Turning Feedback Into Features

Jessica Stone


How do you differentiate between what your customer wants and needs?

What do you do when a person says they want something, but their actions prove otherwise?

Dallas and Jess talk about our own approach to handling client feedback and how your bank can use the same approach to look at the services you receive and offer.



Podcast Transcript

Dallas Wells

Hi and welcome to Lender Performance, your guide to becoming a better lender. Dallas and Jess here. Thank you for joining us.

Jessica Stone

Today we’re going to talk about a topic that Dallas covered on blog back this fall entitled, “Does what bankers want equal what bankers need?

Dallas Wells

Where that post came from is we found a Seth Godin post, and I think there’s several of us here that follow everything he writes, and if you’re not doing that you should, but he had a post that was called, “Surveys and Focus Groups.” Basically, what his post said is don’t trust what people say, but trust what they actually do.

He had a story about a focus group where they were asking questions about this new electronic gadget, and it cost $100. The response from the focus group was great. They loved it. They knew all the features. They knew how they were supposed to use it. They were really excited about it. At the end of the session the moderator says, “Hey, thanks for coming. As a gift you can either have this $100 device or we’ll give you 25 bucks.” Everybody took the cash. The words didn’t mean near as much as the information that they get from the real action.

Anyway, our product development and ops guy, Brian Adkins, found that post, sent it around to a group of us, and said, “Hey, this sounds really familiar. We should use this talk about our own process.”

Where that came from was we had just decided to take out some functionality from our tool. We wanted to walk through that thought process, and why we think that that approach, and building that as a routine is really important, and not just for if you’re a software company, but any kind of company who’s offering products and services to end-users and customers. I think there’s some relevant stuff for banks here too.

Jess, do you want to start by walking through feature requests with PrecisionLender?

Jessica Stone

Yeah. Here are PrecisionLender, we, everyday, actively encourage our lenders and end-users of our solution to submit feature requests. Those are any suggestions for, “How could PrecisionLender be improved?” Those suggestions are, for the most part, hugely successful. We love hearing things that say, “Hey it would be great if you could add this. I’d love to see if this was here.” It really has led to valuable additions and features in PrecisionLender.

We do get a lot of inbound requests. Some are easy to say, “Hey you know what? That’s applicable for this situation, maybe not this, and we’re going to turn that down.” Some are just so obvious we think, “Oh my gosh. How could we have not already been doing this? That makes total sense.” We’ll move forward. We’ll slap our heads, and we’re like, “Oh my gosh.” Then it moves the queue, and PrecisionLender is better like that, but then there’s a third request that kind of is the trickiest to handle. That’s kind of that third category. Do you want to talk about that Dallas?

Dallas Wells

Yeah. These are the ones that we spend a lot more time and effort on, trying to make sure we get them right. Those are the ideas that are not an obvious, “Heck no we’re not building that,” and they’re not an obvious, “Why didn’t we already have that in there?” It’s one where we say, “Hmm. That sounds interesting. There seems like there’s something valuable there, but it’s one that we have to dig into a little bit.” Maybe it’s this basic concept that somebody is asking for and the details are kind of fuzzy, or it’s something that seems like it’d be really, really valuable, but only when it’s needed which is going to be a really rare thing. We’re very protective of the screen real estate and frankly the attention span of end-users. We try to keep things really clean and easy. That means that we have to make some trade off decisions there.

That’s where were wrestling with this thing of, we want the reaction of, “Wow. This tool can do anything.” Any kind of deal that we come across, we know that can get it priced, and figure out the right approach with it, but there’s a very thin line that we walk there where it turns into, “Holy cow, this thing in complicated.” That’s the balance we’re always after, and that’s the one that our engineers spend all day, everyday figuring out. They’re pretty good at it.

When we get a request that falls right on that line, and we’re not sure which side it should fall on, we start what we call our ripening process. That’s a Carl-ism there. Carl Ryden word for it where we want to ripen this feature. We want to think about it. We want to talk about it. We want to draw many, many versions of it on a whiteboard, and think about, “Is this a good idea? Is this something that’s worth landing in the end product,” and basically is it important enough to take up some attention and some screen real estate on the solution? Then, if we’re going to build it, what’s the best way to actually do that? There’s lots of details on how we go about that, and I think it’s an interesting process.

