Before the ink has even dried on the contract, you may already be dreading implementing the new tool or system your bank has purchased. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
In this week’s podcast, Jim Young talks to Jess Stone, PrecisionLender’s Director of Client Success, about lessons learned – both good and bad – during countless implementations. It’s a chance to see why we do what we do, but also to learn some do’s and don’ts that you can apply to any future software implementation at your bank.
Jim Young: Hi and welcome to the Purposeful Banker, the podcast brought to you by PrecisionLender. Where we discuss the big topics on the minds of today’s best bankers, I’m Jim Young and I’m sharing co-hosting duties today with Jess Stone. Thanks for joining us. Jess, as some of you may know is the Director of Client Success here at PrecisionLender. In layman’s terms that means that once a client signs the contract to begin using PrecisionLender, Jess and her team are in charge of making sure that the client is, well, successful, because successful equals happy. The first step to that success is a successful implementation. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Jess is going to share some of her stories, and lessons, and insights, learned from being the onsite vendor during implementation. While she’s obviously coming at this from a PrecisionLender perspective, we think the content of this podcast can be used to help you out with any sort of software implementation at your bank.
Jess I’ve always sort of envisioned … Not to put pressure on you here, but I’ve always sort of envisioned your job as sort of like there’s a building, and that the implementation is the ground floor. In other words if you don’t get the implementation step right, creating the rest of the structure is pretty much impossible. Is that a decent analogy, or am I being overly dramatic here?
Jess Stone: Jim I think that is a pretty good analogy, actually, when I think back to our clients that are doing really well, really successful, or those that are having trouble, it’s often a pretty easy to think back to their implementation, and pinpoint something that either went really well, or was really hard, and that kind of being the nugget of a thing that lead them one path or the other. I think that successful implementation does, not always, but more often than not, does lead to that successful client and partnership.
Jim Young: If the rest of Jess’s team is listening, it’s all on your shoulders. No pressure guys.
Jess Stone: No pressure.
Jim Young: I know you guys, in client success, are constantly looking at this process, because it is so important, from multiple angles, and you’re tweaking things. Can you talk a little bit about some of the changes you’ve made during your time here, and why you’ve made those changes?
Jess Stone: Sure, so I think what’s helpful for this is PrecisionLender, just as a company, we come from a culture of how can we make things better? When we say … Every new person that starts at PrecisionLender, we say to them, “We don’t think that we’ve done anything perfectly, you are coming in here with fresh eyes. Look at everything you do, everything you learn here, and say how can we make it better.” Often we go, “Well, yeah, of course. How could we not have been doing that all this time?” Just in general I think it helps that we come from a culture of always improving. Every time we go through an implementation, we try to be really reflective, not only after each call, and each day, at the end of an implementation we look back, and we say, “Okay, what could we have done better? What maybe went really well, what didn’t, and what lead to that?” I think those usually help us improve, again, the things that went well, and the things that didn’t go so well, help us make it better for that next person that goes through it.
I think an example of that is when we started, when we do implementation there are two ways that we do it. We have our traditional implementation that some folks take, and it’s a call, and then a period of working, and then we have another call, and period of working, and that leads toward an eventual implementation. Some other folks take the path of what we call an express onboarding, and that’s where all of the pre-work goes into a truncated period, and then we come onsite with the client for about 3 days, and we push all those calls into a really kind of intense couple days, but they’re able to get all that work done in a really shortened period. The first time we did that express onboarding, it was myself and my colleague, Rollie, and we went out to the client, and everyone has already talked to PrecisionLender, and they know what PrecisionLender is.
The first day, day one, 9 am in the agenda, we jump in and we start tinkering things. Here’s how you do it and here’s what you do. Then we realized, well yes they’ve seen PrecisionLender, but did they see it yesterday? They might have seen it a couple days ago, a couple weeks ago, that the process to bring on a new solution provide, and a new partner, takes a while. We realized, oh gosh, well some of the questions they had, had we just started the day with a quick 15 minutes of jumping back into PrecisionLender, and here’s what we do, and giving you reminder, would have answered a lot of those questions that caused us to do some slow downs.
