Last week, Ask.com traveled to Phoenix, Arizona where a large forum, including executives from Verizon, Bank of America, Oracle, McDonald’s, USAA, Nissan, ShopNBC and even our sister company, Match.com, convened on the topic of Customer Experience, or “CX” as industry insiders refer to it. It’s a hot topic among companies spanning all industries, and in the case, we were all in the same room.
Over the course of our days together, we discussed the challenges in delivering quality experiences to customers/users, and how the different aspects must fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. All participants agreed that the desire to make great products and deliver excellent service is important, but even more so is making and delivering products and services that people want to use, and find high value in. All the while, attention must be paid to ensuring communications between a company and its users remains high, and user is taken to heart.
Ask.com has been sensitive to the importance of these puzzle pieces from the first version of the Jeeves search engine in 1996, and that focus continues today. Here are two ways we’re improving value for our users:
- In our Q&A Community this week, we’ve retired the green thumbs-up underneath answers and replaced them with even more relevant “Helpful” and “Fun” buttons. We’ve always been in the business of assisting people in finding helpful answers to their questions, and this change helps define those truly helpful answers in the community, giving them higher placement under questions. In turn, each community member’s profile page will now reflect the overall number of “Helpful” votes his or her answers have received (all green thumbs previously received have been converted to Helpful votes). We mentioned this change last week to our Ask.com Community Hall of Fame members, and their feedback has been extraordinarily positive.
- Very shortly, we’ll be rolling out a new Help Center to better assist our users with questions related to all things Ask.com – search, community, mobile apps, our toolbar, and just about anything else you can think of. It will be intuitive and (dare we say) enjoyable! If any additional help is needed, sending an email to us will be one click away, and as always, we promise a personal response to each one.
What defines a great customer experience for you? We’ve got some of the answers, and we would love your help figuring out the rest of them. Sound off in the comments below!
Eric McKirdy is Ask.com’s Corporate Brand Ambassador and Customer Support guru. If you have a question you’d like to see answered here on the blog, send it to him at customersupport (at) ask.com; if your question is used, he’ll even send you an Ask.com t-shirt.
They came, they saw, they hacked. And they ate ice cream sandwiches from local supplier CREAM Nation - courtesy of Ask.com. Hey, when you’re burning the midnight oil at the biggest Hackathon TC has put on to date (a record 147 teams presented 1 minute pitches on Sunday night) warm cookies smothered in ice cream sound, uh, really good. In fact, they might just be the perfect pairing with our personal favorite Hackathon entry, Sirious Margaritas – a Siri powered margarita machine.
But I digress. Our heartfelt congrats to this year’s winner – Livebolt – which is a cloud-based system that uses a $60 block of metal and an iPhone app to authorize the locking/unlocking of virtually any door. What will these folks think of next?
Valerie Combs, Ask.com
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park – this was the awesome location for our Ask.com Summer Event. Amazing views of both SF and the harbor cranes that were George Lucas’ alleged inspiration for the AT-ATs. All, in all, a perfect place for us Askers to enjoy the SUNNY part of the Bay for a day of food, games and good times.
And good times were indeed had by all. There was a little something for everyone - bull riding, a driving range, Frisbee, football, relay races (big-ups to Team Blue), padded-suit sumo wrestling, oversized-padded-glove boxing, golf putting stations, air-brushed temporary tattoos, cotton candy and snow cone machines, and a prize raffle.
And of course, the food was “picnic” to the nines: hot links, tri tip, burgers, beans, potato salad, watermelon, salad, grilled asparagus, and of course a full bar.
We take good care of our people. Just saying. Check out Steven Tan’s slide show for more pics.
Can’t wait for next year’s!
- Suraya Akbarzad, Ask.com
As reported Sunday, Ask will purchase the About Company from the New York Times, a top 20 US Internet property whose assets include 3 million handcrafted articles from nearly 1000 subject matter experts.
This is an incredibly positive move for both parties, and here’s why:
I’ll start with Ask. Since shifting away from algorithmic web search and re-focusing on Q&A back in the summer of 2010, we’ve learned a thing or two from our users. First, an increasing number of them are in “browse mode” when they come to Ask, looking to discover and explore information (for our mobile users, who cite Q&A browsing as a top reason for using Ask, this behavior is even more pervasive). In fact, the most satisfied Ask users say they want more than just “one right answer,” they want multiple perspectives combined with the ability to discover something new and unexpected.
As such, Ask has been moving toward a content-rich Q&A experience with the goal of building more engagement with our mix of people-powered and search-powered answers. We’ve also been heavily ramping content from carefully-vetted partners to ensure we have access to fresh, trusted answers in key verticals like food, health, travel and reference.
But About.com allows us to execute on our content vision at a whole new level. About.com is home to more than 900 topic sites, all created by guides who are true independent subject matter experts, passionate about what they cover. Ask.com is home to 100 million global users, asking millions of questions in hopes of finding great answers. The immediate synergies are obvious: Ask now has the ability to better satisfy our users with answers drawn from millions of handcrafted, quality articles published on About.com, while providing significant, additional traffic to About.com’s guide pages at the same time.
Matching millions of potential quality answers to user questions is where the synergies begin, not end. Ask can also make About.com’s awesome content much more discoverable through both extending our search expertise to the About.com site, and syndicating our recently acquired content discovery platform, nRelate, across About’s pages.
These are just some of the ways this acquisition represents a no-brainer for us, and a real opportunity for both parties. I can’t wait to dig in and, together with the combined teams, learn more about how About.com and Ask can tap each other’s strengths, learn from each other’s experiences, and deliver a better experience for all of our users.