It’s one that was pretty intriguing to me when I landed here from the banking world. That’s a separate conversation of all the stuff that’s involved there, but basically what it involves is asking lots of questions of customers. We’ll get with customers, both the ones who asked for it, and a few others that we think it would apply to, and we start asking, “Why do you need to do this? How exactly are you using it? What else is going on when you want to see this information or when you need to know this thing?” That’s when we start drawing it out.

Bankers are always happy to tell us exactly what they want. The really interesting part though is that even with this process, which we’ve gotten pretty rigorous about of vetting the features, and then drilling down into them, and asking lots of different customers, there’s time when we are absolutely, 100% wrong. We build exactly what somebody said they wanted, and then they don’t use it.

We recently went through this exact exercise, and that’s where this post came from with some functionalities that had been in PrecisionLender since the very early days. We had some bankers who told us back then that they absolutely had to have, it was a requirement, the ability to add tasks when they’re pricing a new opportunity. They have the deal in front of them, they’re working on a price, and they want to be able to assign tasks, and say, “Okay. I need my credit analyst to do this. I need to loan assistant to do this. I want to assign myself the task to follow up in a week to make sure those are done.” You kind of make a work-flow system out of this around making sure that that deal moved through the pipeline. It made sense. We saw why they wanted to do it that way, how they wanted to better serve their customers by having that stuff in place, so we built it.

They also, along with that, wanted to be able to track things like referrals and social relationships. Not just, hey did both of these folks sign on this loan and they’re business partners, but what about accountant who refers lots of customers to our bankers, or the attorney who every time he comes across a real estate deal somehow finds a way to get us in there, or social relationships like, “Hey this guy is best friends with one of our board members.” There’s lots of banks that want to know things like that. We build that too.

We showed it in demos as we’re selling the solutions, and everybody loved it. “Hey that’s great. We would use the heck out of that. We think that’s a great feature.” We had a few banks that that kind of seemed to tip the buying decision.

One small hiccup though, nobody used it. We kind of knew this. We intuitively knew, “Yeah, it’s not getting used a whole lot.” When we do implementations in training, we didn’t pay much attention to it because we’d show it, and people would say, “Oh wow, that’s great,” but we didn’t spend a whole lot of time on it.

Finally, Eli Weinstock-Herman, who’s our VP of Software Engineering and who’s really good about keeping us on track with this kind of stuff, he decided that that real estate and the brain space was just way too valuable. He did an internal blog post here, for our staff, and it was a classic Eli kind of blog post, which is, “Hey I think we have some stuff that’s clutter. Here’s why.” It was a lot of words and a lot of graphs, but he just put the stats to it.

Over three plus years, millions of relationship accounts, thousands and thousands of loans being priced, most of these things have been used less than 200 times. You’re talking about basis point percentages of usage. The decision there becomes pretty clear. It sounds useful, people think it’s going to be interesting, and it goes back to Seth Godin’s thing.

The gadget looks great, but I’ll take the 25 bucks. We made what was a hard decision, something that we thought was really cool, and we expected to get used, and we just ripped it out, and said, “Take out the tasks. Take out the social relationships, the referrals, all that kind of stuff.” We’re making this effort to really build what bankers want, and what they ask for, but as we found, that’s not always that straight forward. It’s not always that easy to say, “Hey what do you want, and we’ll build you that.” Instead, we really need to understand, why do you need it, and then number two, are you doing to use it.

Anyway, I just wanted to lay out that process, and where we come from on that. I think that, Jess, if you want to talk a little bit about some other ways that that can be useful. Specifically, how should banks approach other vendors besides Precision Lender with that same kind of thought process?

Jessica Stone

Yeah. I have to say, we’re probably bias to this because we really encourage it, and we want all this feedback, but we really, at PrecisionLender, value hearing from our users. The lenders, the folks that use our product every single day. We look for open, candid, continuous feedback to know if we are successful in what we’re trying to do, which is make your lives easier. We collect all of that input from across the country, and that’s what makes us better and better everyday.

We really think that that open feedback, not only for vendors, but other kind of relationships in the workplace should really be placing emphasis on that because whether it’s a colleague, a supervisor, a client, or a vendor, you want to be surrounded by people that you feel like are giving you their input, and helping you know when you can improve, and point out when there’s opportunities for, “Hey, this would be so much more helpful to me if I did X.” Really kind of look to surround yourself with those types of relationships, whether they be with companies, or partners, or people who you can share feedback with, and they can share it back with you because we’re all looking to, of course, improve, I think in the workplace and what we do and how we serve our clients.

