What Can Title & Escrow Companies Learn from Silicon Valley About Testing & Scaling

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 In parts one and two of our digital maturity series, we discussed change management and workforce training best practices. In part three of our series, we will discuss strategies for title & escrow companies to appropriately designate resources to scale new projects.

The real estate and title industry are experiencing unprecedented changes spurred by competition, technology, and regulations. In this fast-paced environment, it’s more important than ever for title & escrow companies to adopt dynamic ways of working that test and validate ideas before committing to developing them fully.

What better model to look to for agility and scale than Silicon Valley? It’s here that some of the country’s largest and fastest-growing businesses took root and whose engineering processes are literally called "agile". While the parallels between title & escrow companies and technology startups may not be apparent at first glance, the technology industry’s agile product development principles can be successfully applied to nearly any organization. 

We sat down with Qualia’s Director of Product and one of HousingWire’s 2018 Women of Influence, Charlotte Brown, to discuss how businesses of any type and size can adapt product development principles to their own business. With these fundamentals, companies can confidently and cost-effectively move toward big investments to stay ahead of the curve.

Q: To start, why do you believe flexibility and dynamism are important in today’s business landscape?

Charlotte (1)CHARLOTTE: Regardless of industry, if you provide a service, you want to be able to respond to the needs of your clients. Naturally, your clients’ needs will shift over time due to factors such as sentiment, state of the economy, or the regulatory environment. 

At Qualia, we keep a pulse on the needs of our customers (through our incredible customer success team and client partnerships) to pivot as-needed whenever possible. These insights are invaluable. We’re able to act on those insights because we’ve developed web-based products that are agile by nature. We also have very high standards for our engineers and expect them to be problem solvers at heart. We’ve invested quite a bit in hiring experienced engineers and providing them with state-of-the-art tools to ensure they can develop solutions. Title & escrow companies can operate with the same agility by investing in technology for their team that enables dynamism and by nurturing an innovative, solution-oriented workplace

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We’ve also invested quite a bit in developing a set of business and design principles that put some constraints on what we do. While it may sound counter-intuitive, constraints actually enable flexibility and dynamism. For example, one of the most dynamic consumer companies in the world is Apple. And yet, their product offerings remain relatively narrow and focused and their design has maintained consistency over the decades. It’s actually much easier to be creative when given constraints or parameters versus a blank page.

Q: In light of those customer insights you mentioned, how do you recommend businesses respond to customer feedback and opportunities? 

CHARLOTTE: It’s really important to test assumptions when making a big change. We isolate the change we want to make to the minimum viable touch points, test it out with a small group, get feedback, and iterate. At Qualia, we have fantastic client partners who work closely with us to roll out and improve our suite of products, so we’re able to test with a small group and gather feedback before bringing forward a new product to our broader customer base. 

Developing relationships with customers is very important in a testing culture. Our clients are true partners and are equally invested in being the leading edge of the industry — their feedback is invaluable and our partnerships are grounded in a rise-together mentality.

I recommend that title & escrow companies identify client partners who share their vision and want to move the needle toward better closings. For title & escrow companies, that may mean leveraging relationships with like-minded Realtor and lender partners to identify opportunities to service their clients even better. You might enact a feedback loop with these partners or plan a recurring meeting to discuss pain points or potential areas for innovation. Ultimately, this feedback loop provides you with valuable information on how your company is performing while simultaneously creating stronger, value-aligned relationships with your clients.

Q: Title & escrow companies are managing an incredible amount of detail-oriented work. What advice do you have for going after new opportunities without derailing other projects and day-to-day work? 

CHARLOTTE: Most companies and businesses have cycles. In other words, businesses have times of the year, month, day that are predictably busy. It’s good to plan with these cycles in mind. When there is that natural ebb — that bit of wiggle room — allocate more resources toward working on something innovative and testing your hypothesis

For title & escrow companies, it’s tempting to try to innovate during the peak homebuying season because pain points (such as customer response time or task management) become more pronounced; however, I encourage agents to keep note of pain points during the busy season and then allocate time later to test solutions. Testing during a slower time makes a test that doesn’t go well less risky to your business and your staff.

Something I mentioned earlier applies here too. When you’re interested in making a change, it’s best to distill the change to its most simple form and test it in the field. There are a few reasons why this is important: 

  1. You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket when you don’t have any evidence the basket is going to hold up.
  2. You will learn a lot from your first “test” customers and will likely need to tweak your offering based on their feedback. No matter how robust the plan, there is always something that you didn’t predict. Know this ahead of time and build in the space to iterate.

Q: For a busy title or escrow company, customer feedback likely comes through every day. How can businesses identify which opportunities to pursue and how should strategic priorities be leveraged?

CHARLOTTE: First, I’ll say that I think the company strategy should be threaded throughout everything the business does. Internal consistency and focus will lead to better execution —and success if the strategy is good. Strategic focus also helps individual teams roll up their activities into organizational goals so that every individual task is moving the company toward achieving its broader goals. This actually creates a much more satisfying experience for employees as well. It ensures that their contributions are meaningful, which most people desire in the workplace. 

Every market is different and every opportunity is different so there is not a cookie-cutter answer here in terms of evaluating opportunities. But I will say that timing is important. It’s up to the visionary to defend why now is the right time to go after a specific opportunity. Ask yourself questions like: 

  • Is now the correct time to solve this problem?  
  • What would it look like if the problem remained unsolved? 
  • Is this problem temporal and or will it continue to exist? 
  • Is it important to be first to market? 
  • Is the reward different depending on when the problem is solved?

Q: Once opportunities are identified and testing begins, how should businesses measure the success of tests and choose which to scale? 

CHARLOTTE: A concept that I find really liberating is that your ideas don’t have to be correct. They just need to be defensible. If you have reason to believe that there may be an opportunity—say because you heard feedback from multiple customers that they want to have more access to the title agent throughout closing or read a report that revealed an opportunity—then there is reason to run an experiment. 

You need to design your experiments such that they actually test your hypothesis. There should be an objective parameter that indicates success. And then you also want for your experiment to be reversible. If the idea is not going to pan out, you want to minimize the fall-out from that experiment and easily re-establish the status quo. 

Getting Ahead with a Testing Culture

At the end of the day, nearly every business is becoming a “technology company” in some capacity. In other words, digital tools are central for organizations to adapt quickly to changes and deliver the best experience for their customers. Title & escrow companies who employ technology to its highest use will be able to move quickly toward new opportunities and, as a result, feel more confident in the face of change.