Congrats to all of the teams who made this deal possible, and a hearty welcome to the About Group to the Ask.com family!
Doug Leeds, CEO
Ask’s very own, Lisa Kavanaugh talks vacation recovery in Fast Company! How do you get back into the swing of things after a vacation?
- Suraya Akbarzad, Ask.com
When my office phone rang late in the day last month, I answered it and was greeted on the other end by Doris, calling from Knoxville, Tennessee. However, this was not a courtesy call. Doris got right to the point.
“You have to give me my money back,” she said. “All of it.”
It seems Doris had posted a question about how to list items for sale on eBay, paid her money, and then received no helpful answers. But there was just one problem, here: Ask.com is 100% free for consumers to use, and we don’t take money from people for posting questions.
I explained this to Doris, and we figured out which other site she had actually visited. Then, I was able to answer her eBay question as well.
“Now I just need to figure out how much all this stuff is worth,” she said, referring to her soon-to-be-listed items.
Those are great questions to ask our community, I told her. We have over a million registered users, and some of them are bound to know what kind of value to attach to the Motley Crue leather jacket (signed by the band), and a vintage, first-edition Cabbage Patch Kids doll signed by Xavier Roberts.
Doris signed up a free account with Ask.com that evening, and has been posting questions ever since. She also knows the answers to a lot of things, too; she owned a bar in Knoxville for ten years, and before that she once won a fishing derby off the Florida Keys. “I caught the biggest fish of the men’s and women’s competitions,” she proudly told me.
If you run into her around our community, be sure and ask her how the auctions are going.
Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood is a monthly feature by Eric McKirdy, Ask.com’s Customer Support Guru, spotlighting members of the Ask.com Q&A Community. Have you run into someone other people should meet? If so, tell Eric about it by sending a note to cs (at) ask.com.
SXSW PanelPicker is now open and we’d love your help in getting Ask.com on stage in Austin! This year we have some really great speaker ideas coming from Ask CTO Lisa Kavanaugh; Robbie Waeschenfelder, Director of Marketing; Matt Binkowski, Sr. Director, UX Design, Strategy, & Execution; and Valerie Combs, VP of Communications.
While speakers are determined partly by SXSW judges, a large portion of the selection comes from the community! And that’s where you come in.
Most important is doing #1 but we’d love for you to spread the word by urging your friends to vote, too!
1. Sign up for the PanelPicker and vote the panels. Here they are:
2. Post the panel on Facebook.
3. Tweet about it. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #SXSW
4. Your professional friends are a great network, too. Post it on LinkedIn.
Voting ends on August 31. Thanks in advance for vote!
- Suraya Akbarzad, Ask.com
Ask CTO, Lisa Kavanaugh led the charge for an impromptu happy hour at District Oakland last night. A great time was had by all as we celebrated another great work week. Good food, good drink and most importantly, a great team!
P.S. – we’re always looking for new members to join the Ask.com team ;)
- Suraya Akbarzad, Ask.com
Yesterday I was at the Badgeville Engage 2012 Summit and spoke on the “Intersection of Social and Gamification” panel with Jodee Rich, CEO, Peoplebrowsr and Matthew Price, Product lead at Bazaarvoice. As you can imagine, there was a lot of discussion around how to engage users and which social platforms companies should focus on. The answer – it’s about finding the right combination of the right content, paired with the right social media channel for each demographic. This can seem like a daunting task, but if you approach it as an opportunity, fragmented social channels and users can be a benefit.
Far too often companies make the false assumption that only younger users are interested in social engagement online. The reality is that almost every user wants to be social, they just consume social content in different ways. A younger user might be looking for more concise content delivered in small bites through notifications, mobile alerts and Twitter. Conversely, an older user may be interested in the same content, but will be more engaged if that content is more in-depth. Appropriately targeted content has a higher likelihood of engaging your users, and most importantly, they’re more likely to share the content with their networks. The added bonus, you’ve now hit up two very different audiences, across two very different social channels with the same kind of content.
- Jason Rupp, Sr. Director of Product Management, Ask.com
PTO is meant to be a time to hit the restart button, shut off the work side of your brain and regroup. If done right, you come back ready to get back to work – bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. There’s just one problem – do you have enough PTO days accrued to take your dream vacation? Will your manager approve the PTO days you had planned for a trip to your hometown? Or will you be forced to negotiate some “unpaid” time for an unexpected emergency that demands you’re out of the office three days in a row?
Almost three years ago, Ask.com CEO, Doug Leeds, decided to nip these issues in the bud on behalf of our employees with an “Unlimited PTO Un-Policy”. As you can imagine, the idea of offering unlimited PTO raised a lot of questions. How would this be managed? Will we actually get any work done if we don’t put a limit on vacation time? Doug’s thinking was, we hire committed responsible adults to manage the growth of our company – people who know how to get their jobs done. This will work for us.
Three years later, our “unlimited vacation” approach has proven his theory true. Our ~ 230 employees have enjoyed the unique flexibility our approach provides, allowing them to truly unplug from work life (no accruals required) while justifying the company’s trust in them to balance workload with time out of the office.
Ask.com was an early jumper on the unlimited PTO bandwagon, but others have joined our ranks – Evernote and Zynga being two examples. And of course the pioneer, Netflix, with whom our CEO Doug consulted to get feedback straight from the horse’s mouth before Ask rolled out the offer to its own employees. We’re glad to see that more and more of our fellow tech companies here in the Bay Area are agreeing with Ask’s perspective and offering unlimited PTO to its employees.
Enjoy the rest of the summer – we know we are!
- Suraya Akbarzad, Ask.com