Once we got back, Raleigh and I talked through what are the things that we need to make better. For the next client, and for everyone else who has gone since, we start each day 1 of that express onboarding with a, “Hey, we know you’ve seen this, but it might have been a while. Let’s just do a quick tour,” and it helps really ground people in the solution, and answers a lot of their questions right out of the gate. That was a really good example of, we messed that up, let’s try it again. Let’s get it better for the next person.
Jim Young: Yeah, it can be a really tricky thing when you are immersed in something every single day, and this is something you come across, probably, more than anyone, is to remember that everybody else isn’t immersed in it every single day.
Jess Stone: Yeah.
Jim Young: Also, we’ll talk a little bit later about the two timelines you mentioned, that standard implementation timeline verses the express onboarding, and how we help clients decide on which path they should choose. Why do we emphasize onsite verses doing a bunch of calls, or demos, or go to meeting, and that sort of thing?
Jess Stone: Sure. Yes, that’s a good point. Even if we do traditional onboarding, or express onboarding, no matter what, that process ends with an onsite training, and to your point, we really emphasize that being in person to train the end users on PrecisionLender, is very important. I don’t know exactly what it is, what the difference is, but when people are in person, they’re much more willing to ask questions, raise their hand when they don’t understand something, have a dialogue. When we have, and it’s very rare, because again we don’t encourage it, when we’ve had a first training on PrecisionLender that’s by webinar, it’s crickets. It’s so quiet, because people don’t feel comfortable raising their hand, being that only one when they say, “Hey, any questions?” It’s just blank. They don’t want to be that first one to chime up. When you’re in person, you can see either the nodding heads to your left and right, you can see that look of confusion, you’re like, “Oh gosh, that guy across the table is just as confused as I am, so I’m a little more willing to ask that question.” It also helps us, as the trainers, when we can see that in the room.
Jim Young: When you read the room.
Jess Stone: We can read the room. When we see the nodding heads, even if people aren’t speaking up, we can see that they’re getting it. When we see people kind of cross their arms and do this kind of squirrelly look with their face, like, “Gosh, I don’t get what he’s saying,” we say, “Hey, let’s take a pause here. Any questions? Does this make sense?” It helps us provide a better training when you’re really responding to the folks in the group. We definitely encourage onsite training, because it just helps people with a deeper understanding from then on.
Jim Young: Gotcha. One thing I should … I’m glad you pointed it out is I have the tendency to sometimes just interchange implementation and training, and that’s obviously … Implementation is a much bigger umbrella of which training is a part …
Jess Stone: Yes.
Jim Young: … of that. This might not be as much fun, I’m going to ask you a little bit of war story sort of thing. Ever had an instance in which you go to a bank all fired up to help them implement, and train them on it, and realized that even though they’ve signed the contract, not everybody at the bank, of the key stakeholders, has bought in?
Jess Stone: Definitely. As we work with banks, and financial institutions, every single institution we work with is very different. A lot of it comes down to the way that people operate. There might be some institutions where the way they go through a pre-sale process when they’re considering a vendor, or considering a new partner, is they get every single person involved to make sure that that’s exactly what they want to do. There are pros and cons to each of that.
Jim Young: Yes.
Jess Stone: Sometimes it’s slower, but once you get onsite, every single person said, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen this. I love it. I’m ready, I’m rearing to go.” Then you might have some where it’s a little bit more of a, “Hey these are the decision makers. If they think this is a good idea, they’re going to move forward with it.” That might be really great, because those people have been really adamant, they want this solution, they are ready to go, but they might not have brought in every single person that is going to be needed for implementation. The questions that they got to answer, say a couple weeks ago, that new person who has been brought in after the contract is signed, and we’re building that implementation team, might have questions. It could cause some slow down.
It’s different for us, and again to your earlier point of how do we improve our implementation time after time, one of the things that we’ve done a much better job of more recently is at the tail end of that pre-sale process, we say, “Hey, once we get to implementation here are all the key players that are going to be involved. It’s this type of person, we can’t tell you exactly who it is, because each role at each bank is different, here are the type of people.” They can start thinking about those, and start … Even if it’s not in an official sense, they start talking those people, and bringing those people in. It’s a softer introduction, and we’re all kind of starting from the same level playing field once implementation starts.
