Total Expert: Using Technology To Optimize And Personalize The Customer Journey With CEO Joe Welu

MLM 306 | Customer Journey


Each customer journey is individual and unique. It’s hard for businesses to keep up with such specific needs when talking about automation. But one person has figured it out! Today’s guest is Joe Welu, CEO and founder of Total Expert, a purpose-built CRM and customer engagement platform. Total Expert is more than just a CRM solution. It uses human-first methodology that optimizes data and technology with a human touch. Join as he chats with host Jen Du Plessis about how they created a personalized approach to customer experience. Stay tuned!

Looking for some help? Jen is seeking individuals who would like to be featured as a panelist on the show for her Mortgage Lending Mastery Mastermind Series. Email to get scheduled!

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Total Expert: Using Technology To Optimize And Personalize The Customer Journey With CEO Joe Welu

I’m delighted to have this opportunity to speak with the CEO and Founder of Total Expert, Joe Welu. Welcome to the show. We’re so excited to have you here.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to spend time with you.

I’m excited about this. A little background about Joe so that everyone knows. Total Expert is a FinTech software leader. They launched the first customer experience platform purpose-built for modern financial institutions and now that we’ve gone through COVID, this becomes even more of a priority. Since 2015, Joe has led Total Expert’s vision. The company powers CRM, marketing and customer engagement for more than 150 companies that range from community banks, credit unions to wholesalers, national banks and mortgage lenders. Again, I’m delighted to have you here on the show.

What’s going to happen is we’re going to run across each other more frequently at different events because now, we have the reticular activator opened. Something that you work on at Total Expert is making sure that the reticular activator is always lit, ignited, running for clients so that they remember their loan officer partners. We’re going to talk about that but before I do, I want to talk about you. What got you into the mortgage space? Were you a lender before you came into Total Expert? Did you see a need or did you come right from FinTech?

The true game-changing leaders understand the lifetime value of customer relationship. Click To Tweet

No, I had zero FinTech or technology background. I came here, which is a story in itself. I was a real estate agent. I had a real estate team with RE/MAX and started incubating the company out of the basement of a real estate office. The initial reason we started it is that we looked at the customer as doing a single transaction. They didn’t look at the loan officer and the real estate agent.

They only wanted to buy a home. The initial thought process around that was we wanted to be able to market alongside loan officers to go out into the market and win customers and keep those customers long-term. That was the original reason that we started the business initially. It very much evolved from there.

We talked about this quite a bit and I think that you probably have some opinions on this. As long as I’ve been doing this, we’re now coming up many years that I’ve been in/or associated with the lending business. Do you know what’s funny? I’m not even counting some of the time I did it in high school.

MLM 306 | Customer Journey

Customer Journey: This is a human business. It’s human first but it’s driven by technology and data. The technology and the data should drive the human first methodology.


You must have started when you were like five.

Thank you. It’s been good to me. That’s all I got to say. Going all the way back to the late ‘70s or early ‘80s when I first got in, it’s a habitual problem of running a CRM and communicating and continuing to nurture relationships. I have this saying that I say all the time with my students is don’t have a meeting with a realtor and be one and done. Don’t do a loan and be one and done. We have this habit of thinking, “I got to lead and close the deal.”

It’s transactional.

It’s an infinity sign. It’s always bringing people back in. Why do you think this is such a problem year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation as loan officers and real estate agents? This seems to be a continual problem. Where does this stem from?

It stems from the nature of the compensation nature of the business, which is heavily based on the transaction itself. The nature and the cyclicality of the industry when it’s hot, it’s hot. People are focused on the next deal but what I think the true game-changing leaders, the ones that are separating themselves from the pack in both companies and individual producers, understand the lifetime value of that customer relationship.

They run their business very intentionally to say, “We’re going to look at each relationship we have with the customer as though we’re going to be their lender or their financial partner for their life.” They set the business up that way. I also think that it’s been very difficult to orchestrate communication and engagement at scale and do that with technology. There’s been a lot of fragmented pieces over the years and that’s also made it a struggle too.

I can tell you from my perspective and I’m sure a lot of those that are reading when I first started putting something together and I had a perfect loan process and a nurturing system way before it was cool. As I was seeking a platform, I was finding that no single platform solved all of the needs that I had. As a loan officer and a real estate agent, I coached some realtors too. They seek these platforms to solve a problem that they have without knowing how they want it to and what the results are to be.

