Ask.com's Customer Care Army of One

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Customer Strategy
Customer Service
Eric McKirdy is global customer care manager at Ask.com, a Q&A web search engine. Eric isn't just the customer care manager - he's the entire team. He also has the seemingly gargantuan task of providing customer support for Ask.com's nearly 200 million monthly users all by himself. Eric's circumstances are even more remarkable considering he had no prior customer service experience before joining Ask.com in late 2010. But yet he seems to handle his colossal responsibilities with aplomb, thanks in part to the company's effective use of technology which have strengthened Ask.com's customer care capabilities while making it easier for users to find the answers they're looking for. I had a chance to catch up with Eric at the CRM Evolution 2013 conference in New York this week.

Eric McKirdy is global customer care manager at Ask.com, a Q&A web search engine. Eric isn't just the customer care manager - he's the entire team. He also has the seemingly gargantuan task of providing customer support for Ask.com's nearly 200 million monthly users all by himself. Eric's circumstances are even more remarkable considering he had no prior customer service experience before joining Ask.com in late 2010. But yet he seems to handle his colossal responsibilities with aplomb, thanks in part to the company's effective use of technology which have strengthened Ask.com's customer care capabilities while making it easier for users to find the answers they're looking for. I had a chance to catch up with Eric at the CRM Evolution 2013 conference in New York this week.Although Eric has the seemingly impossible task of supporting millions of Ask.com users at any given time, he shared with me that most of the 100-plus customer inquiries he used to receive on any given day were typically basic Tier 1 support issues such as questions about how to change a user name or how to answer someone else's question.

However, that has changed since Ask.com implemented an online help center platform that addresses most of these types of inquiries. As a result, Eric now has more time to focus on more involved or unique customer inquiries.

Eric refuses to refer to customer inquiries as "tickets." In fact, he has banned the use of such terminology during his tenure there.

"I didn't even know what an SLA (service level agreement) was when I started," says McKirdy.

Despite his lack of experience in customer support, Eric has approached customer support from a customer's perspective, which has served him and Ask.com's customers well. As Eric explains it, Ask.com wanted to put a name and a face on its customer care operations when he was recruited by a friend in late 2010 to fill the position. Prior to joining Ask.com, Eric worked in a number of roles in marketing and public relations. He draws upon his experience as a customer to his role with the company, trying to exemplify best practices he has witnessed as a customer of companies such as Apple and Amazon.

Shortly after Eric joined Ask.com, the company installed an online help center platform from Parature. McKirdy says the previous help center system had a number of shortcomings. Trouble tickets were difficult for users to fill out. Meanwhile, Ask.com articles weren't categorized under the previous platform, making it extremely difficult for users to find information the information they were looking for.

Using the Parature platform, which categorizes articles and helps Eric to personalize responses for customers who submit inquiries based on their usage and history, Ask.com's trouble ticket volume dropped 60 percent within 2 weeks as customers were able to find information more easily. The improved ease of use of Ask.com not only benefits users, it has also reduced Eric's workload significantly. "Parature saved my marriage," McKirdy jokes.

As Ask.com's visitor volume continues to grow, McKirdy has recently been given the green light to hire a small support team to help him out. After studying the customer care practices of top websites such as Google, McKirdy has gleaned some best practices along with approaches to avoid in supporting Ask.com's customers.

Says McKirdy, "If we can deliver experiences with customers like those I've had with Apple or Amazon, how can we fail?"

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