For teams still adjusting to our new normal, productivity, connection, and job satisfaction can take a hit. The good news is that things improve as folks settle into their routine. In our latest on-demand webinar, we sat down with LendIt Fintech to explore the strategies they’ve employed to optimize the transition.
Okay, welcome everyone. Thank you for joining us for today’s webinar sponsored by LiveVox. So thank you to both Lindsey and Jim of LiveVox, and thank you to the panel for joining us today. Today, we will be discussing empowering agents and optimizing performance in today’s work from the home environment. Joining us to speak, Tom Nusspickel of American First Finance, Justin Bates of New Credit America, and moderating will be Jim Lynch of LiveVox.
Just before we jump into the conversation here, to ask questions, please use the Q&A box at the bottom of your Zoom window. You can ask questions throughout, we’ll get to the questions throughout, but please use the Q&A box at the bottom of your window. As well as the polling function. We will be launching three polls during the session. You’ll see that polling function pop up. So please make sure you participate. We want this to be interactive, both from the polling and Q&A perspective. So please join us for the Q&A and polling when we launch the polling feature. And without further ado, I’ll pass it off to Jim who will introduce himself and the panelist. Jim, take it away.
Jim Lynch (01:25):
Awesome. Thanks, Todd. I’m really excited to be here today. As many of us have moved to an at-home agent model, most of us did it with almost no notice. We’re forced to do things really quickly. So some organizations were ready to do this a bit easier than others from a technology perspective, but what’s actually happened to performance when the shift was made? Did overall performance increase or decrease? How have leaders reacted to new behaviors that they’re dealing with today? Maybe they didn’t experience it before. And what are some key capabilities organizations have deployed to help agents achieve their goals while working from home?
Jim Lynch (01:57):
So when you think about this, we tie this all up with how can we empower agents and optimize their performance, and what could be the new normal? So these topics are more or less what we’re going to discuss during today’s panel. With that being said, I’m really excited to be joined by two powerhouse executives that are positioning their organizations to weather the storm, if you would. So really what I’d like to do is just take a minute, allow them to introduce themselves, a little bit about their organization and a little bit about their background. So Tom, why don’t we kick it over to you. Share a little bit about your organization and your background.
Tom Nusspickel (02:30):
Sure. Thanks, Jim. This is Tom Nusspickel. I’m the chief operating officer at American First Finance. And been in the industry roughly 30 years this year. So that flew by quickly. America First Finance provides financing to several industries directly through merchants and then also directly to consumers. Companies have been around, going on its seventh year. Now I’ve been with the company for two years and we’ve experienced pretty significant growth, over 100% in the last couple of years. So it’s been a fun ride and this year definitely has given us challenges and the rest of the year is going to continue to do so with the fallout from the COVID pandemic and everything that came along with that.
Jim Lynch (03:25):
Great. Thanks, Tom. How about you? Just a little bit about your background and your organization.
Justin Bates (03:29):
Sure. My name is Justin Bates. I’m the senior director of operations and loan servicing with New Credit America. New Credit America is an online marketplace lender that specializes in debt consolidation lending. We’ve been in business for five years. We’re based in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been in contact centers on servicing and collections operations for a little over 10 years. And yes, this is no doubt been an interesting 2020 for all of us. So really excited to be here. Thank you.
Jim Lynch (04:05):
But thanks a lot, Justin. So I appreciate both of you guys taking some time to speak to the audience today about some of the trends that you guys are realizing within your organization and some learnings that you might have over the past couple of months since you’ve deployed in that home model. So maybe that’s probably one of the first questions that I have. Tom, you’re sitting in the office, Justin, you’re sitting in the office. So let’s let everybody know where you were, how it affected your business model. Tom, I know you’re here in Texas with me so we had a ruling that came out that made you immediately impact. So let’s talk about what happened at that point that you had the order and what your organization looks like. What do you forecast?
Tom Nusspickel (04:43):
Yes. So thanks, Jim. It was an interesting time because I happened to be on spring break with my family when everything really hit. And by the time I came back, the order really had come down and we were starting to transition everyone. Unfortunately, I came back with a bad cold, so they did not let me in the office out of an abundance of caution to make sure that I didn’t come back from Disney World after being around thousands of people with COVID. So in any case, I had to manage this from the house. So I’ve been out roughly a week longer than everybody else. And it was an interesting process. So we as a company have really strived to go to an omnichannel solution over the last year-plus. A lot of that with LiveVox.
Tom Nusspickel (05:40):
So from a systems perspective, we were a lot better prepared than you would’ve thought because we’ve never allowed work from home. It’s just not in our model. And then all of a sudden we had to have everybody and those with laptops and things were, I would say a little bit easier, but from our agent perspective, it was how do we supply them with equipment? How do we get all these things and access and the firewall set up correctly and all these things? And the team really came together again over really like three days. We were able to move roughly 300 people from Dallas to completely work from home.
Tom Nusspickel (06:21):
And it was a monumental task. From an operation standpoint, once the physical piece was set up and we handle that, really our biggest impact was just tightening our underwriting. We slowed down our lending to see what the impacts were going to be. And the biggest impact on us has absolutely been new originations, 80, 90% of what we do right now is through brick and mortar financing. So with those stores closed, it slowed everything up.
Jim Lynch (06:58):
Awesome. How about you Justin? Did you guys immediately send everyone home and where are you today in that process?