I’m always encouraged them to do it the old-fashioned way. Put it on paper, play with it, maneuver it, then go seek something that will fit what you want. I feel that’s where the problem stems. There’s a lot of talk about, “I’ll be your lender for life.” People picked up on that terminology because it sounded good. “I’ll be your lender for life but I’ll never call you again.”

It doesn’t mean I’m going to have any human connection with you at all. You might get a birthday email from me once a year or something.

I call that the Heisman method. It’s like this push poll. It’s like, I sent it to you but I’m not engaging with you. This is where the problem sense is people don’t know where to start. If you’re talking to your loan officer says, “I’ve had it. I am so sick of doing transactional. I want to get into this world but I don’t know where to start.” What’s your suggestion for them?

Understand what outcome you want. Start with the end goal in mind and work backward from there. Click To Tweet

I think you’ve touched on it a little bit. First of all, understand what outcome that you want. What do you want your business to look like and why? Start with the end goal in mind and work backward from there. The next step with that is realizing and understanding that the long-term success, the exponential success is when you can build meaningful, deep relationships with your customers that drive a lot of loyalty from those customers. If you think about it, if you can have a customer that’s fiercely loyal to you, they refer everybody they care about to you and would never think about doing a loan with anybody else even if the price was better because you’ve delivered so much value and you’ve put so much investment in that relationship.

You start to say, “That sounds great.” I execute on that. Our philosophy has always been, this is a human business. It’s human first but it’s driven by technology and data. The technology and the data should drive the human first methodology. That should serve and enable you to have deeper connections with your customers. The problem is most technology companies have two buckets.

You either have people that came from pure tech and didn’t understand the business. They didn’t understand how relationship-driven it is or they understood that but they didn’t understand how to build scalable technology platforms that would allow you to bring together all the capabilities that you need and all the integrations that you need to execute on that customer for life type strategy with scale.

It’s one thing to do with a few clients. It’s quite another to do it with hundreds or thousands of clients. Starting with that end goal in mind of saying, “I want my customers to be loyal to me,” then understanding what’s important to my customers. What do they value? What we have learned, particularly with this next crop and generation of home buyers, is they value knowledge. They value education.

What they don’t value is being marketed at. They don’t value throwing products and pricing at them. They value understanding how home equity can build net worth. They understand and value utilizing a home as a financial asset to build wealth. There are lots of ways to continue to educate that customer about what’s going on in the housing market or what’s going on with their equity.

If they’ve got debts, how they can use what we call good debt, which is real estate debt, to have more financial wellness. It’s educating them on those different scenarios. If you go a layer deeper, it understands what stage in life they’re at because then you’re going to be able to have a conversation with them both digitally and as you engage with them one-on-one about what most likely is important to them at that point in time. I think it’s articulating and understanding what’s valuable with the customer and making sure you’re systematizing that.

Those life events are important. It was funny when I was originating. I came out with an adoptive mortgage probably in 1994 or something like that, where we were adopting people’s mortgages because they’d been orphaned by their last lender who got in the business for a short period of time. We later changed that to mortgages under management and that’s the bailiwick of my practice was.

That wasn’t like, “I’m going to take care of you after the closing,” but it was also, what is the entrance strategy that we’re using? What is the holding strategy that we’re going to have, how long you’ll hold the home? That could be several mortgages in while you’re holding home. What is the exit strategy so that we’re building wealth?

I’m a big fan of Rich Dad Poor Dad. Sharon Lechter, who wrote that book, is a friend of mine. I’m a fan of getting people out of the E and the S. It being self-employed and employment going into business owners and investors. That was part of the strategy. It’s moving people over to that. When you’re talking about having these relationships, I want to ask you a question. There are no planned questions on this show. I have it because I’m curious and I’m sure someone reading is going, “Ask that question, Jen.” You’ve talked a lot about creating that loyalty of a client. We’ll get into more about what you do but how does your system create?

For example, I do have a client and she knows because she reads every episode who is saying, “I’m in this realm of X loan amounts and I want to graduate into a higher stature because I personally have graduated. In my life, I’ve personally graduated into this higher echelon. How do I attract and go in that way?” When you talk about creating this loyal client, is there a possibility to create a loyal client that you don’t already have and that you could target?