Jim Young: Yeah, and so to kind of take that back out into recommendation, that’s what we do. If you then are listening to this, and you’ve an implementation coming up, that’s a question to ask ahead of time. “Hey, when you guys start with this sort of thing, who all do we need to make sure is aware that this is going to be changing their lives in some way, so we can, again, make it a little bit of a softer intro into it?” Then along the whole idea of the consensus thing, it can … You sort of alluded this, it can get a little tricky, and Dallas and I have wrote about this in a book. You don’t necessarily want the whole bank to have to sign on for it, you got to have somebody being the one that drives that purchase, but that person then is responsible for making sure. We know the issue with silos and banks, making sure that they’re the ones that’s going to say, “I’m going to sign off on it, but I also have to be sure that everybody else is going to be onboard with it at the same time.” A little bit of a tricky balance there.
Jess Stone: We have to say, we know it’s not easy to say, “Oh gosh, if I had brought this person in they could have answered this thing,” but we know it’s hard, we know it’s challenging, but everyone, I think, does their best to try to strike that balance between the group that needs to know to make implementation easier without going down this path of 2021 and we’re still looking at that …
Jim Young: Right.
Jess Stone: … vendor from 2016.
Jim Young: Exactly, exactly. On the level below that, we’re talking about kind of key stakeholder buy in. Talking with some of the other CSMs (Client Success Managers) and one of them, she told me a line which was pretty good, which is, “We can’t sell nearly as well as they can sell, essentially, to each other.” I think the idea there is it really helps to have some end users with some very early buy in. Can you talk a little bit about that and thoughts on that?
Jess Stone: Yeah, that’s another, again, another thing we’ve evolved in recent months, or in 2016 at least. I can’t speak to it as much, but I know that on the pre-sale side, our client development managers, and our business development team, they encourage before even signing the contract, to get some of those end users involved in taking a look at PrecisionLender. Because these are, at the end of the day, once implementation is over, those are the people that are going to use PrecisionLender. You want to make sure that they’re going to be excited about it, so I know that they have been encouraging those types of conversations, and that certainly helped. Then on our side, again, we grow, and we try to make better every time. I mentioned that the implementation team, we talked about, recently we realized that implementation team didn’t have an end user.
We went through, I had one implementation that I did. We went through, it was a great group, we went through, everything was great. We get to the very end, and we bring the chief lending officer in, and he’s like, “Well we wouldn’t have done that that way,” or, “Why did you set that up that way?” We’re like, “Oh my gosh, how did we not … ” The chief lending officer and his team are going to be the people using this, how did we just not even think to bring them in? We hadn’t, they hadn’t, it was just we were trying to get everything up as quick as possible. What we’ve done is that implementation team I mentioned, we actually have named senior lenders, or senior loan officers, relationship managers, whatever you call them, should be involved in the implementation.
What we’ve done is we have a period, I’m sure again, any vendor or partner you work with on a implementation, you’ll have a period of kind of testing. What we do is before, when we would just have that be kind of the implementation team we’d already been working with, we say, “Okay, let’s take a step back. Let’s bring in the people that will eventually use this solution, who haven’t been with us to set up every single little piece, get them in and have them start testing. They come in with, one, they come in with fresh eyes, and they sometimes catch things, like I mentioned, that the implementation team didn’t think about, just because they’re not living and breathing that lender life on a daily basis. It also gives them that preview, usually they pick some kind of senior folks, or folks with a little bit of pull, or been there a long time, who can come in and start asking questions.
Usually everyone is really excited right off the bat, but we say, “That’s great, we love that you’re excited, but what did you have challenges with? What did you have problems?” Then when we go to the rest of their peers, we can say, “Hey, we worked with, you know, Susan, and Tom, and Fred, and they were so great in helping us with testing. They found this really easy to use. Susan do you want to speak on that?” They can kind of offer that already before … It’s not just us saying, “Hey this is really great.”
Jim Young: Right.
Jess Stone: It’s them saying, “Hey, I was able to start pricing within two minutes, and it was super easy,” but also the feedback they offer during testing gives us a, “Hey, we know that you guys do a lot of adjustable rate loans. They gave us some feedback on that’s what we should cover with you guys here today.” It helps us then have a better training for the entire group, because we had that context of what they did like, and what they maybe were challenged with, and give them a more unique, individualized, training, when we’re on site with them.