Justin Bates (07:06):
Interesting story. So I was traveling when I got a call from our CEO and he said, where are you? And I said I’m in Orange County at this user conference. And he said, Why? And so that was a two-day event and we were already planning while I was at this conference to prepare t… Because Oregon in Portland, we’re between Seattle and LA and those are pretty hot spots. We were probably two to three weeks ahead of a lot of the other States. And so it was moving very quickly. And it was a similar pattern. The first thing I did when I got the call was called our network engineer and our technical operations team to make sure that we have the infrastructure and the tools in place from a systems perspective to support this. Is this even possible to send everyone to work from home?
Justin Bates (08:03):
We never intended to have contact center agents working from home. So the first thing was, is our network ready for it? Yes, we have six different ISPs and SD wind devices and we’re a cloud company that’s web-based. So having infrastructure like that was great because without that infrastructure is a cloud-based company that can pivot quickly would have been much more difficult. So the first thing that we did is configure all the machines to allow them to work remotely and get a VPN set up with MFA tokens for the agents. That was really the biggest piece from a technology perspective. And we did it in waves. It was for three days. We sent two agents home, let them work remotely from home for a day and it was a big success and then two days after that, all hands on deck getting equipment out the door and your agents are now learning what the IT department does.
Justin Bates (09:04):
They’re going home with their box and they’re plugging things in. The biggest challenge I think we’ve had is just individual issues with their home internet and things like that. But it was a rapid thing. It was two to three days and we move quickly and I saw the best in people just banding together through this tough time.
Jim Lynch (09:27):
Yeah, I agree Justin. The lifting that we’ve seen across and the innovation that teams just like yours put in place or thought outside the box on ways to deploy, it has been huge successes and monumental, things that we could never imagine before. Tom or Justin, if you guys walked into the IT department on any other given day and said, “Hey, I need this by two days from now.” You’re talking about moving your whole contact center. They would look at you cross-eyed and laugh you out of the room and say, hey, maybe like Q4, Q1 of 2021, we can make that happen. But yeah, I think you guys agree with me that the lifting that your teams did was absolutely amazing. And just wow, is all I have to say after watching people do this. So now we shift a little bit.
Jim Lynch (10:12):
Now we’ve been home for… Tom, it’s probably been a couple of months for you. Same for you, Justin, your agents have been working from home. So now it’s how do we optimize? And one of the first questions that we actually have, and this is the first polling question that we’re going to want to ask you. So if we can have Todd go ahead and pop the first polling question. It’s how has the pandemic impacted your recovery performance? So have they increased, stayed about the same, decreased and the interesting thing is Tom and Justin are going to share their perspectives on what’s actually happened during this period. So if you would take a few moments and read this and we’ll see what the scores look like.
Jim Lynch (10:55):
But I think what we’re going to find is going to be pretty interesting. And I was pleasantly surprised if you would, after a conversation I had with Tom and Justin here on how some of their organizations have reacted.
Tom Nusspickel (11:11):
This is a poll out to the participants.
Jim Lynch (11:15):
Sure. I don’t think you can take it, Tom.
Tom Nusspickel (11:17):
No, I don’t think so.
Jim Lynch (11:18):
But why don’t we cover it as they’re going in and why they’re taking that. Why don’t we cover? Tom, how has your business been impacted. I know that you talked about originations being down. Let’s talk about some of the recoveries for something you might’ve had in the pipeline prior to COVID already.
Tom Nusspickel (11:32):
Yeah, so we’ve had record months and collections to be honest. So not only pre-charge off collections but also our agency networks. We had some other unique situations, so we have a call center in Baja, Tijuana, Mexico. And it did help our transition from a servicing standpoint, whether customer service merchant care and collections, that they were roughly two to three weeks behind us in the wave. So they were open 100% until mid to late April.
Tom Nusspickel (12:11):
So that really helped our transition. It really helped us keep up our service levels while everybody got settled in. And I think it really showed the importance of having another call center, especially somewhere geographically different than maybe the main center. Our company had never had that up until about a year and a half ago, November of 2018.
Tom Nusspickel (12:40):
It was one of the first things that I was charged with doing was finding this other site. Our founder and owner had another company for many years and they only had one site, they still only have one site. So he was a little leery on whether this whole nearshore kind of thing works. And now with all this going on, he’s ready for our third site, as soon as we can start traveling again.
Tom Nusspickel (13:02):
So that really helped us keep performance up. Again, service levels, outbound, the whole nine yards. Obviously the stimulus that went out I think definitely impacted a lot of people, we’re calling it a second tax season. A lot of people were using that money to just pay us off. So we saw a major increase. We have these early buyouts, early pay off periods for people, usually their 90 to 120 days from the time they take the loan. We saw an increase there where people were just, they took the loan out in January, whatever, or February and now they’re calling us or paying online, which we saw a massive increase of paying online as well as self-service. So again, we’ve had record months in both the pre and post charge of our collections.
Jim Lynch (13:56):
That’s great news, Tom. And I think that’s one that’s opposite of what the fear was. And Justin, before we get over to you, let me just share what some of the results were. So 11% of our audience said that recovery is actually increased. So, Tom, you’re one of the 11%. Stayed the same, 56%. So that’s really good news in the market. If you think about it, the news was reporting, oh my gosh, there’s a lot of unemployment, there was uncertainty around recovery rates and things like that. So 56% of our audience saying that, hey, recoveries have stayed the same. I think that’s pretty strong.
