If it doesn't work together, it doesn't work

Members have many choices for getting support. They can go into a branch, use the phone, email you or go to your Web site. Each of these support channels affords members with different advantages, and it’s hard to imagine any of these channels going away. One thing that is certain is that when members get support from different channels and staff, they expect consistent, accurate and prompt responses, and they don’t want to repeat themselves. Credit unions want the same thing, but can only provide this type of support if they have the proper systems infrastructure in place.
Member support comes in two basic varieties: self-service where members help themselves, and assisted-service where they get assistance from staff. Today knowledge base software is becoming an increasingly popular and invaluable resource in both self-service and assisted-service support. Members can help themselves to information in the knowledge base, and staff can search for information in the knowledge base when helping members on the phone, via email, or in person. This way, everyone is “singing from the same song sheet,” and answers are consistent and accurate no matter how members choose to get support.
A knowledge base does indeed provide a solid foundation for advancing your member support objectives, but it only addresses one piece of a critical puzzle that has significant implications to the long-term success of your credit union. But unless you understand how all the pieces of this puzzle fit together, how can you possibly select the proper technology components that will work together and scale with the inevitably changing needs of members, prospects, and staff? This article will help you understand the big picture while still helping you formulate tactics to address immediate operational needs.
Simply put, a knowledge base by itself will not meet your long-term member support objectives. Instead it must be tightly coupled with other eServices technology components that work seamlessly together to provide your members with a unified support experience across all your support channels and with any of your staff. Effective eServices technology implementations should also provide your credit union with vast member insights exposed during the support process, insights that otherwise would be lost.
To realize these benefits vital to your credit union’s long-term success, decisions involving eServices technology should be taken as seriously as when selecting a core solution, involving rigorous analysis against broad requirements and including senior management participation to ensure that more than just your immediate operational needs are addressed. The eServices technology selected should be able to quickly and cost-effectively address your short-term needs, but it should also allow you to affordably and seamlessly add functionality when it makes sense from a budgetary and strategic perspective. Not keeping an eye towards your broader member support objectives when buying eServices technology will ultimately result in expensive and time-consuming systems integrations, non-uniform and ineffective member support experiences, marginal (if any) member insights being leveraged and ultimately, a competitive disadvantage in the market.
Let’s break down some of the primary components of eServices technology critical to extend and leverage member support. These components may be called different names and be delivered using a single product or by integrating products from multiple vendors, but it is vital that all the components work seamlessly together to create a uniform support experience for your members. 
Knowledge Base: Central to any eServices delivery is a knowledge base. A knowledge base (KB) should be extended to members through your Web site, and to your staff through your core systems and intranet, providing everyone with a single place to quickly search for information. The information may be in the form of FAQs or files (Word documents, Web pages, PDFs) internal or external to the KB, and ensures consistency. Your KB should also allow you to extend public information (such as products and services) to all users and selectively extend private information (such as procedures and policies) to staff, board members or partners. A properly engineered KB will allow you to manage all information in a central place while ensuring that private information is not accessible by unintended users.
Your knowledge base should also enable you to define as simple or robust a change control process for making information available in your KB. For example, you very well may want all staff to suggest items for publishing into your KB, but require differing degrees of review depending on who will have access to the information. For example, product-related information accessible by your members could be reviewed by Marketing and then Compliance, while branch operation info accessible only by staff could be reviewed by a supervisor in Operations.
Knowledge bases enable members and staff to help themselves 7x24 from any location with a Web connection and reduce your operating costs by cutting down costly assisted support involving staff. Information included in the KB should include material that assists members to select the right product and to effectively use it once selected. As an example, your KB should provide members with personal finance content that helps them understand considerations when selecting an IRA as well as how to initiate and contribute to an IRA offered by your credit union. It is also a good idea to maintain information in your KB about financial products and services even if you do not currently offer them. This provides a valuable service to your membership and helps ensure that consumers will look to your credit union first before assuming that you don’t offer a particular product and turn to a competitor or Google, which will never result in your landing the business.
Over time, your KB can literally encompass every important piece of information relevant to your credit union’s operations, but care should be taken to implement your KB in manageable, focused pieces.