Jim Young: Yeah, and it’s just such a, just from a psychological standpoint, if you’re trying to implement anything, at any company. At a bank, it’s just, if you involve the end users, acknowledge that they’re very important to this process, is critical to the process. The chances that they’re going to be open to it are so much higher than rather saying, “We bought this, we talked to them, we implemented it, here, go use it.” That just … Naturally, it’s human nature to be a little bit resentful, and a little bit skeptical of something when you … It’s presented that way. Let’s go back to the varying timelines that we talk about. The traditional implementation that takes place over several steps verses what we call express onboarding for our purposes. How do you decide with a client which one you recommend? What are the pros and cons?
Jess Stone: Sure, again, every institution we work with is very different, so it’s not necessarily cut and dry for what’s going to work for one bank over another. What we typically say is for a type of bank where there are some really key people in the bank that kind of know everything there is, they can make a lot of the decisions, basically, if we have those people in a room, any question you have, they’re going to be able to answer it. That’s a good candidate for express onboarding, because truly what we do is we give you a bunch of the pre-work that would have been done over all those weeks. We say, “Get all this done right now,” and then we sit with you for two days, and we have conversation after conversation. If you are able to say, “Okay, when these three people are in the room, they can make all these decisions,” it’s really efficient, it’s really good. Of course they’re not going to know every single thing, they might have to ask a couple people, or send a note, or look something up, but again, I just got back from one this week. It was such a great group. We had the perfect roles from each group, and they were so knowledgeable, and could answer all of the questions, and we were able to set everything up just so quickly, and it was really great.
Where the express onboarding might not be as suitable is for the type of institution where there are lots of players who there isn’t one person who can really give you all the answers, or make all the decisions. If there are lots of teams and lots of players that need to have individual conversations, it’s just really not realistic that we could necessarily have all of those conversations within two days. It would get slowed down. For those folks we say, “You’re definitely the candidate for traditional onboarding,” where we can say, “Okay, let’s have a call. Then you have a week to go have those conversations, seek out that person that knows that answer more than you. Look those things up. Generate those reports, and we come back for the next call and we move on, and on, from there.” Some of it is kind of the makeup of the bank, the decision making of the bank is usually what leads us to say, “We think you’d be great for this track compared to this track.”
Jim Young: It seems like it’s not so much which timeline you choose, but really the bank’s ability to take a look at itself, and say which one, which timeline, are we most likely to be able to actually stick to?
Jess Stone: Very true, very true. No matter which one you choose, it’s choosing the right one so that you can stay on that track. Nothing would be worse than if you say, “Oh yeah, we really want to do express onboarding,” and then we spend two days, but we had to keep going to other people, and tracking people down, and we didn’t get you up in those days because we just weren’t able to stick to the timeline. Whichever path people choose, we just really encourage people to try to stay to our deadlines as much, because the further that things get pushed out, and pushed out, the harder it is to kind of get back to that timeline. We want to, of course, get people up as soon as possible.
Jim Young: On the other hand, just from speaking from personal experience, I’ve found, for myself, the longer deadlines I give, a lot of times the longer I’m going to take.
Jess Stone: Oh I don’t have to do that for four weeks, okay. Three and a half weeks I’ll start on that.
Jim Young: Sometimes a sense of urgency is a good thing.
Jess Stone: That’s true.
Jim Young: Let’s go back, just a couple more questions. This is again maybe not the fun part, but some of the don’ts you’ve learned through it. When I say don’ts, this is really more directed at ourselves. Things that we’ve learned. Like if you were to talk to another vendor and say, “Here’s what I’ve learned. Here’s somethings you should avoid,” what would some of those be?
Jess Stone: Yeah, so I think some of those … One that we’ve learned right off the bat that we try to stay away from, especially if our express onboarding, where we’re there for two days, and the third day is training, again, or our traditional, where we come on site. Fridays are really tough. By Friday someone … People have had a long week.
Jim Young: Yeah.
Jess Stone: It’s very tough to keep people’s attention, or there’s all the things they have to do. We say, “Let’s … ” We try to do Thursday at the latest for the training. The other thing that sometimes we have to do it, just based on time, but right after lunch is a really tough time for training. That sounds silly.
Jim Young: Oh no, no, no, totally get that.
