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WARREN, Ohio – Learning of the human and software variety alike is taking place at Seven Seventeen Credit Union, with the result being improved member service and more efficient internal communications. The $561 million CU, the Buckeye State’s third largest, has had the centralized information management system from SilverCloud Software in place for a little more than a year now and already can quantify the results. “The new system has automatically fielded more than 30,000 questions on our products and policies and has saved us more than $100,000 in management and service rep time,” says Kathy Cumberworth, corporate sales manager at 73,000-member Seven Seventeen. The software is used by service representatives to handle member inquiries and by the entire staff for centralized intranet access to manuals, documentations and product information. Developed by company co-founders Rick Blaisdell and Bob Mancarella, the software is installed with more than 1,000 questions aggregated from SilverCloud’s 20 or so pilot credit unions and then adds to that knowledge base as more questions are received and answered at the credit union using the system. It uses a natural language engine, which can match questions with answers based on relevance, synonyms, misspelled words, word stems and key words, “enabling each search to be much more relevant within the CU industry over other types of systems,” maintains Scott Cornell of New Hampshire-based SilverCloud. Once operating, the software then adds to the knowledge base information arising from questions that weren’t in the original package, with the natural result being that “as the knowledge base builds, fewer new questions are submitted” for addition, because most likely the answer already exists, says Denise Thomas, Seven Seventeen’s Telecommunications Administrator. Thomas says the credit union’s SilverCloud system now is at the point where 92% of the questions are repetitive. As for the learning on the human side, a cultural change needed to occur, says Cumberworth, the CU corporate sales manager. “That primarily meant employees breaking the habit of calling someone every time they had a question and now looking it up themselves,” she says. Making sure the technology combining all the information in one location instead of on various drives worked from the get-go was a key to that, says Thomas. That effort included assigning managers to each category of information that would be accessible on the intranet-enabled knowledge base. “Each category manager pre-loaded important data to their specified location. Once implementation kicked off, the employees were then able to find the relevant information,” Thomas says. That, perhaps, was the steepest part of the learning curve for the organization, Cumberworth says. “The administration side took longer because the administrators needed to learn how to manage the data in their categories.” After that, the end users were involved in a one-hour, “all staff” training session and some minimal one-on-one-training, Cumberworth says. Installation of the system itself typically takes less than two hours, says Cornell at SilverCloud, and it can run on Windows, Linux and other operating systems without requiring large servers. “The Web interface allows easy integration into Web sites and intranet sites through the use of code snippets,” he says. “The open database architecture also allows custom integration with core processing systems.” Once installed, “typically most administrators are using our software with one or two hours of training,” Cornell says, “Most training is completed over the phone and most clients are trained and comfortable with the system in one day.” The company has about 65 clients right now, ranging in size from $40 million to $2 billion in assets, and its clients use the software to not only answer member questions, but also to do such things as train employees, cross-sell and target market, and facilitate field IT functions, Cornell says. He says hosted solutions start at $100 per month, with enterprise solutions averaging about $7,500. “Many credit unions find return on their investment around four to eight weeks after installation,” Cornell says. “Returns are found in large savings from reduced calls and e-mails, increased service and better-educated employees and members.” At Seven Seventeen, managers have seen reduction in employee time spent researching questions and less paperwork going around because of the centralization of information, Cumberworth says. And she can put a number on the savings from simply handling questions more efficiently and providing immediate access to the knowledge base and other manuals, forms, advertisements, promotions and hyperlinks to Web sites. “Prior to SilverCloud’s implementation, our cost accountant determined that on average, it took four minutes to ask a question and receive an answer from another employee, equating to $3.28 per question,” Cumberworth says. Based on this information, the CU has realized a cost savings of more than $106,000 from March 1, 2003, to Sept. 1, 2004, she says. The SilverCloud install also has earned some outside accolades. Seven Seventeen was the winner of the “Best Practice in Technology” award at a recent industry call center conference in Las Vegas. -

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