First of all, what our system does is it allows you to understand and target the different personas that you want to have as customers if they’re prospects or customers and speak to them in a way that’s uniquely tailored to what they care about. What’s you’re describing to me is I would like to and this is me playing back if I’m a loan officer. I’ve been doing conforming loan deals for most of my career. I want to start doing jumbos and superjumbos as my main screen. Is that what you’re describing to me?


MLM 306 | Customer Journey

Customer Journey: Total Expert allows you to architect and orchestrate a customer journey for each different persona and automate those touchpoints.


What you have to understand is that the content that one of those affluent buyers or borrowers care about is different. I need to have a different customer journey from first lead touch to customer for life. I need to have a different journey for that borrower than I do a borrower, that is say, a first-time homebuyer conform or moving out. They care about different things. What our system does ultimately is it allows you to architect and orchestrate a customer journey for each different persona and automate those touchpoints.

Is it taxing to do, though? That’s one of the things the readers are going to say, “How much work do I have to put in?” It’s a short-sighted view, I get that, but how taxing is it to implement and execute?

We are an enterprise solution. We historically have not sold licensing because of the magnitude of the technology and the investment that it takes on the frontend. We have smaller shops that certainly use our platform. On the frontend, we integrate LOS data. You are migrating past customer databases. In some cases, you’re working to cleanse that data to make sure you have a very clean database. From a customization standpoint, it depends on how your business is set up. We have what we call our expert services team that through our professional services, will work with our customers to tailor those different paths and those persona-based journeys.

We have our stable of content and best practices that are available, but then if they want to go deeper, we have both our in-house services team. We work with agency partners as well. For example, we have loan officers inside of our enterprise customers that have access to our solution. They say, “We want our own customer journey. These are the emails. This is the tone we want.” From there, we work through their organization to upload that content and those touchpoints.

If they’ve already developed it or if they need services help, then we would bid that out and work with them. The technology is extremely deep and powerful but we have made it very configurable. We released the newest iteration of our Journey Creation platform. It’s no code. It allows you to drag and drop and change emails, text messages, dropping into the message. It’s a note of what we call no code in the tech world. What that means is it’s very configurable with basically drag and drop, point and click.

That’s so powerful because we all know loan officers and producers, I shouldn’t say short-term and I shouldn’t say this for everybody. If you’re reading, I don’t mean this. I was one. I get one. I’m married to one. It’s like a very short like, “Give me. Give the results.” I love the fact that it’s the drag and drop because we go, “We don’t have the bandwidth to think through it.” Tell me a little bit about it because this is something that I think is very important in the scalability of a communication system. One of the five Cs that I coach on is communication and that’s about your system.

High-quality communication is critical. High-quality communication doesn’t mean as you know. It means the messaging and the tone of that messaging coming from your systems.

It has to deliver in what you say when you say the tone is that some people are more formal, casual, humorous. You want to make sure your voice is penetrating as you’re talking through because that’s what the client loved about working with you. That’s what will attract the clients. Some will say no but that’s okay because you have to be true to you. One of the things that I work very closely on is making sure that it’s a very efficient system but it also has to be effective.

If it’s effective but it’s not efficient, you won’t use it. If it’s effective or if it’s efficient but it’s falling loose and it’s some very generic information, it will fall. Tell us about the combination that you use and how the engagement truly happens? You’re sending out and that’s targeted to a person that has your voice and your vision but how does the engagement elevate through your system?

I’ll start with the execution of this, then I’ll back up a little bit and give you an overview of how we get to that point. Our system, we built what we believe and what most of our customers believe is the most sophisticated and intelligent customer journey orchestration platform in the market. What that means is that I can set up my system.

I can set up my sequence of communication and based on how that customer responds, how they interact or don’t interact or a piece of data. Let’s say their equity changes or their credit’s been pulled or any data points around that individual customer changes, our Journey platform will interpret that and allow you to change what happens next.

One of the most powerful things that we learned over the years that drives a lot of success for our customers is the ability to bring that automation and that human touch together. I’ll give you an example. Understanding customer loyalty is very critically important. One of the things that will happen for a lot of our customers is one of their past clients won’t be thinking about it. They’ll see something from the LendingTree. They’ll go on, fill out a form and will pull their credits and will get seduced into thinking about a new mortgage.

