Simplifying Search

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Eric McKirdy, manager, global customer care and the face of Ask.com's customer service team, is leading the company's efforts to rebuild its customer service strategy
Customer Service

When Eric McKirdy was recruited by Ask.com in 2010 to overhaul the company's customer service strategy, leaders for the popular Q&A web search engine sought someone who could manage the organization's customer service portfolio and lead the charge behind delivering an enhanced experience for the company's one-hundred million monthly users. Since joining Ask.com in late 2010, McKirdy has done that and more. After evaluating and auditing the company's existing customer service processes and support systems, McKirdy was able to quickly identify immediate improvements Ask.com could make.

"Two major things stuck out in my mind," says McKirdy, who previously handled communications for a performing arts organization. "Ask.com is one of the leading destinations for Q&A, but from a customer service standpoint, we weren't mirroring that experience and providing great answers about Ask.com. We needed to model that customer experience to allow people to get the answers they were looking for."

McKirdy discovered that too many basic customer requests (e.g. how to change a user name) were resulting in Tier 1 support tickets for information that was available through the company's web search engine. McKirdy recognized an opportunity to implement a self-service system that customers could use to find answers to many questions on the spot while reducing the number of Tier 1 tickets being generated.

Before the self-service capabilities were implemented, McKirdy took meaningful steps to help make Ask.com's culture more customer-focused. He banned the use of the word "tickets" in the organization and other impersonal terminology used in customer support interactions. "When I visit a company's website and I'm informed that a ticket has been issued when I request help, I feel like I've become part of the system," says McKirdy. "We wanted to change the tone and the quality of the engagement by personalizing the experience and referring to people by their first names."

Starting with a "blank canvas"

McKirdy and his team sought intuitive support technologies to help its customers find the answers they were seeking. A previous CRM system used by Ask.com didn't offer search-ability of knowledge-based articles. Also, the responses it generated to Ask.com users contained a lot of boilerplate and were difficult to decipher, McKirdy adds.

When McKirdy and his team began examining CRM systems that offered strong self-service support, one of the companies, Parature, offered McKirdy and his team a "blank canvas" to craft the types of experiences Ask.com wanted for its customers. "That was huge," says McKirdy. Plus, the vendor offered solid self-service capabilities via keyword searches right out of the box which fit well for Ask.com's customer base, McKirdy adds. McKirdy's vision for providing Ask.com's customers with easy-to-use self-service capabilities has been realized. After Ask.com deployed the CRM system in late 2012, customer support ticket volume dropped 64 percent in the first two weeks thanks to the self-service capabilities. Meanwhile, customers' use of the self-service options has lowered call volumes by 86 percent.

"I thought something was wrong," says McKirdy. "Crickets were chirping. I thought I might have re-engineered myself out of a job." McKirdy not only manages the company's 13-person customer service team, he's on the front lines himself, interacting with customers by phone, email, chat, and social media to offer support. He also looks for team members who can relate to the customer journey and can provide compassionate support. "I never hire anyone who says they have lots of contact center experience. That's not what I'm looking for," says McKirdy. I'm looking for employees who understand customers' behavior and what they're looking for."

Meanwhile, the technological changes McKirdy and his team have put in place have led to more meaningful communications with Ask.com's customers. Says McKirdy, "The quality of the interactions we have now is so much higher."

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