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November 18, 2019

Immediate access to information has become the norm. Whether we’re looking for a weather update or “how-to” tips, we want to quickly get what we need without having to wade through irrelevant search results. And today’s technology, from Natural Language Processing to Continuous Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI), allows us to find on-target answers faster.

These changing customer expectations give companies in historically paper-based industries — like housing finance — an opportunity to deliver a more streamlined, digital customer experience.

Leveraging today’s technology for better solutions

Take, for example, our Selling and Servicing Guides. These 2,500 pages of dense information are critical to supporting our lenders as they operate their day-to-day business and process loans.

The guides have long been digitized, but because of their volume and nature, almost any search term would deliver pages of results. We needed a new solution — one that would give customers the particular answer they needed.

To achieve this, we used technology like Natural Language Processing to “understand” written language in order to find relevant information, AI to help rank high-quality results, and Continuous Machine Learning to learn from past user behaviors and improve the user experience without additional programming.

The result was Ask Poli®, a digital tool that serves up appropriate answers from our Selling and Servicing Guides rather than expecting our customers to wade through all the nonessential results from a traditional keyword search.

Customer use demonstrates the demand for this new technology

Since the search tool’s launch in May 2018, more than 1.75 million questions have been asked by more than 85% of our customers. Interestingly, approximately 15% of Ask Poli traffic occurred outside of our call centers’ business hours.

This expanded access allows our partners to better serve their clients. “Most of our customers have day jobs, so loan officers frequently talk to them at night,” says Planet Home Lending’s Chief Operating Officer Suzy Lindblom, a customer who piloted Ask Poli. “If a client asked a question the loan officer couldn’t answer, the officer would have to wait until the next day to ask a processor or underwriter. Ask Poli lets them help their clients without delay.”

“We can see lenders are trying to close loans faster, and this technology allows them to extend the typical workday to better serve their clients,” explains Fannie Mae’s Christine Kilmer.

Obtaining answers quickly can translate to increased business, says Henry Brandt, Vice President of Branch Support at Planet Home Lending. “Any delay in responding to a client gives your competition an opportunity to win that business. Now, if I’m asked a question at an open house, I can get an answer while I’m sitting there with the client. Ask Poli literally gives me an underwriter anywhere, at any time of the day.”

A better end result

While Ask Poli has allowed Planet Home Lending to better serve its customers, it has also resulted in savings to the company, Brandt reports. Notably, resources that were previously needed on the scenario desk can be reassigned to more impactful, higher-value activities, such as marketing. Providing answers more cost effectively is exactly the point, says Kilmer: “Our goal is to streamline the homebuying process, and innovation is the key.”