The innovation curve is steepening. You have to take steps to level up how you’re using technology to serve your customers. Click To Tweet

I love the way you say that because it is that way. It’s like, “They already pulled my credit, so I feel obligated.”

They start to feel bad and they’re like, “I talked to this nice person on the phone for like ten minutes.” That scenario, here’s how we interpret that signal. Our system is intelligent. It’s listening for those signals. We’re getting that data. We understood that happened, then we prompted the task to the loan officer or if they’re a bigger team and they’ve got somebody that’s the concierge prompts the task with the call script plus an automated text message and email.

I’ve got three touchpoints in a specific cadence that are being initiated from what that customer did. What happens then is I can have a very in-context conversation. I know that this is me keeping my arms around my customer saying, “We’ve loved having you as a customer. We’d love to check in and talk about what rates are doing,” whatever it might be.

What we’ve learned is to put those processes in place that give you what to do next. You think about it in advance. You think about, “Here’s my customer journey. Here are all of the places that I could possibly lose that lead or that customer.” They could fill out a form on LendingTree. What does that look like? That’s a hole where I might lose them.

They could apply with me and not find the house that they want right away, then 3, 6, 7 months go by, they go into an open house and get nabbed by the realtor. I’ve got to have a system that encompasses all of that data that can then bring that to the forefront for my team or me and say, “Call this person and say this.” The customer also will get a very personalized text message in their voice sent out to the customer. That’s one example of how we bring those things together.

I love that because we had a system with a little piece of it at the time. It was so cool to call your client and say, “I was just touching base,” and they’re like, “That’s so funny.”

“I just pulled my credit.”

That’s so funny that it happened. I put my house on the market or I was snooping. I love that AI. This helps us with conversion. I call it acres of diamonds that we have underneath us and we have this tendency to have our binoculars all the time. I need new business. I need new leads rather than looking at the acres and acres of diamonds that we have and that one diamond can create a ripple effect in your practice. You already worked so hard to get them, so let’s make sure we keep them. I think that’s what a lot of loan officers, where they get and truly realtors read to this show as well, where they get so defeated and so burned out. That busy-ville leads to leads to broke-ville and that leads to burnout-ville.

Desperation, fear and all of those things.

All of that and career changes.

As a former agent, I was very lucky to have a good career as an agent. I completely understand how that happens. I think the good part for you and in listening to you a little bit and following you and understanding is you’ve helped a lot of people become very successful about thinking much differently about the business. There is a bigger and better way to do business if you think in terms of systems, technology, customer first and how do I bring those things together.

In those life events too, which I know is very big with you because it’s all the cross-selling that happens with existing customers, to be the resource for them for all things that they need personal, professional, home and financial services. All of those are super powerful. I know that you have an enterprise account. Let’s say that a loan officer is reading in.

What is the best way for them to approach their company and say, “I need you to read this blog? I like what they’re saying. We need this product.” I know you’re serving 150 companies but there are thousands of mortgage companies out there. This is a great opportunity for loan officers to go into their office and say, “We need to do something a little different.” What’s your recommendation to help them get the ear on this?

MLM 306 | Customer Journey

Customer Journey: Total Expert is the most sophisticated and intelligent customer journey orchestration platform in the market.


We have staked our company on making our customers massively successful. We’ve got a good track record of creating growth for our customers. It’s proven. We’ve got 9 out of the top 20 lenders that run their platforms on our engine, on our platform. We’ve got lots in the top 100. Having a conversation, getting their organization to have a conversation with us saying, “These guys work with some of the best brands in the business. They’re thinking about the future in terms of what we need to be doing to grow over the next one to two years.” I know they’ve had results that speak for themselves. For example, we’ve had multiple customers where we’ve doubled their customer loyalty and retention rates in one year. We’ve had customers where we have improved their application, their lead to close by 10%, 20%, which is a big number.

Which is huge for conversion, the show rate before this one is about Conversions. I talked about conversions again, acres diamonds.

You already have the diamonds and I love that philosophy that’s saying acres of diamonds. The way to think about us is what we are not is another CRM solution. We don’t even like that word.

It’s because that’s stagnant.

What organizations need is a technology partner that is willing to dig in with them, look at their current customer journey for their different types of loan officers and say, “What can we do in the next three to four months to improve how we are handling our customer journey massively?” If we do that in 90 to 120 days, we’re going to grow the business.