Jim Lynch (14:28):
So far, we’re talking 67% of the audience stayed the same or actually increased. And then decreased, there’s 33%. So, Justin, this is pretty interesting. I’m going to get your point from how your company’s performance and then maybe some ideas as you go along, some things that have really worked for you as you went to the [inaudible 00:14:48] model because I’m assuming that you also fell into the small 11% that actually increased, but maybe we can share some best practices and tips on how you were able to keep that, the recoveries up if you would.
Justin Bates (15:03):
In summary, it depends on how you measure it, whether it’s in dollars in cash or percentages. We stayed about the same. March was a little bit down for gross recoveries and net recoveries as far as a cash perspective. What’s really been interesting is that our delinquency has actually improved. And in particular, our return payment rates are better than they’ve ever been. Significantly we’re 40% to 50% down. And March was a little bit, I think due to the uncertainty in the panic that consumers had, we saw a lot more influx of requests in March for assistance. We have a custom reduction and affirming options, but most of our portfolio hasn’t needed that.
Justin Bates (15:58):
And in fact, most borrowers have elected to take just a one or two payment reduction versus even doing deferment. So it’s been extremely positive. Most of our metrics are better. And it stayed about the same as far as month over month, year over year with the exception of that initial push in March. I think the things that we did well, it’s really funny, Tom. We also have a near-shore BPO partner in Monterrey, Mexico. We have since the first year of the company, it’s been a significant asset for business continuity. Interestingly enough, we didn’t have a global pandemic in our business continuity plans. I think everyone does now. But that was very helpful during that transition in our two Portland offices to get everyone home, to have that backup for inbound service levels and things like that, it always has been.
Justin Bates (16:55):
The biggest impact for us has been originations, just do the uncertainty. We’ve put additional underwriting steps in place and scale that back. And we also supported that inbound activity by cross-training some of our sales folks. And that was really interesting for them because they were like, wow, now I know why you marked me this way on our QA calls because now I’m talking to the guy that I sold the product to and he had these… Now I get it. So that was really interesting. And it was a way for them to stay motivated and be engaged during that uncertainty.
Justin Bates (17:32):
Overall performance has been excellent, better than we ever expected. We’ve seen an increase in payoffs and things like that similar to Tom. So it’s been positive. And I think we took the approaching day by day and modified our policies and procedures as it happened. I’m trying to think it was important. I think you saw a lot of lenders in the first two weeks offering deferments for three months. You could go and log on the website and just pay three months of payments. And we didn’t do that. We were taking it day by day, week by week. And I think that kept our collection very positive because if you open that flood gate, you’re going to see a significant reduction in income and the date of the marketplace lending we’ve seen is we’ve had a lot lower deferments and we’ve had a lot better impairment numbers than most of our competitors. So that’s been positive for us.
Jim Lynch (18:36):
Yeah. It’s pretty interesting that you’re able to keep it. Everyone was worried, oh my gosh, what’s going to happen? Some close their doors immediately. They were just like, hey, there’s no way that we can overcome this. Whether or not they have the technology or they just thought it just wasn’t going to do good for their business. So we continue to see reports of that every day. So hats off to you guys for keeping it positive. And one of those things that you probably focused on was really around customer experience because you guys do have some brand loyalty that you like to keep up. You finance with customers today, you’re hoping that they returned to you in a few months when they want to make that next purchase or another loan.
Jim Lynch (19:14):
So Tom, when you think about that for a second, this was really challenging. Before, if we heard something on the line, we could go out to the floor, we could gather everybody up. We could have a quick huddle and say, hey guys, this is something that’s impacted us. So talk to me for a second about how did you even train the agents as it relates to customer experience in a remote environment? What are some of the tools that you use? What are some of the techniques that you did? Stand-ups with the team? How did you still motivate them and keep them in touch?
Tom Nusspickel (19:43):
A couple of things there. Microsoft teams became a huge deal for us where it was used sparingly, I would say up until then, Zoom obviously as we’re on zoom right now, I think everybody else is. And the daily stand-ups were a big thing. So we were dealing with things especially with our merchant partners shutting down, where somebody would go in, call it the first week of March, order and pay for something. And usually, it’s delivered a week later. Well, all of a sudden these stores shut down and people weren’t getting their furniture. So we had this new curveball of, okay, well, nobody’s at the store to answer the phone. How do we do this? We got to move their finance start date basically out until they get this furniture.
Tom Nusspickel (20:36):
So there was a lot of training going on because it was how do we answer these questions that we usually don’t have? Unfortunately, part of very much like Justin did, we didn’t really kick the can down the road with deferments or anything. We were empathetic. We gave people some additional time on their payments that were due. But we really didn’t want to all of a sudden just shift all this delinquency, not knowing if people were going to even be able to pay a month or two from now anyway, because there was no information on stimulus. There was no information on anything in the first week or two. So our biggest was handling the complaints that no offense to whoever’s on the phone was caused by some of those that chose to just push payments out three months and everything else.
Tom Nusspickel (21:32):
So then they were calling us and saying, well, all my other lenders are doing this, why aren’t you? That was a challenge, but to try to get through and still be empathetic, still create a nice customer experience. And what we found was the education piece on a daily, weekly basis was huge. Whether we were educating our agents on what was out there for them to utilize and be able to talk to the customers about or directly via email campaigns that we were doing on the fly. Again, not the plug by box, but we use laptops. So that made it easier. Again, one platform so that we could text and email our customers saying, hey, here’s a new link. Here’s a new link for a website that if you didn’t file taxes, you could still go enter your information and still get direct deposit versus waiting for a check that’s going to take weeks or months.
