Ask Jeeves Makes Mazda Customer Service Zoom

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Visitors to Mazda's Mazdausa.com Web site now can get assistance from Ask Jeeves, the search engine turned customer service tool that has a growing clientele in the automotive industry.


Consumers who cannot find the information they are seeking on the automotive site can click the "search" button on the toolbar at the top of the page to reach the Ask Mazda screen. They type in a question and are presented with a list of links to Web pages most likely to contain the desired information.


Ask Mazda has been answering more than 600 consumer inquiries a day since the feature went live in early May. The number of queries has been low, probably because of the newness of the service, said Jessica Hoffman, director of corporate communications at Ask Jeeves, Emeryville, CA.


The feature has been successful enough, however, that Mazda is considering expanding Ask Mazda to Mymazda.com, a customer registration site where Mazda owners can access information about their vehicles online, Hoffman said. The Ask Mazda feature may go live on Mymazda.com in about one month.


The Ask Mazda feature went live on Mazdausa.com only a few weeks after Ask Jeeves started working on it, Hoffman said. Ask Jeeves responds to more than 1 million automotive questions per month for its other clients, and that experience gave the company an idea of what questions to expect from Mazda customers.


Mazda was looking for a way to give its customers fast and easy access to information on the Web site, said David Matthew, manager of Internet marketing at Mazda North America. In addition, the feature gives Mazda a way to determine what its customers want to know about the company and its products.


Besides helping consumers navigate the site, Ask Mazda acts as an online focus group for Mazdausa.com, Hoffman said. Ask Jeeves tracks incoming questions and gives Mazda and its other clients weekly, monthly and quarterly reports on customer inquiries.


The reports tell clients what their Web sites are missing, Hoffman said. For example, DaimlerChrysler -- another Ask Jeeves automotive client -- moved up the implementation of its e-mail customer contact service after many site visitors asked where they could find the company's e-mail address.


"It's hard to have your Web site act as a barometer for what's not there," Hoffman said. "But that's what you want."


Ask Jeeves was founded as a search engine site that made money by selling advertising. But the company realized ad sales alone would not keep it afloat and sought new revenue by marketing its search engine for use in the business community.


In 1999, DaimlerChrysler, in search of a way to deal with organizational problems on its corporate Web sites, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars licensing the Ask Jeeves engine. Ford Motor Co. followed and remains an Ask Jeeves customer.


For Ask Jeeves' automotive customers, the natural-language search engine has proved a popular customer support option, Hoffman said. Ask Ford answers thousands of queries every day and was particularly busy during the early stages of the Firestone tire recall. Traffic to Ask Chrysler increased 300 percent over the first six months of its implementation.


While online automobile sales have been low, the Internet's influence on offline automobile sales is growing, Hoffman said. A GartnerGroup study found that while only 3 percent of U.S. households that purchased an automobile last year bought their vehicle online, 45 percent went online to do their research.


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