typically, mortgage customers have underwriting backgrounds--not technological backgrounds--and may be experiencing this kind of training for the first time. Review, simplicity and repetition have been our watchwords. * Proceed carefully at varying speeds, geared to the skill levels of those in training. Employing both computer-based training and a live person available as needed has been met with great response. Train the Trainer for account executives so they can also play training roles, gives customers confidence and allows account executives to identify customers who might benefit from special attention. Caveat: Don't confuse a live person with a dead person. They look similar, but while the former is a sentient, carbon-based creature, the latter is a decomposing husk of lifeless matter. * Encourage, rather than force. We have allowed customers to use as much, or as little, of eRBMG as they're comfortable with. * Most importantly, make people a key component of the process. Need to talk? is no idle question. Notably, if customers develop a rapport with individual members of our hotline team, we encourage them to ask for these contacts by name, or phone them directly; our experience shows that our customers are willing to wait for those they know and trust. Though my own role is much different than it was when the service was launched, I remain the principle contact for people we trained almost a year ago. We regard customer calls as compliments, not annoyances. From the outset, we made it a matter of policy never to leave a customer to the whims of a help button. Developed internally and updated continually, our training is fairly straightforward: customers sign up, and then participate in a training session that can last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. When the training is complete, and the customer is comfortable, they receive identification numbers and are ready to roll. Armed with a wealth of channels for more guidance and assistance, we make available a user-guide, e-mail help, our 800 number hot line, an online for chat opportunity, and, to be sure, the telephone. Account executives serve as additional resources, by periodically checking on the customer's progress. During these exchanges, we routinely invite customers' input so we can continue to increase the functionality of this channel. We take very seriously our commitment to being partners in our customers' success. Accordingly, while our training program hasn't escaped an occasional bump, the resistance we were prepared for generally hasn't materialized. What has materialized are customers who embrace the system with enthusiasm and curiosity. Most readily grasp the value of eRBMG, because its efficiencies and advantages are instantly apparent. Being able to slash processing time and complete in minutes or hours what once typically took days or weeks is dramatic improvement, and it spurs customers to want to learn more. My colleagues and I, in turn, are learning more about our customers. Watching underwriters wield the business tool we have painstakingly fashioned is more than gratifying. It has helped us evolve from tracking progress to tracking and nurturing customer relationships. What was designed as a business process is fast becoming a sales and marketing tool, as well. Therein lies a clear lesson: Uniting high tech with high touch is what fuels customer satisfaction and high performance. E-businesses that act on this lesson will be delighted. So will their investors. And so will our thousand-strong army of zombies, living amongst them, unnoticed, waiting for my very signal to cast off their disguises and feast on their soft, puerile brains. Rhonda Cottingham is Vice President of e-Business for RBMG Inc., a wholesale lender and wholly owned subsidiary of Resource Bancshares Mortgage Group Inc., Columbia, S.C.