Tom Nusspickel (22:31):
So the combination of constantly updating the agents and the customers as best we could and we were just monitoring the government sites and new sites and saying as soon as something popped up, new email campaign, new texts and that was whether they were current or delinquent. And just said, look, if you need help, here are all these places you can go to. And I think that just went a long way, but the daily check-ins with the agents as well through teams and Zoom had a measurable impact in a good way. My guess is we’ll adopt a lot of that when we get back to the office. We always did them. We always did daily stand-ups, but I think we took them for granted and they were kind of like, hey, how you doing kind of things versus educating them and getting them ready for the day. I think we’ve learned a lot and gotten better at the whole thing.
Jim Lynch (23:26):
Awesome. Thanks, Tom. And how about you Justin? I’m assuming you deployed a lot of the same techniques that Tom has. Is there anything different or anything that you want to echo that others should be thinking about?
Justin Bates (23:38):
Very similar. I did mention this earlier. We have agents that didn’t want to work from home and we allowed them to continue working in the office in a safe manner. And that was important for some or maybe their technology at home was not conducive or maybe there’s just too many distractions in there. And maybe their roommates are also working from home. We had a guy, there were four gentlemen sharing a house and it was just too much for the internet. So we still have people working from home. And we have a manager rotation where different managers and leads throughout the company are in the office. And we get payments to our office, either rush payments or to our PO box. And so we have to keep processing payments and operations. So that’s still in place. And we have found over communication extremely important. The daily communications, the weekly check-ins, cross-functionally and as well as at the team level. I have three separate teams and I check in with each manager once a day or multiple times a day and we have a team meeting once a week.
Justin Bates (24:59):
And we did that stuff before, but not as diligently. And sometimes it was just as important to check in and see how people are doing because some people have thrived in this work from home and some people have not. And they’ve had to flex to that. And a lot of the challenges we’ve seen haven’t necessarily been work-related. Most of our team members are extremely happy to still be employed and working. But those conversations when people are having challenges due to the situation are extremely stressful. And when you’re all in the office, you can see each other there’s that comradery and you have that sense of connection and some people need that. And so you can’t read the room when everyone’s remote.
Justin Bates (25:44):
And so we found that teams have been exceptionally helpful. We’ve ordered webcams for everyone who is working on a desktop computer because just having the teams and conference calls wasn’t enough. Some managers have had FaceTime and Skype on the side with their teams and that’s been really, really important. Things were changing so quickly, not only from just how my day to day works but also how we were reacting. We call it a high tech, high touch model. We understand life happens, we’re a subprime lender and we’re pretty proud that our rates are more near-prime or prime.
Justin Bates (26:23):
And so we were really ready to handle these sorts of accommodations in our portfolio because we already had that. So we just had to customize it unique to the circumstance. And so we were really, really well equipped, but what we needed to do, every single time we would implement a change, we would have a call, we would communicate it, we would document it on a Vizio workflow and a procedure. And then we would get that over to the quality team and then listen to calls too, to see, okay, where’s the policy or the procedure not effective. What’s confusing for people and getting that feedback the same day, if not the next day. And then address that as you go. If you wait a week, you’re just too far gone and then people are confused and then you’re unteaching the confusion.
Justin Bates (27:12):
So it’s more communication, more frequent communication and things like Microsoft teams picking up your cell phone to talk to your manager, if you need to be or on your office phone, all those things have been extremely important. And just making sure that we’re all in this together and checking on one another and just… I haven’t talked to them in a while, I need to call and check on them and that’s been important because almost everyone I’ve talked to… People have a lot of folks in their house, could use a little time away from their loved ones and people who are single or alone in their homes, we’re really craving that human interaction.
Justin Bates (27:47):
So aside from the technical day to day work stuff, that’s been a big thing that we’ve tried to focus on and just letting everyone know that we’re here for them and if they need help to reach out.
Jim Lynch (28:00):
I think it’s important. And as much as we talk about brand loyalty from our customers, there’s also that from the employer aspect as well. So, Tom, I saw you laugh a little bit too hard about being back in the office, need a little break from home. So I don’t want to put you on the spot because I don’t want to get you in any trouble to make [crosstalk 00:28:18].
Tom Nusspickel (28:18):
I started working outside towards the end. Let’s just put it at that but the backyard was nice.
Jim Lynch (28:23):
Nice. So actually it’s interesting, Justin, you brought up a lot of good points. So behavior probably at the beginning. Everyone was just getting used to it. Normally what happens when they go, they’re like, oh my gosh, I’m really thankful to be working. I got to put my best foot forward, and some go total beyond what they would do in the office.
Jim Lynch (28:43):
Obviously, when you’re in the office, you’re still going to the water cooler. You go to the break room, you still use the restroom. You’re not required to be in front of your computer all eight hours of your shift, there’s time that you step away. So I think some leaders did a good job remembering that. But now that we’ve been into this for a couple of months, you guys are starting to see some of the different behaviors of some of the agents. And look, it’s just normal human behavior. I remember having a mentor back in the day and we all probably heard this. People are going to do what you inspect, not what you expect. It’s just normal human behavior, but let’s talk a little bit about that.