Jess Stone: Our trainings that are first thing in the morning, people are really engaged, they’re rearing to go, everyone has that coffee, they ask a lot of questions. The group after lunch, nothing against them, but just people are a little tired. They maybe had a big lunch. It’s been a long day. It’s usually a quieter group. Again, if that same group of people had been in the morning group, maybe they would have been more outspoken, but they’re just a little bit kind of, “Hey, let me know what’s happening and I’ll just sit back and watch.” We try to keep those to mornings when we can.
Jim Young: Can you tell when a bank has done their homework before an implementation? How important is that?
Jess Stone: Yes, that goes again to, I think, the whole kind of theme of this conversation, is we’ve learned so much, and we’ve continued to evolve every time we do an implementation. We can definitely tell when a bank has done their homework, and it makes life easier for everyone around. Previously we had given the work, and say, “Hey if you get to it great. If you don’t we’ll figure it out,” but what we’ve really found is you will be so much more prepared for the conversations if you’ve been able to do this homework. Also, it will allow us to have, if needed, the conversations before we come onsite, or before we have those calls. Again, when we do these trainings, we try to be really flexible, it’s really collaborative, we don’t need to stick to our exact agenda because that’s what we said we were going to do.
The goal of this is for the bank to be really comfortable with what’s happening, and ask the type of questions they need answered. Things might go and veer, and change a little bit, but what’s tough is if we don’t ensure that they do at least what’s really required, they haven’t been exposed, and thought, about the types of things that we’re going to be talking about. Then it becomes a fresh conversation that gets us in a whole different type conversation. We wanted to say in this call, really, execute the decisions, but instead we’re using that whole time to just talk about this concept, and this type of thing, and we aren’t able to make the decisions that we need to really move them on to that next step.
Jim Young: Yeah, yeah that makes sense. Finally, I’ll just leave this one as sort of a catch all. Any other thoughts about what banks should consider when they’ve got a vendor onsite?
Jess Stone: Yeah, I’d say making sure that the lines of communication are really open. We, again, we work with lots of different types of banks, so we say this is typically what our banks do. We do things that are different based on different types of institutions. With some institutions it may be, “Hey, me and the project manager, we’re just going to have a five minute pick up the phone call at 9:15 on Friday to make sure that things are good to go.” For some people, they want to send that email. What we try to do, and if your partner, or vendor, doesn’t do this, maybe ask, is just get on the same page about what types of communication work best for you and your team. Make sure that they’re on the same page. If you’re the type of bank that really needs to have a call for everything, and your vendor is really pushing that, “No, we can just answer this by email.” Okay, well maybe we could, but if we’re the type of institution that needs to have a meeting to talk this out, let them know. Let them know that that’s what people are used to, and that’s how they talk through it. I think just being really, for the main points of contact, usually a project manager, or something, just being really open about what works best, and making sure that you guys are kind of coming together.
The other thing I’d mention is just every implementation is different. Not one is perfect. Not one looks like one another. Of course, there’s agendas, and there’s timelines, and everyone does their best to stick to it. Being open, and flexible, and knowing that everyone is doing their best, but things comes up. Again, to that point, just staying really open in communication that will make that about help. Maybe you get push back on this, but if we stay really close in communication, maybe we can make up that time. If we just kind of assume they know what we’re talking about, they won’t know that, hey, we’re really hoping to make up that time in this period. I think just communication, flexibility, collaboration, vendors that really want to partner with, rather than just kind of put you through the cycle, hopefully are the kinds that will really get everyone up and ready, and help you meet your goals as a bank.
Jim Young: Absolutely. All right, well that will wrap it up for this episode. Thanks again for listening, and again, we’ve talked about, Jess has talked about, our experiences when it comes to software implementation. We really believe that a lot of the lessons that we’ve learned, some of which we’ve learned the hard way, can be applied to just about any sort of software your bank has purchased, or is thinking about purchasing. We’ll have details and a transcription of this episode in the show notes, which you can always find at PrecisionLender.com/podcast. If you like what you’ve been hearing make sure to subscribe to the feed, and iTunes, Soundcloud, or Stitcher. We love to get ratings and feedback on any of those platforms. Thanks for tuning in, until next time, this has been Jim Young and Jess Stone, and you’ve been listening to The Purposeful Banker.