Microsoft Gives Ask Jeeves Larger Customer Support Role

Microsoft Corp., which has relied upon online consumer information resource Ask Jeeves(Nasdaq: ASKJ) to help consumers with Windows 98, announced today that it will now use the service to cover other products as well.

“This is all about customers getting the answers they need to be successful,” said Microsoft’s Director of Online Support, Denise Rundle. “The pilot program proved to us that Ask Jeeves’ service is a great mechanism for understanding exactly what our customers need. Listening and acting on customer feedback is what makes it possible for Microsoft to answer more than 250,000 questions a day on its online support sites.”

Rundle said the service simplifies the customer support process for Microsoft and puts users “just two clicks away from the relevant information.”

Other corporations using the Ask Jeeves corporate questioning answering service include Compaq, Dell, Iomega, Toshiba, Datek Online, Office Deport, E*Trade and Oxygen Media.

The company recently signed a deal with USWeb/CKS, an Internet professional services company, that makes them the first to be trained to deliver the corporate service. The deal will help accelerate the growth of the service, Ask Jeeves says.

New Shopping Advisor

Ask Jeeves also announced the launch of its new Shopping Advisor, which recommends products based upon consumers’ preferences rather than product features. Consumer electronics information site etown.com is the first to employ the new service.

Based upon the original Ask Jeeves service, the Shopping Advisor guides consumers through an online conversation to determine the characteristics of the product the consumer is looking for. The advisor asks questions such as “How big is the room where you’ll be setting up your home entertainment system?” and “How sophisticated is your current home entertainment setup?” to gather information, and then compares the customer’s answers to product specifications and sends back a list of items that meet the shopper’s needs.

The service is geared toward consumers who are researching goods and services with multiple feature variations, such as consumer electronics, computers, travel and leisure, office equipment and home appliances. In addition, the service can provide advice to buyers who are making complex business-to-business procurement decisions, the company says.

The etown shopping advisor, named “Shop with Ida” and designed specifically for etown by Ask Jeeves, will initially assist shoppers looking for DVD players and cordless telephones, but the company plans to expand to more categories by the end of the month.

Merchant Benefits Included

In addition to trying to make shopping easier for consumers, Ask Jeeves’ new service hopes to make marketing easier for its merchant clients. As it conducts its online conversations with shoppers, the Shopping Advisor compiles that information in a detailed report for merchants on consumer usage and product preferences.

Etown.com plans to take advantage of that information gathering service to build customer loyalty, close sales faster and become more aware of customer needs, etown CEO Robert Heiblem said.

“At its core, the service enables individual consumers to reach confident buying decisions by offering personalized advice, in an non-intrusive manner, based on what consumers identify as their preferences,” Ask Jeeves Corporate Service General Manager Frank Vaculin said.

About Ask Jeeves

Ask Jeeves and its ubiquitous and exceedingly polite English butler raised $45 (US$) million in an initial public offering in July, a month after it launched a major advertising campaign.

The company reported second quarter revenues of $2.7 million and a net loss of nearly $9.1 million. It answered over 92 million questions in the quarter and saw unique users rise sharply from 1.9 million to 3.1 million, making it a Media Metrix Top 50 site.

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