Although the primary focus of a KB is to provide self-service, a tight integration between your self-service and assisted-service channels is critical for 3 primary reasons:
  1. Whenever an answer to an online inquiry can be found in your KB, you will want to quickly and easily direct the user there. In this way, you'll be promoting users to see first-hand just how easy it is to help themselves using your KB, while transporting members directly into your Web site and e-commerce engine.
  2. Staff providing support using your Web, phone and in-person channels should have ready-access to your KB to ensure consistent and accurate answers across all channels and staff.
  3. If the answer to the inquiry (from any channel) is not already captured in your KB, you will want to facilitate collaboration among your staff as necessary to get the correct answer quickly to the user, and you will want this new information posted to your KB (after appropriate reviews) so that it naturally evolves, becoming more and more effective in answering member and staff inquiries.
Alerts: Alerts allow members and staff to be notified of new or updated information they care about. Alerts can relate to your knowledge base (KB alerts) and notify users of changes or additions to it. Alerts can also be used to notify members about marketing promotions, paychecks being deposited or account balances dropping below a desired threshold. Alert notifications are generally sent by email, can be directed to a computer or phone, and should be grouped together so as not to inundate the user with multiple daily notifications.
Email and Online Forms Management: No matter how good your knowledge base becomes over time at answering questions, you will need to provide users with a highly managed method to request assisted-service. In cases where the user does not require an immediate answer, email and online forms will meet this need, but only if the assisted-service channel provided is highly managed and provides accurate and consistent responses within the market expectations of 4 business hours or less. This eService component must provide you with the necessary backend systems infrastructure to ensure that you can cost-effectively meet this requirement. Example features include providing 2-way secure communications to all members, assigning incoming inquiries to staff with the right skills, escalation from tier-1 support staff to subject matter experts when dealing with more involved issues, keeping track of everything relative to your business hours and applicable service levels, and automatic escalation to appropriate supervisory staff whenever service levels are in jeopardy of being exceeded.
Contact Management: This component facilitates personalized support and continuity across your support channels by providing a comprehensive view of all support interactions that have occurred from any of your support channels. All self-service and assisted-service support provided though your Web site are automatically captured, and interactions via the phone or in person are manually captured by staff as warranted. Example interactions that may warrant the effort of manual capture include situations when follow-up is required to resolve the inquiry, when feedback is provided, and when the inquiry indicates a potential interest in a product or service.
Feedback Management: More so than many consumers, members take the credit union’s co-op model seriously and are more than willing to provide feedback, especially if they believe that it will get to staff with the authority to do something about it. Feedback is similar to other types of member inquiries, but it requires special handling and visibility within your credit union. In particular, members should be able to easily provide feedback online (anonymously, if desired) or to staff in-person or over the phone. Based on the type of feedback provided, appropriate staff should be automatically sent the feedback and any required follow-up action tracked. Reporting should also allow you to evaluate all feedback in aggregate. Like any product or service, your feedback management capabilities need to be marketed to your membership and staff so that everyone understands that you take feedback seriously and have put the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure that feedback is heard and acted upon.
Campaign Management: This eServices component is a capability provided by Member Relationship Management (MRM) solutions and takes in the rich member insights captured by the Usage Analytics, facilitating direct marketing campaigns to members. MCIF information may also be brought to bear here. Campaign Management solutions can deal with email and direct mail campaigns and are readily available from several vendors in licensed (on your servers) and hosted (on vendors’ servers) versions. Email campaigns can be very cost effective, costing less than 1 cent per email. Since Campaign Management solutions have limited integration needs with your other eServices components, they can be reasonably provided using solutions independent of your other eServices components.
System Integration: To be effective, your eServices technology must be engineered to affordably integrate with other applications. For example, your staff providing support on the phone or in person must be able to quickly access particular member information contained in your Contact Management component from your core systems. Members should also not be required to authenticate themselves in both your online banking and eServices technology. The level of integration required will vary depending on the systems and your needs, but the technology selected should be engineered to allow flexible integration using common integration tools, such as XML.
Conclusion: Knowledge bases serve a vital component of any member support strategy, but only represent one of many pieces required to provide effective and efficient member support. Getting the right people involved in evaluating eServices technology against a broad feature matrix reflecting both short- and long-term needs is critical and will dramatically improve your ability to select solutions that can affordably scale with your needs. You will want to break down your eServices initiatives into manageable pieces that can quickly provide value while keeping an eye towards your long-term member support goals.