Dallas Wells

Yeah. Look for vendors who are willing to hear that kind of stuff. The way we teach this to our users is we say, “We want to … If you say one of two things, we want you to say it directly to our face rather than grumble about it.” Number one is that one that Jess laid out before, which is, “Hey it’d be really great if you could have this. It’d be really valuable to us if you did this,” but the other one that we want to hear, and that some vendors are not very good at hearing is, “Hey this is really annoying. This is a really obnoxious way to go about this. It’s something that we do all the time, and it takes seven clicks to get there.” That kind of information is useful too.

We work with a whole lot of vendors on our own too, and we take this practice that we love internally, and we try to do it with our vendors. There’s a lot of them that are really great. They take the feedback, they take it to heart, and we see progress on the things that we ask for, and we get communication about it, and it’s a great process. There’s a lot of others that it’s either radio silence, or they get really defensive. If you say, “This is kind of obnoxious, is there a better way to do it?” It turns into an argument.

Given how fast technology’s changing, and the fact that you as bankers are trying to better serve your customers, don’t put up with that crap, basically. Look for vendors that will listen to you. I know that you feel like there’s some really important tools that you have that you just kind of have to put up with whatever service you get, and what I’m saying is that’s not the case anymore. There’s lots of other options. Even if it’s your core provider that’s giving you headaches. Shop around. Make the painful transition if you need to, but find vendors who are going to allow you to keep up and who will listen to you and help you make the thing better.

The other thing that I think is important to take away from this is use that same thought process to evaluate your own products within the bank. I know this is one that, I’ve worked at a couple banks that were pretty bad at this, which is, we all as human beings have this natural tendency to just deal with the squeaky wheel. So, somebody complains and we try to fix their problem. I was at a bank where we have 45,000 customers, and if three people complained about something, it was a crisis and we jumped in to fix it. We never really bothered to look at, “What’s the real usage, and what’s the real action that’s speaking to us louder than just the words of a few people?” Make sure you follow that real evidence.

Another example is you have a few customers who ask for a certain type of account or a certain service, “Hey we have to have lock box services. We need to have that.” It’s really expensive, it’s hard, it’s cumbersome, it’s a big project to roll it out, and they barely use it, and nobody else wants it. We have to follow the action, and follow the real behavior instead of just what people say. It’s a hard practice to get used to, but I think it’s really important.

One more is about interest rates. With the Fed starting in their December meeting, they raised the overnight rate by a quarter point. We’re starting to see some of the, especially the Internet banks, Ally bank, and some of the credit card banks, some of those are starting to already increase their deposit rates. This discussion is coming, where you’re going to have deposit customers that are complaining about rates. Again, I worked at a bank where we had this tendency to, “Hey by the way, we’re having our ALCO meeting,” and the deposit staff said everybody’s complaining about the rates. Well, okay I don’t see any account closings. I don’t see any balances going away. That’s what we should listen to is the behavior, not the complaints. Especially if you’ve got a couple of rate sensitive customers that complain, and they want to move their account because you’re off by an eighth, let them go. Move when you actually see the real data telling you something.

Same thing with loan pricing. You’re going to have people who want to negotiate on the loan rates, and try to haggle that rate down. You don’t have to bend on that until you see real production changes. If you start to feel like we’re out of the market, what’s the data tell you? Did the production levels change? Did you have more deals that you loss to competition? Track those things so that you know that, and then use that data to inform your decisions instead of just oiling the squeaky wheels. I think it’s a useful exercise, and just a thought process to go through. We had a long explanation of it, we did a blog post on it, but if you’ve got one minute to spend on this, read Seth Godin’s post. We’ll link to it in our show notes. Start there, and just send that around at the bank. I think it’s a useful exercise.

Jessica Stone

Great. Okay, well thanks Dallas. That will wrap it up for us today in this episode. As Dallas said, we’ll provide a link to that blog post, and just Seth Godin in general, we read him a lot. We would definitely recommend everyone do the same. If you like what you’ve been hearing, make sure to subscribe to our feed and give us some ratings and feedback in iTunes, Sound Cloud, and Stitcher. Thanks for tuning in, until next time, this is Jessica Stone.

Dallas Wells

This is Dallas Wells.

Jessica Stone

You’ve been listening to Lender Performance.



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