Jim Lynch (29:18):
And Justin, maybe we’ll flip the order at this time. What’s some of the new behaviors that you’ve seen from the agents and that you’ve had to think about. Maybe put a new report in place, maybe using speech analytics a little bit differently. I don’t know. Talk to us about some of those most recent behaviors now that you’re thinking about correcting and optimizing performance.
Justin Bates (29:37):
Yeah. It’s definitely changed because when you’re in the office, you can see what everyone’s doing. You can see their screens, all that. I think we talked about this with Tom. In the early stages, we saw a login time schedule adherence. All of those things were perfect. People knew that there was a lot of focus on what they were doing. We set up a lot of analytics and reports. Every single person who asked about COVID, we were tracking that with laser focus and monitoring that not only from a performance perspective but just understanding, do we have the staff to handle what’s coming? But also making sure that our analytics team does a really good job on the call data as well. Are people logged in? Are they adhering to their schedules? Are they ready? Are they not ready?
Justin Bates (30:32):
All of that was exceptionally well in the first couple of weeks. And you’ve started to see a few patterns that you need to address as they come up, because if you don’t like you said, once the spotlight’s there, they know what the room is. And I think we’ve seen more downtime due to technical issues, particularly with some of our agents working from home, having internet challenges and VPN issues. So we’ve seen a little bit more of that.
Justin Bates (31:08):
Our answer rates have been phenomenal. Our service levels have remained 95% plus since this started. And it’s really just about using the tools to monitor it in real-time and more frequently, especially work from home, making sure people are logged in, returning from their lunches, things like that. Make sure they’re not on a call for 30 minutes. What’s going on in this call? What can we help you with? What’s going on? And the chats have really helped with the questions. Because we have seen an increase in whole times when people are confused or a situation comes up that they haven’t been asked that question before.
Justin Bates (31:52):
So whole times have gone up a bit. Our service levels have been fantastic. We’re listening to a lot more calls. We are a little bit smaller, so we haven’t deployed speech analytics. We are interested in that, but we’re looking to launch screen capture very soon, which we’re really excited about. But manager’s leads, even myself, our quality team is just listening to more calls and getting that real-time feedback. We use LiveVox for our quality platform, it’s integrated and it gives them real-time feedback on how their calls are going and actually makes them acknowledge it as well. So that’s been really, really helpful to use that and just more frequently keeping an eye on those metrics throughout the day.
Jim Lynch (32:35):
I think that’s valuable feedback, Justin. We’re seeing that all over the place. I’m sure Tom is going to hit on it in a moment, but we’re seeing C level executives now that maybe weren’t as in touch and not that they needed to be because they have people, all of us that are keeping a check on the house every day. But they’re going in listen to calls and creating more of a personal connection with some of the employees than they ever had. So if Tom gets on the phone and now all of a sudden he’s barge in a call or jumping on to give them a tip on how they cover that. I think it’s really been, I don’t know, it’s been great in my mind. I think the employees do appreciate it at first. They’re probably like, Tom’s listen to my calls. Now they will never know if Tom’s [inaudible 00:33:16] to or you Justin. So I don’t know, Tom how’s that experience been getting in touch with the agents?
Tom Nusspickel (33:21):
Yeah. I was doing one this morning actually. Everything Justin said, I think it’s really important and we’ve done very similar things. It starts with the reporting and the call analytics to be able to pick up on those certain things. We were looking for any mention of coronavirus, COVID, unemployment, the stimulus package, all those things are getting separate reports and basically saying, okay, here’s this list, our coaches and team managers and directors and myself were going through and spot-checking and saying, we got as granular as they mentioned COVID, but the agent didn’t ask about their employment status. So doing that digging to say, okay, that’s fine you were impacted, but how are you impacted? Have you talked to your employer? Are they taking money to keep you employed? Are you getting three-quarters of the pay? All these things.
Tom Nusspickel (34:19):
Of course, when people were actually laid off, it was again making sure the agents were digging, one to help the agent or help the customer with information on where they could get updated on unemployment status, the additional $600 from the feds and just make sure they were aware of all that. And so digging in to understand where the customers really were. And I think when we talked previous to this call, I think I mentioned that. I think we’re finding that quite a few of the people that we deal with that were either laid off or furloughed are actually making a little bit more money than they were when they were employed, which is an interesting situation I think for a lot of people.
Tom Nusspickel (35:07):
So we’ve not to get off-topic here, and maybe I’m jumping ahead, but we’ve started transitioning back to the office two weeks ago, two Mondays ago. And we’ve had more people come in this week and we’ll have an additional department next week. And then it’s all the way up till July 1st. And right now, we’re doing it as a volunteer basis, not requiring people to come back necessarily right away. Just so they’re comfortable with the reopened plan of taxes and that nothing is spiking, but I think it’s going to be interesting for us to see, my feeling after seeing who volunteered to come back and who didn’t, is that most of our employees are also going to take advantage to work from home as much as possible.
Tom Nusspickel (35:56):
And like Justin, we saw very good results early on. And now we’ve seen some degradation in utilization, in having issues with the timing of breaks and things like that. And I think it’s just human nature at certain points, they’re getting comfortable on what’s going on and where they are. And we’re trying to fight against that as best we can because our biggest message to them is yes, it’s voluntary, yes, you can continue to work from home, but our expectations are the same. So you’re not going to get a pass on going on a warning because your wrap time is this or that. And so it’s actually shifting now with the phasing back to the office, plus the degradation and some of the production at home, our efforts have now shifted.