Like hands down, proven a hundred out of a hundred times, we make huge strides for companies if they work with us in that way. Having a very low-pressure, very consultative collaborative conversation with somebody on our team talking about, “What do they want to have as a strategy for next year in terms of growth? What other goals?” We’ll talk to them about some of the ways we can help them win. We’d love to have that conversation anytime.

I think that’s important. Explore it. It’s the exploration. I wanted to say two more things before we close. This, for me, seems very powerful for builder lenders. Lenders that handle builders because they are transactional. I like it. I’m afraid to give away all that little stuff because I love going into builder development after everybody’s closed and said, “We’ve adopted your loan. We’re here to take over. We’ve had the privilege of being able to manage your mortgage now.” They don’t know where it’s coming from but I know that the builder loan officers too involved with loans to not even care about that.

For me, if I don’t get business from a builder, that’s okay. I’m going to get it over here because I have a system together that I’m going to nurture those relationships. I’m going to get multitudes of loans from those people, not that single one. I see that as powerful. The other thing is and I know that this is up to your alley. If you’re not working towards these types of techs and AI because this is artificial intelligence that you’re using. If you’re not working on this as a company, your company is working backward. It’s going so quickly. It’s a tsunami of technology that’s heading our way.

Jen, I think you hit the nail on the head that it is moving faster than it ever has before. The innovation curve is steepening. What that means is if I’m a loan officer, I need to be aligning myself with resources, company or brands or if I’m an individual small broker that there are certainly ways that you can execute on these strategies as well and be successful but you have to take steps to level up how you’re using technology to serve your customers.

You have to improve on that quarter after quarter constantly. If you’re not making continuous progress in iterating it, you’re going to fall behind because there are brands that are spending billions of dollars to figure out how to steal your customer from you. The good news is you don’t have to be that in that scenario.

I’ve always said, “If you’re not in front of your customer, your competition is, so get busy.”

Somebody else will be.

The last question I want to ask you is what motivates you, Joe? What are you doing to uplevel your professional knowledge? Maybe not that technical but the mindset and what are you doing on a daily basis?

If you’re not making continuous progress, you’re going to fall behind because there are brands that are spending billions of dollars to figure out how to steal your customer from you. Click To Tweet

I’ve always been fortunate to have a growth mindset. That’s first and foremost. I think when you come from a position of thinking with an abundant mindset and a growth mindset, it opens up a lot of things for you. What motivates me is helping our customers win. It’s been like that from the beginning. When we see our customers having deeper relationships with their customers to where they improve their loyalty, it is the most exciting thing in the world for us. That’s what motivates us every day is saying, “How can we partner with our customers?” At the end of that next year, look back and say, “Together, we achieved X, Y and Z.” That’s what drives us, me and quite frankly, most of the team every day.

You and I were talking about that in the green room. We were saying, “Don’t work to work, work to win.” That ties a bow on this whole thing.

It’s much more fun.

Joe Welu, thank you so much for joining us and giving us your wisdom and the future outlook of what this is going to look like for our industry. I encourage those that are reading to connect with you. If they are owners, great. If they are managers, wonderful. If they’re loan officers, we want you to connect as well because learning about this and sharing it with your management team and your leadership team is going to keep that company moving forward. It’s so critical in this market. Thank you again so much for being with us. I appreciate it. I wish you all the best of success. I can’t wait to run into you and say, “We know each other.”

Likewise, I appreciate the opportunity. I enjoyed it. Thank you so much.

Everybody, thank you. Again, please give us a five-star rating and write us a review. Those things are important. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this. I hope that it makes the needle on your business move every single time.

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About Joe Welu

MLM 306 | Customer JourneyJoe Welu is the founder and CEO of Total Expert, the fintech software leader that launched the first customer experience platform purpose-built for modern financial institutions. Since 2015, Joe has led Total Expert’s vision, culture and growth to nearly 300 employees today.

The company powers CRM, marketing and customer engagement for more than 150 companies-from leading community banks and credit unions, to 3 of the nation’s top 10 banks, and 9 of the top 15 mortgage lenders.

Total Expert’s growth has skyrocketed since its inception; in 2020 alone, it ranked #17 in the Inc. 5,000 Most Successful Companies in the Midwest, #3 in Minneapolis/St/ Paul Business Journal’s 2020 Fast 50, and #82 in the Deloitte Tech Fast 500.

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