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WASHINGTON – Helping software learn while learning a good bit themselves about what credit union members want and need to know is a hot activity for some folks at Callahan & Associates right now. The advisory firm has contracted with Fuze Digital Solutions of Bellevue, Wash., to deploy Fuze MemberLink, a digital knowledge base and contact management system that Callahan now is blending into its Web site at www.creditunions.com. The information comes in “knowledge packs” – personal finance content and calculators updated regularly and cross-referenced and integrated with the client’s own product and service information. “We’re still in the planning stages of figuring out how we’re going to implement it, and it’s one of those things that you learn to use as you use it,” says Scott Patterson, Callahan’s e-commerce manager. “But I think the opportunity for us to help credit unions with this is incredible.” Callahan & Associates already is powering one section of its Web site – the Info Center – with the Fuze solution, enabling visitors to ask questions that come directly to the proper person at Callahan. “We rarely endorse vendors, and really try to maintain an independent third-party view of the industry. This is less about Fuze and more about how to use knowledge-based technology to improve our service to credit unions and their service to members,” Patterson says. “Even small credit unions can provide really incredible customer experience on par with the Citibanks of the world if it’s done effectively,” he says. “Members won’t need to go anywhere else. “And from my perspective, it’s great to learn about these technologies, because it helps me understand how credit unions are tackling the issue of digital knowledge management.” Patterson says the Fuze solution was a good way to start because of the robust knowledge base it comes with, which Fuze CEO Chuck Van Court says is gleaned from extensive work with credit unions to learn what their members tend to want to know. Then it comes down to customizing what’s there – helping the learning system learn some more. “One of our biggest challenges is populating the knowledge base,” Patterson says. “Chuck at Fuze has really pre-populated this with a lot of good information, so we’re certainly not starting from scratch. “But we do have to spend time thinking here about what pieces of information should go in there, or be added later, and what keywords it should have. This is much more than the simple `search the site’ function where you get anything that has that word in it,” the Callahan e-commerce manager says. “But over time, as we develop our internal processes and get our people to think in terms of developing the knowledge base, it will become much easier to use and there’ll be a lot more there,” Patterson says. “It will just continue getting better.” Van Court agrees. “The knowledge base must naturally grow as part of the support process, which will cause it to get better and better at answering member and staff questions in a voice they understand,” the Fuze CEO says. “Unlike a static list of FAQs, a highly searchable knowledge base will attract usage when members realize the breadth and dynamic nature of the information it contains,” he says. Fuze now has about 20 credit union customers, ranging from under $50 million to about $1.5 billion in assets, including Wright-Patt and Patriot, and one CUSO – CU*Answers. The company also has a handful of non-CU customers, most notably CareerBuilder.com, Techies.com and NEC. Pricing is based on asset size and its hosted solution ranges from “a couple hundred dollars per month for small credit unions to a few thousand for large credit unions,” Van Court says. MemberLink is available as an ASP or licensed model, with most clients opting for the former, Van Court says. He says integration challenges so far have been minimal, focusing mostly on integrating with Web sites and creating an extract file for targeted marketing. “The challenges will come when we start integrating with other systems on a real-time basis. However, all these can be overcome and primarily deal with creating secure communications through our customers’ firewalls,” he says. Fuze also is continuing to grow its offerings. “We are expanding our knowledge packs to include `Money Express’, which is a series of about 75 articles focused on improving the financial literacy of all members, from ages 12 to 112,” Van Court says. Each article links to an online glossary and includes an online quiz at the end. A rewards program for younger members also is in the works. Other additions include alerts and two-way secure online communications, including for the 80% or more of members who are not online bankers at a typical credit union, and a single sign-on application to allow online bankers to access MemberLink without a separate sign-on, Van Court says. Integration with phone systems, voice-over IP, online banking, core systems and marketing gear like MCIF and CRM solutions are things Van Court sees in the near term. “Way, way out there I see software consistently being able to extrapolate specific answers from disparate general content,” Van Court says. “Some vendors tout that they can do something like this now, but I have yet to see an implantation that truly delivers the consistent results required across broad and disparate data to make this technology truly effective,” he says. -

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