Tom Nusspickel (36:56):
It’s getting less of listening to what the customer is necessarily saying about COVID and more about them starting back to work. Our agents are starting back to work and that just shifts the focus on, when are you going back to work to the customers? Are you going back to the same job? Is your pay frequency going to be the same? For our agents it’s, you got to keep up the same production, our line in the sand of when you’re going to have to come back is going to be shortened [crosstalk 00:37:24]. As long as everybody’s safe. As long as it’s still safe, but…
Jim Lynch (37:28):
Good. And actually, we’re going to bring up another polling question as we continue the conversation. So the next polling question that we have Todd is going to be about if you’ve seen it and increased demand for digital communication channels during this time. So yes or no. And I’ll tell you, there’s a couple of ways that we’ve talked about this. Justin and Tom, you guys have both spoken about educating both the consumers and your agents and I know both of you have done some campaigns, whether it’s an email campaign or an SMS campaign. And I’d like for the audience to think about these two different ways. Honestly, I communicate by text more than any other way, even though I feel like I’m on the phone eight hours a day, I probably get more business done by texting someone.
Jim Lynch (38:13):
And the same for you. Even if I was to ask another question, how many people texted their mom happy birthday or Merry Christmas just up in the past year, most people would be guilty and raise their hands to say that they did that. So what I like to call out when we’re thinking about these digital communication channels is to be innovative, think about how you like to communicate yourself with your friends and family. Also, if you had a chance to innovate and make it that primary channel that your business could communicate with our consumers that way, I really do think that you should think about if you haven’t already, because one of the ways that you’re able to get around some of this influx in call volumes and things like that is to start moving the traffic away from or be proactive about it, the way that you were Tom, and you’re sending out emails, you might be sending out text messaging campaigns every day or every week.
Jim Lynch (39:05):
And allowing the consumers to communicate back in that channel is probably the most important because then you’re not having these extended hold time. So I know Justin, you mentioned a little bit like, hey, your service levels are still really good. Mid to high 90 percentile, your whole time might be a little bit longer where they’re going and researching. Well, I know personally when I’m there texting, I might text and then put my phone down and go about my day. I’m not waiting on hold just tied to the phone. So maybe I start with you here Tom, maybe you could just mention a few different ways that you utilize some of the digital channels, either in a proactive outreach or just to communicate with your agents or anything that people could hear about to maybe sparks some ideas in their mind.
Tom Nusspickel (39:49):
Specifically, our chat channel went way up, a record amount of chats. And we had to shift some of our agents that have been cross-trained that were in Baja that were customer service agents. We had to shift them over to start taking more of the chats. We purposely tried to push some volume that way in our messaging, our education messaging, it was, here are the sites and everything, go to her if you have any questions chat because we were concerned about keeping up service levels with the phone calls. And we figured that with chat, you can at least control it in some way by just adding people to the chat lines. And some of them are dual agents, so they can handle chat and voice at the same time.
Tom Nusspickel (40:38):
So chat was hugely impacted. And then our online portal. We’re in the middle of redesigning it, and I wish it had been done before this happened. But we had made a lot of fixes to make log-ins easier, one time payments easier. We had developed our own text to pay process, which really got kicked off towards the end of April where it’s quick if they have a payment method on file, they type pay now, and it just automatically pays the account whatever’s due.
Tom Nusspickel (41:16):
And those are things that we saw people adapt very quickly or more robustly than they had in the past. And it just accelerated what we needed to do to be able to handle that. And it taught us some lessons too, it taught us some things that we weren’t quite ready for and where we needed to improve. One of our biggest things is looking at better customer surveys and feedback, as well as it’s customer engagement and customer effort. So the amount of effort it takes for somebody to be able to go online, pay, and get done what they need to get done and out and managing and measuring the customer effort is something that we’re going to really be focused on heading into the second half of the year.
Jim Lynch (42:11):
No, I think it’s important. And you guys started early. I know that you’ve seen success over the years, especially before COVID started with rolling out some of these multichannel campaigns. I get an SMS or an email that really helps with recovery rates. And Justin, I know that you guys are thinking about this as well. So what are some of the ways that you guys are thinking about deploying some of these digital channels, especially after what you’ve just experienced over the last couple of months?
Justin Bates (42:34):
Yeah. So we focus heavily on SMS, email, and voice. We even use some RVM, we haven’t gone into chat too much. So we’ve always done that. And as far as COVID goes, we saw a big influx in inbound emails and SMS in March significant. And so there was a lot of triage that goes on. A smaller group of agents are able to do two-way texts and email and that’s for compliance purposes. We’re building out the templates in the compliant manners in which two-way interactions can take place, but we use a lot of proactive pre-collect strategies, where we’re actually trying to identify challenges before they’re ever past due. So we do customized email, SMS, voice outbound, proactive strategies for payment reminders, say someone had a reduction and they’re on a plan, we have reminders to follow up with them. We have required monthly check-ins for those plans, things like that.
Justin Bates (43:56):
And then every single payment, whether it be automated, recurring payments or manual payments, we have custom reminder campaigns that we send. And we were a lot less proactive with custom outbound mass communications related to COVID. And there were a lot of reasons we did that. We didn’t know what to expect as far as a response perspective. So we didn’t want to overload our consumers who were calling asking for help. And two, we already had all these proactive communications in place that all of our borrowers receive. We’re online marketplace lenders, we really focused on getting proper consent for SMS and email and electronic communication. So what we did was we added vaguer messaging related to COVID.
Justin Bates (44:50):
So we have specialized campaigns that are specifically focused on specific situations like people who are impacted by COVID. We know they’re impacted, and they’ve had a loan modification as a result of COVID. So we have special campaigns for that, which are SMS, email, and voice. But we also have all those just standardized communications. And so what we did was we just added special messaging to all of those. It was very generic. If you need help, if you’re struggling due to COVID, give us a call at this number. So for email, it goes through a ticketing system. It has auto-replies built-in. If you need an immediate response, please call us, if you’re expecting an email or you prefer email, you should receive a response within this timeframe. As far as the whole time doing things like that, we have the callback feature, which has been really helpful. We did see an influx or an increase of SMS and email early on, but as it’s progressed, it’s the same as it always has been.
Jim Lynch (45:50):
Good. No, thanks so much for that. I think we have about 10 minutes left. We’re going to make a shift now because everyone’s wondering if I even have a couple of questions. And I’m going to remind the audience, if you guys have any questions, go ahead and put it in the Q&A box. We’ll try to leave some time at the end of the session to get some of these questions answered from these guys. But we have one more polling question and this is going to be an interesting one because this is where some of our questions are coming from too. So Todd’s going to pop this last question up for you, and then we’re going to talk about it. So it’s going to be, will you continue to allow your workforce to work from home once things returned to normal?
Jim Lynch (46:24):
Yes, no or considering it. So this was interesting. And I think Tom and Justin, you guys might even sit a little bit on different sides of the fence. We heard a sneak peek from you already Tom, that said, hey, we’re already going through a plan to get people in. But I’m going to start you off with a question Tom. And this is one, I know that you’re getting people back in the office. And one of the attendees asked, what about employees that perform well at home, should they be allowed to continue as long as performance is maintained? Now, Tom, keep in mind, this could be one of your employees that asked this question, we’re not quite sure. What are your thoughts on that?
Tom Nusspickel (47:02):
The answer is no, get back to the office. I would say our answer will be considering it. So yes, we’ve had people that have performed well. I think long term, it’ll probably become part of our culture where we will hire for it and probably offer it to people that are here that liked it and want to go on it. Right now the mindset is getting everybody back in the office and let’s get settled back in. There are a lot of little things that while they could be addressed, I guess eventually this whole thing pointed out that we’re not quite ready for it. It worked, we got good results, we got through it, but there’s just all these little minutia of stuff, how do they do warnings when people are there? Is that through teams and do they have an HR part? Just all these little things. And that’s just one little example.
Tom Nusspickel (48:05):
And again, I think that could be addressed. Then how do we manage it? Let’s just say there are five people that decide they want to continue working from home. And then the manager of that team is now back in the office and they’ve got another 10 people to worry about that are here, that they’re walking to their desk, helping them cover phones and take our calls. How do they keep enough focus on those five people from their team that are now at home and they’re managing through teams and chat and Zoom and all this other stuff? It just gets a little sideways for us right now.
Tom Nusspickel (48:49):
Again, it can all be solved. It’s like, okay, you move one manager, they manage everybody that works from home and those kinds of things, we’re just not there. So our focus has been phased back involuntary for now. July 1st is our target if everything continues to go well, that we would require everybody back in the office, except for those that have either medical issues or somebody that they’re caring for or childcare issues that continue, which hopefully we don’t have that many, but we’ll allow them if they want to continue to work or they would go on leave after that period. But yeah, it’s something that I think to get a talent pool from all over the United States or wherever, by allowing the work from home, it has a lot of positives.
Tom Nusspickel (49:39):
We did what we had to do. We made it work. But we really want to make sure that we’re as excellent as we can be at it before. And to do that, you really have to sit down and go through every little again, the minutiae of things that need to be handled much differently than if somebody right in the office, you can get them, you can go talk to them, you can sit with them, you can bring them into your office and look them face-to-face and deliver something that may be touchy or whatever. So that’s my answer. Considering it, short term, the answer’s no, longer-term, yes, probably.
Jim Lynch (50:18):
Yeah. It’s probably because you wouldn’t have made the decision and launched something as big as work from home in three days like you did, it would have been like, all right, let’s figure this out. Maybe it’s July, August, September that we go for. To give you guys an idea. And Justin, right before you answer, a couple of things. I don’t think I covered the digital channels. 80% of the people say, yes, it’s super important right now. So if you don’t have it, I think you heard from Justin, you heard from Tom, it really does work. You want to take a look at those channels. If you have an option, you don’t build silos. You want to make sure that all of the communications channels come to one.
Tom Nusspickel (50:50):
Yeah. Just to jump in there before Justin on that topic, something that we had talked about before that I think has come to the forefront with all this is real-time monitoring. So a lot of our, call analytics and everything, we deal with them the day after, except for when you were live monitoring. I think you’re aware Jim, we’re working with your company and [CallMiner 00:51:14] to really get the live monitoring going because so many things popped up during this that would have been a lot better for us if we had dealt with the customers at the moment and we had got certain keywords popping up the managers saying, hey, you’re going to go take this call over. So we’re not there yet. We’re getting there and that’s going to be the main focus for us as well.
Jim Lynch (51:36):
Awesome. And just you know, 0% of people that answer the poll zero said, no, they’re not considering, they’re not going to force everyone to come back to the office. Tom, you didn’t answer that question otherwise it might’ve been a small percentage there. Considering it was 56%, and really 44% of the audience is actually saying, hey, look, we’re going to allow people that have been successful to continue to work from home. So Justin, where do you sit on that spectrum?
Justin Bates (52:05):
The short answer is we don’t know yet. And that’s evolving. The federal level, the state level, the city reside in, all of those factors, the different local and state laws for each company are going to make this extremely challenging from an HR perspective. You have to ensure that your employees are safe, et cetera. But working from home does present a lot of challenges. Our collection and servicing managers said it best, you can’t read the room. And so I think our preference obviously is that we would prefer everyone to work within the office, but we don’t know how that’s… I don’t know if there will ever be a new normal. You have forward-thinking companies that are announcing that people are going to work remotely inevitably or indefinitely for now.
Justin Bates (52:57):
So I think for us, we still don’t know. I think the ultimate plan is definitely to get everyone back into the office. But they’re local ordinances, state ordinances, and even situations with our landlord that we have to navigate and make sure that we’re doing things appropriately. I think the important thing is that we know that we can support work from home now. And I think we’re open to that for employees that it works with. So when people thrive and some people do not and I think it’s about being flexible. And I think that we can retain and attract really good talent if we do offer that as an option. But I would say that ideally, the majority of our workforce should be able to primarily work in the office or at least have a blended model.
Justin Bates (53:51):
We had a team huddle today before this call with the agents that are working in the office and just being able to see them and see their body language and have that interaction, you could tell that conversation was probably more impactful for those that were in the office than the folks who were on the phone. And so our preference is to get everyone back as soon as possible. It’s just, we don’t know how to navigate that quite yet. Back to the performance of stimulus and things. We believe the challenge from a loan performance and collections perspective is really going to start to arise in June, July, and August. I think that’s going to be the true test.
Justin Bates (54:31):
If stimulus changes, unemployment things change I really think from a loan performance perspective. I know I’m jumping topics, but I wanted to add that earlier. I think our true test is going to be Q3, Q4 of this year to really see what the impact of this is.
Jim Lynch (54:50):
That’s awesome. So we got about two minutes left. I’m going to hit you guys with one final question. One of them actually said that the audience asks that we also had planned, so it was perfect. And then as you do this, let’s keep the answers short if we can, maybe a minute. But as you move back into an office environment, are there any other changes that you made to the workforce or processes that are going to remain intact, or are there any other learnings from the crisis?
Jim Lynch (55:16):
So I know both of you guys can go many directions with this. Anything that you think will be helpful. I know both of you guys have BPO partners, so you’re going out and you’re thinking about, hey, what does your business continuity plan look like from a pandemic from now on? Maybe that’s new learning that you had, that you’re going to start to look for some of your partners to be able to answer that question to you as well. But Tom, let’s start with your last comments? How do you answer that question and any parting words?
Tom Nusspickel (55:39):
Yeah. Our focus right now is obviously the people that are coming back, keeping everybody healthy because the worst thing that could happen is we start phasing people back in and then somebody comes in that’s sick and then we have to shut back down. I think that’s, everybody’s fear. You don’t want to turn around and reverse everything. So the safety measures, right now what’s top of mind and whether or not all or some of them stay in place for a long time, I think really depends on how this thing goes and where a vaccine comes in and those kinds of things.
Tom Nusspickel (56:11):
So I think one thing that may stay in place is the separation in the desks. We had cubes that were coming up this high and we’re adding the plexiglass to everybody. So it keeps that and whether or not those things are important long term, I don’t know. But you never know when the next pandemic is going to pop up now, so we’re trying to be prepared as best as possible. But yeah, our offshore, nearshore will become more important than the third side as well.
Jim Lynch (56:41):
Awesome. And Justin, how about any learnings or last-minute comments for the audience?
Justin Bates (56:47):
Safety compliance is obviously extremely important. That’s a given, I agree. I think being flexible, always being flexible, and not too rigid in your strategy and just really that human element with your employees and your customers is extremely important. We get so focused in the financial services area of compliance and legal and that’s important, it is. But sometimes you have to make sure that your customer experience makes sense? Our quality team is always… One thing I ask them to do is when you grade this call, would you be happy with that call? And if not, why?
Justin Bates (57:26):
Forget all the checkboxes from a legal and compliance perspective. Did that call go well? And I think this time has really been the true test of that. We focus a lot less on C-SAT, those things are important, surveys are important. We focus a lot more on our loan performance and the complaints that we’re receiving and handling those appropriately to really figure out if we’re doing the right things in the right way. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it. But yeah, we need to be flexible and be able to pivot quickly as these things happen and-
Tom Nusspickel (58:03):
Jim Lynch (58:06):
I think it captured everything. I think it’s really great. Todd, we’re at the top of the hour, so I wanted to just thank both Justin and Tom for all your time today and your feedback. Hopefully, the audience enjoyed it. My parting words just continue to be innovative. I think if anything has proven itself over the past couple of months is that it’s really powerful when the team comes together, we’re all able to accomplish things we could have never dreamed of before. So continue to do that even after this process and after the curve hopefully continues to flatten and start to return to what we think is normal, still continue that innovative process because that’s what’s going to put you above the competition as we go. So with that, Justin, I’ll turn it back over to you.
Thank you, Jim. Thank you, LiveVox for sponsoring. Both thank you to Justin and Tom for joining us to speak and of course, thank you to the audience. So thank you for joining us today. Have a good rest of your day.
Jim Lynch (59:06):
Thank you, everybody.
Tom Nusspickel (59:06):
Justin Bates (59:10):
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